50 degrees and drizzly, 42 nut-jobs, and 30 minutes on a banked oval that a week before had hosted the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. The only way our race could have been more different is if we'd ridden it clockwise.
This was my first crit, the kind of racing for which my Blue Axino is purpose-built. It was cold enough that I spent an hour last night vacillating over what to wear, and just wet enough to make sure you felt that cold. Everything I'd read and been told was all the same: do not crit in the rain. But once the whistle blew, nothing mattered except the wheel in front and the vibe of the pack.
I was just self-aware enough to keep my plan of finishing upright, and while I waited over and over for "the big break", it never really came. There were two juniors running out front. Both were high school students, and in fact just two weeks ago I'd bought a mountain bike from one's brother. They threw numerous abortive attacks off the front, but every time they pulled out a lead, they would look at each other and sit up. At one point they pulled a STRONG charge, and it was all I could do to bridge across, but again: they just sat up after a lap and the group reeled us in.
Once that break failed, we started shouting as a group to let them charge and not chase. Of course, even though everybody was shouting it, they'd still jump when the teenagers said.
After about 8 laps of this, the grown-ups took over and pushed a proper race pace for several laps. It was easy to stay out to the right, safely just shrouded enough to catch a draft, but just far enough outside to avoid disaster.
Each lap developed a rhythm: fast through turns 1 & 2, coast halfway down the back straight, a hard charge on the outside heading into turn 3, and a sickeningly tight bunch through turn 4 with a charge to the start/finish line.
When the bell rang, it was game-on with .7 miles to the line. I honestly did not believe I would have that much sprint in me, so I stayed on a wheel and let the break form around me, figuring some of the early jumpers would pop.
But this was a flat surface, and there was no wind to speak of. My decision took me from about 10th to about 25th in .3 miles, and the guy in front of me was blowing up. I jumped and rolled pretty hard--still worried about blowing up early, pulling in 6 riders and realizing I'd wasted a huge opportunity. I ran the last guy down just before the finish line and was left with nobody but myself to blame for the disappointment. I quickly tallied up the bikes ahead and was convinced that, for the 3rd time in a row, I'd managed 16th place.
But then I learned that the two juniors were running in our class. So, 18th.
Needless to say, this was not the result I had hoped for. I *did* finish upright, and I *did* add to my completed-races count, so I will get to continue toward upgrading to Cat 4 (7 races left!), but I threw away an opportunity to really shine and settled with a mid-pack performance.
Racing must not be about settling. Though it is critical to make a race plan and stick to it, it is equally critical to recognize opportunity and seize it. I need to stop taking such a conservative approach and just let 'er fly.
Next up: the Cap2Cap century ride on May 14. Not a race, but a test of willpower and determination.
Then it's off to the Bryan Park Training Series May 17. It will be interesting to see if I'm even capable of doing a century and a crit in the same week.