Thursday, August 11, 2011

Closet Criterium Racer

So I have this secret life. And I suppose it's not so secret anymore. So I may as well blog about it. It's been going on for a while, so this post is a wee bit long.

I'm a closet criterium racer. I have a road bike. And Mr. Cooke Monster [Parlee Z4] really likes to race. For cheap. And surprisingly more often than Mr. Kermit [Guru Crono], who usually gets all the glory.

Criterium: [from Wikipedia]  A criterium, or crit, is a bike race held on a short course (usually less than 5 km), often run on closed-off city center streets. Events often have prizes (called primes, pronounced "preems", and are usually cash) for winning specific intermediate laps (for instance, every 10th lap). A bell is usually rung to announce to the riders that whoever wins the next lap, wins the prime. Race length can be determined by a number of laps or total time, in which case the number of remaining laps is calculated as the race progresses. Generally the event's duration (commonly one hour) is shorter than that of a traditional road race and generally the average speed and intensity are appreciably higher. The winner is the first rider to cross the finish line without having been "lapped." Success in road criteriums requires a mix of good technical skills — in particular, the ability to corner smoothly while "holding your line" on the road, as well as rapidly and sharply — and riding safely with a large group on a short circuit and exceptional "sprint" ability to attack other riders and repeatedly accelerate hard from corners.

Got it? So I started racing last year, after Ironman. A week after Ironman I did my first crit...and it HURT!! After 6 months of only riding Cookie Monster to work and back and only having trained on Kermit, I was ill prepared. Not that the Ironman fatigue had anything to do with it.

Kyle and I raced a couple more last year but I wasn't really serious about it. I was burned out from IM and needed a break from cycling in general. If last year was about structure and training, this year has been about flexibility and fun. You can sign up for a crit an hour before the race begins! And generally they are between $25 to $35 to enter! And generally they are 30-40 minutes. Sounds like my kind of season.

In cycling there are Categories [Cat for short.] Not Age Groups like triathlon. And no, we aren't racing kittens. As a female, you start in Category 4. Some of the races I did were combined with 3, and in one instance it was a Cat 1-4 race. You can "upgrade" by placing in a race and earning points:

Number of Starters

My results this season:

Date  Race  Place  Starters  Points  Cash/Prizes won
8/7 Brentwood State Crit Championships 1st (45) +5, $80/$20 Prime
7/24 San Marcos Circuit 3rd (11)  +2  $15 (gave $5 to mechanic)
7/3 Ontario Grand Prix 14th (16)  0 Got stuck behind a crash
6/12 Dominguez Hills 2nd/5th (15) (Cat 1-4, non-USAC) N/A Wine
6/12 Ontario Airport Crit 3rd (17)  +2  Medal, saddle bag
5/15 Mid Season Crit (Ontario) 3rd (36)  +3  Medal, Dare Lion
5/7 Barrio Logan Grand Prix 1st (11)  +4 Trophy, Tortillas, $100 GC
4/24 Chuck Pontius 1st (16)  +4  $30?
2/27 Dare to Race GP 3rd (13)  +2  Medal
2/13 Roger Millikan 4th/14th (32)  0 (3/4 Race, scored together) 

So...that's a lot of racing. And a lot of crazy things can happen in a race. Here are some exerts.

Roger Millikan (aka Valentine's Day Massacre) 
I think there was a crash in every category that day. Seriously horrible beginning of the season racing. Tentative, crazy cornering, people not holding lines, crap racing. We had a bunch of Juniors in our race. Usually when the field laps someone, or before, the race official will pull the lapped racer and give them credit for the start. It's a safety thing, and should be done! Last lap, 2nd to last corner. 2 Juniors up ahead. Parents telling them to slow down and get with the pack to "experience a sprint finish" even though they were being lapped for the 2nd time. They take the inside corner rather than moving outside to be passed. Guess who took the inside line? Lynne and I. Slammed on my breaks to avoid taking them [and ourselves] out and then had zero speed out of the corner to attack the slight incline before the final corner. Had to battle. I had the perfect line and was f^*&@#. Crash in Kyle's race during the final sprint and he had to wobble across the line after narrowly avoiding the incident.

Dare to Race [Ontario #1]
A 2-girl break got away and we didn't catch them. I took the field sprint for 3rd. Starting temperature was 32 degrees.

Chuck Pontius
Kyle went up with Chris on Friday night for a road race on Saturday. I had to work and randomly decided to head up to LA after work and race on Sunday morning. Zero preparation and I was just hoping to hold on and finish with the pack. This was definitely a MAX heart rate race from start to finish. Luckily every time I felt I couldn't hold on and was going to explode, the pack would slow up just a bit. With a couple laps to go I was feeling ready. Had a perfect position heading into the final corner and went for it. Ended up 3rd in the 3/4 race and experienced my first Cat 4 win. Check out the video below. That's Kyle yelling dig, dig, dig! I'm on the left hand side in the blue helmet.

