Sunday, August 2, 2009
Race Report: Wichita Specs Criterium
You know, one of these days I'm going to do a crit with more than a couple of women and see how I really stack up . . .
But today was not that day. Today, there were 4 women in the Cat 3/4 field: myself, two other Specs riders (Shannon and Alicia), and a local, unattached, wicked-strong woman (Beth).
Because this was a small race and it was 3-on-1 and Beth is wicked crazy strong and we're not men, so the egos involved are considerably smaller, this was definitively a training race. For everyone except Beth, that is, although I suppose you could consider it coach training. Because she was definitely coaching us.
During the warm-up, Shannon, Alicia, and I discussed race strategy. Or rather, Shannon related what Beth had suggested that we do. May I just say that riding with teammates is a blast. I enjoy the aspect of team strategy and having a few partners to rely on.
Our strategy was to keep trying to attack, constantly making her chase one of us down so she couldn't rest. Hopefully, we would be able to keep her reeled in, then lead each other out in a group sprint to the finish.
The course was fairly mild, with only one truly sharp corner. The rest of the corners were either more curved, or the roads were wide enough that it didn't make sense to make a sharp turn. There was a little wind on the back stretch, which gradually shifted to the home straightaway. That meant that there was only one really ideal place to attack--that first sharp corner, although there's always opportunity to attack.
And attack we did. The first lap, everyone took it easy, Beth instructing us all the way. The second lap, I tried to go off the front. Beth caught me easily. We worked on pace-lining, protecting our strongest rider, keeping Beth from edging into our pace-line, blocking the draft by guttering another rider . . . feel like I learned a lot in this race.
We tried to keep attacking, but couldn't make anything stick. Mostly, I think that Alicia and I weren't strong enough and couldn't recover fast enough to keep attacking with the pace and ferocity we would have needed to break Beth down. But it was never discouraging. I never had that moment of "Oh shit! I suck at this!" that came at the Omnium.
Because I'm stronger now than I was then. I've been putting some more time in on my road bike. I've been hitting my spinning classes a little harder. I've been working on my handling skills. I've started lifting weights again (I still hate it, BTW). I'm a better cyclist than I was in May.
Anyway, I tried again to attack with something like 7 laps to go. Shannon countered after Beth pulled me back, and I couldn't keep up. Alicia and I fell off the back. We worked together brilliantly to pull back up (although they slowed down considerably to let us get back on, I think); Alicia did a lot of the work on that section, as I was still spent from giving it all in my last attack. By the time we were almost in contact with them, I had recovered sufficiently. I told Alicia that I was going to slingshot off her back wheel and try to attack again, try to surprise them. That attack didn't stick either, but it was my one truly tactical move. I'm actuallly pretty proud of it. Now if only I had the legs to back it up . . .
Beth accelerated with 5 laps to go and easily dropped us again. Shannon clung onto her back wheel and managed to stay with her 'til the final sprint. Alicia and I started working together to try to pull them back in, although by the time we were two laps from the finish, I was more concerned with not getting lapped. By the end, we were switching off beautifully--quick, 5-second pulls, getting lots of rest. On the last lap, we slowed our pace a little bit, and pulled up even. We discussed how we wanted to do the final sprint and decided to keep the short, even pulls (so we could both be as fresh as possible going into the last few 100 m) and then leave it to whoever had the stronger sprint. I felt like we were pretty evenly matched as far as strength, speed, and technique. I suspect that this kind of conversation never happens when men race. But I might be wrong.
About 200 m from the end, just a little before the last turn, I up-shifted and started turning my legs. I looked behind me when I first went, then just concentrated on putting my head down and giving it all I had. And I definitely gave it all I had! I came across the line feeling like I was going to puke. I don't know that I've ever hurt that bad from such a short interval, but I ended up beating Alicia by a little less than a bike length.
Looking back, I think I learned a lot about tactics. I didn't know about guttering, or really about blocking. I have no problem getting close and aggressive on a bike, but I don't know all the situations where I can use that to my advantage. I also thought a little bit about wind. If you try to attack into a headwind, the energy cost to you is much greater than if you attack in a crosswind, where a faster pace is going to hurt both cyclists equally. Of course, if you attack with a tailwind, you're unlikely even to get away. I still have a lot to learn.
But I did feel much stronger and much more capable in this race. I felt like I had more power (both in immediate bursts and in staying power) than I had in the last race. And I felt like I could contribute something to the team effort.
As far as how I stack up against other cyclists, I think this race gave a fair indication. My skill and power are both somewhere in the middle, maybe towards the lower 50%. Actually, just like when I started in triathlon. But I have no doubt that with a lot of hard work, I can work up to the top ten. Just like I did in triathlon.