Sunday marked the first big race of the season (for me) – the NJ state criterium championships. Oddly, the race came very early this year, but I had been working on a solid block of training with Tomi and was confident in my fitness and abilities heading into the race.
Thank you to Yehudah for coming down to support and to all those who have been talking my ear off with training advice these past few months. The first part of the season has been rocky, but those waters are behind us.
The race was to take place at the BLP course, affectionately known as “Greentree” by the locals. Where BLP ended atop a slight incline, however, Sunday’s course ended 1 turn later – a climb, a corner and a chicane. The result? A field, screaming forth as a collective bat out of hell.
Looking around at the start line, I chose the dangerous guys and decided to watch them. Rich Gonzalez, Dan Lehmann, David Gardner, Aleksey, Raul and some college kids. And Eric. I Lined up next to Dan and Eric.
Just like that we were off.
The plan for the day was to race smart. Limit the attacks, go with promising moves in the second half and then fall back to the sprint if all else fails. The winning sprint would come from whoever was either first or second up the hill. After that hill, there wouldn’t be enough room in the corner or the chicane for more than 1 person to pass in the sprint, and I was confident enough in that gameplan to not do anything all race long.
Sitting in was relaxing. Even though we completed the race with an average speed of 42 kph (just over 26 mph), I felt fine. Call it the smart racing, call it the taper, call it me coming into form, but I felt fine.
Until 9 to go, the speed remained relatively predictable and, well, slow. But then, the lap cards went up. Every minute or two, someone else tried to get away. I stayed towards the front throughout the entire race, but in these last laps, I drifted towards the middle a few times. With 77 starters, the pack was gigantic and offered plenty of places to hide from the wind. Unfortunately, we didn’t take corners too well.
After accordion’ing in 2 corners that got my heart rate up a bit, I decided it was no longer time to hide. I went up to the front and began vying for position. 7 to go, or so. Up there with me was Rich. Always Rich. And Dan. Dan kept going off the front, then coming back.
At one point, Dan rides up next to me. I asked him how he was feeling. “All right. Let’s bridge up to that guy.” 6 to go, no reason not to. By the time we got to the front though, he was back. Dan went anyways. I sat in and watched.
Also at the front was the original 3rd place finisher Alec White, known for incorrectly shouting (at me), “watch your line!” while Dan and I were conferencing.
We continued to ride around single file, fast, with everyone on edge for a few more laps. As we hit the wall of headwind (back stretch, coming out of turn 1), the top 10 guys flung left and right to avoid the wind. The first time this happen, I swerved right just in time to avoid a Williams-racer as he attempted to crash me out (kidding). The next time, I swerved right a second too late and heard the thrum-thrum-thrum as his rear derailleur went into my spokes. Barely avoiding the crash, we went on.
With 2 to go, jockeying for position became aggressive and difficult. Somehow, I got up to where I wanted to be and continued moving up as swarms passed us on the left and the right. Aleksey went to the front and tried to tt away, numerous times, but to no avail.
Within the last lap, Jesse of e2value took off just before the hill, on my right side. I watched him, considering whether or not to suck his wheel and attack on the hill, but decided jumping into the wind wouldn’t be worth it. I watch as Eric Noonan made the jump on the left and we just sat in, quietly motoring ahead. At the top of the hill, I decided it was time to jump.
I look right and – BOOM – White of QCW flies by me with 2 in tow, EXACTLY where I wanted to be. I brake-check, if only for a second, and realize I missed my move. Head down, I give it my all and latch onto their wheel. We come around Jesse going into the final corner, Eric a ways down the road. We’re sprinting now, legs spinning furiously, me drafting behind White, with barely any road left.
I stand to come around White and my bike flails wildly in the wind. Undergeared. I sit back down and try to force every ounce of power out of my legs. The line is there. I need to throw, but I’ve forgotten how to. We cross. 4 of us. Eric in front.
I took 5th. Rich JUST held me off.
Best result of the season for this #professionallyamateur racer.
A sign of things to come. Watch out.