Barrio Logan
Awesome course [read: more than 4x90 degree corners] and I had some teammates. Lynne and I were working together the entire race. She'd go on a break, and I'd block, only to have the teammates of the others in the break work at bridging the gap [I'd consider that bad teamwork]. It was a field sprint, uphill [not my speciality] and hard work to win that race. Won a $100 gift card to Acqua Al 2 in a prime, a giant trophy [now prominently displayed at the shop] and some corn tortillas. Check out the MCS Race Report.

Mid Season Crit [Ontario #2]
Learned a thing or two about tire pressure at this race. Racing in the drizzle/rain is not a fun experience. My usual technique is to work the corners, as to not waste unnecessary energy coming out of the corner by breaking less before the corner and pedaling through. Well I pumped to the usual 112psi, and my rear wheel was skidding out of every turn. Had to back off and play it safe. In the largest field I've ever raced with. [approx. 50 ladies, half of which were doing their first race] Crash near the front on the 3rd to last corner [last lap] and it wasn't pretty. Had to slam on brakes and veer around. Got pulled back to the pack with a lot of hard efforts, thus having nothing left for the final sprint. Managed to get around a couple girls, ending up 3rd. And I won a D.A.R.E. Lion in a prime. I believe when I was in 5th grade it was the D.A.R.E. Bear. Not sure what happened to that guy.

Ontario #4
Number 3 for me, but 4 in the series. Getting a little sick of this course and the 7am start time. Went climbing at Malibu Creek on Saturday and headed over to Ontario for the race on Sunday. A slower race, this was mainly controlled by another team. After the primes, teams were slowing for those sprinters. I did a bunch of work trying to motivate the other riders to not let them rest. Was in position at the end, but didn't punch it early enough and the finish was very close to the final corner. Ended up 3rd. Seemingly a common placing at these Ontario races.

Dominguez Hills
Heard about this race at Ontario. Same day, and only 3 hours in between races. Drove over to the coast and had a quick breakfast and warmup before my 2nd race of the day. This is a non-USAC sanctioned race, so no points towards upgrade...just experience racing with the fast ladies as this was a Cat 1-4 race. The race was 15 min longer than Ontario, had actual "elevation" to the course, and still we ended up averaging 2mph faster than Ontario #4 in the morning. It took all I had to hang on to those ladies. Just when I thought I was about to pop off the back, it'd ease up. Then all engines go, again and again. Had absolutely nothing left for the sprint. Ended up 2nd in the Cat 4s which won me 2 bottles of wine! Holla!

Ontario GP #5
#4 for me in Ontario. Did this same course as Ontario #1. Although this time starting temp was 75 and rising. Had a team, Lynne + Amanda there so we were amped to race. None of the efforts really paid dividends and a break got away. I went for it on the last lap, gapping the field, only to get caught and catch on, and then only to slam on my breaks to avoid a horrible crash. On a straight section of the course. I endo'd [slam on breaks, rear wheel comes off of ground], both feet came out of the pedals, and somehow I managed to land back on both wheels, steer clear of the crash, clip in and then keep going. But of course by this time everyone is already gone. I couldn't believe what I saw and I coasted to the finish line. Ugh, almost felt like a wasted morning. Luckily we were on a climbing vacation and headed up to Holcomb Valley [Big Bear] after Kyle's race in 108 degree heat.

San Marcos
Circuit race [meaning the course is longer than 1 mile, coming in at 1.7 miles per lap]. Significant elevation change, advertised as a "big ring climb." Do we have to talk about Rachel's climbing skills? There was no big ring about it, I was shifting to small guy before the corner and spinning [and dying] up that hill. Pey-lih crashes like 2 laps in from someone cutting her off. Next thing I know I see her back in the race a lap later. Tough girl! Next lap after the downhill corner I hear a pop and my chain is hitting my front derailleur cage. Front derailleur doesn't budge. F@*&!!! I'm at the half way point on the lap and the neutral support is all the way over at the start. I limp my way back to the start, and climb the hill in the big ring. Stop for assistance on the hill and get back on after someone bends front derailleur. Was advised to head to neutral support to get my free lap [what?!] and rush there. Somehow in the time it took the pack to get back to the start line the mechanic had basically done a full tuneup on my bike. Apparently the front derailleur clamp broke and came lose. [It's a proprietary Parlee part and has been redesigned since my bike came out.  Awesome warranty department.] Anyway, he was able to patch it up enough to finish the race. There is a "free lap rule" for certain mechanicals that happen before the 3 lap to go mark. I hop back in, and now it's 3 laps to go. Wow, that rest really helped and now I'm feeling guilty. So I pull...for the remaining 3 laps because there is a girl on the break. Hit the last hill and punch it...a little too early. Blow up, but somehow get a second surge of energy to minimize my losses. 3rd in Cat 4, 6th overall, good enough for a $15 payday, and $5 of which I gave to the mechanic who got me back into the race. Oh yeah, I also rode to San Marcos from Solana Beach, where I was cheering for the SB Triathletes in the morning. Nothing like a 16 mile hilly ride to get you warm. What I didn't factor in was the hilly 16 mile ride after racing a hilly crit. The way back was not so enjoyable.

Brentwood State Criterium Championships
So I'm not quite sure how a race is given the State Champ distinction, but I'm not complaining, as it was located only 2 hours could've been in San Fran or something.  So I'm sitting at 17 points, 3 points from upgrading to Category 3. Anyway...There is something to say about the power of positive thinking...and a little luck. Want to know the pre-race meal for a State Champion?

Corvette Diner. Fried chicken strips and a chocolate, fudge, peanut butter, marshmallow malt. Also a bottle of Raspberry Framboise with dinner. Delicious!  Woke up early on Sunday morning [4:30am] and had a green tea and yogurt/fruit parfait from Starbucks on the way. Had a good feeling in the car ride, although I'm sure Kyle didn't notice, as I was little miss super crabby pants. Did a short warmup and headed to the start line of the 1 mile course. 40 min race and the goal this time was to control the race and stay near the front. I had begun to feel some fitness gains from all the racing and triathlon racing I'd been doing, so I knew I could push a little and still be there in the end [hopefully].

The course was super technical with a 170 degree turn and 5 other turns in the lap. Was top 6 for most of the beginning of the race. A prime hit and a girl jumped after, raced ahead, only to take a huge fall charging through the big corner. We were far enough behind at this point to react and miss hitting her. Racing resumes and another break happens...this time I catch on. There are 4 of us on a mini breakaway and I get to the front and tell the girls I'm here to work. End up winning a prime in the mean time. I signal for the girl behind me to move ahead as to ride the paceline and as I move over, she follows. WTF, this is a paceline in a break, do a little work. We get caught and I'm seriously contemplating why I race. I am now trying to recover in the pack and am finding myself in places I do not want to be [in the middle and in the back] I'm working too hard in and out of corners. I hear the Brixton girls saying they need to get something done, so I go by them on the inside and urge them to come on, let's get to the front. I make a huge pull on the backside straight away to get to the front before the next corner and tuck in behind the leaders for a little break. 2 laps to go and there's a crash on the backside, on the straights. WTF! Apparently a girl tried to split 2 girls who were in the middle. Hello!? If you want to move up, do not plow your way through the middle; it doesn't work like that. Crash implodes all riders in the middle of the field. Luckily I have positioned myself on the inside, but I was behind the crash. Slam on breaks, and the girl in front of me unclips and is on the median to the right of me. Other girl in front of me is slowing and almost doing the same. Crash is to my left. I have no where to go, and I'm yelling at the girl in front of me to keep pedaling!! The front of the pack is long gone and I've almost lost hope. Until this junior girl [who had been racing to the front and dropping off the back all day, zoom/drop off] races past me. I hop on her wheel and enjoy the free ride back to the pack.

Reach the pack. sit in. 1 lap to go. Breathe. Easily move my way back up the back as I'm using the corners to my advantage. I think the pace was a bit slower than usual having just witnessed a crash. I notice that one girl is leading the entire last lap. I'm sitting 6 wheels back in a strung out pack. Head into the last corner expecting a sprint immediately. No one goes. I don't go because I don't want to get side swiped and rear end someone causing a crash. I usually would wait until the 2nd or 3rd girl attempts the pass around the 1st girl and then get on her wheel and hopefully pass her. Well no one went. I hear the Brixton coach yelling at his girl, whose wheel I'm on, to GO NOW! NOW! So, wtf, no one is going, I guess I'll go. I take the outside lane and punch it. And don't look back. And I hate to admit this, but I think it was my first time sprinting in the drops. And it felt easy. It was awesome to cross the finish line knowing I had won. It was a combined 3/4 race, but scored separately. I got my final points to upgrade to Cat 3 and became the CA State Crit Champ!

Ontario is a race series. They have a point system and overall winners at the end of the year following the final race on Aug 21st. You only get the points in the category earned and you have to show up for the final race. I am currently tied for 3rd in the series and I'm going to wait until after that race to upgrade and then try and race San Clemente as a Cat 1-3 the following weekend. [apparently the race has a hill...yikes!]  Not that I have a plan this season or anything.

Kyle has been a great sherpa and race partner throughout the season. I raced one Ontario and San Marcos without him, but other than that, he's been out racing himself. He won a race in Arizona at the beginning of the year which was awesome for him and has been experiencing success in crashing and avoiding crashes as of late. His current bill is 2 helmets, 1 fork, and some skin. And maybe some pride. (pedal strike?!)

Crashing happens. More often in the men's races with bigger fields. Yes, the faster the race the safer it is. I've been in way too many close calls to count. And I feel fortunate that I have yet to be taken out. Unfortunately, it's not if, but when and I can only hope this doesn't jinx me.

So that's it...a very long report on my closet crit racing season thus far.


Simone said...

Great Job closet racer..... I have a GF that races with Helens cycles and I saw your name at the top of the list and I was very happy for you!! BIG Congratulations!!

idropboys said...

Awesome!! Love it......glad you finally came out