Four motivated, and hearty souls trekked it up to Olympia, Wa. for the Capitol Criterium yesterday. Even though it rained off and on all the way up, we persisted, undaunted, and were rewarded with near perfect racing weather.
I sat in the back seat of the car on the way up, studying previous race results for Washington riders on my iPhone. Having never really done a race up there (The Vancouver Courthouse crit doesn't count as a race in Washington), nor really encountering too many racers from anywhere other than say, Vancouver, which lets face it, is the trailer trash cousin of Portland, and doesn't really represent something all together different than the Portland racing scene. In Portland, I can pretty much guess who is going to win or at least place in my races. Besides some strong teams I saw at Cherry Blossom, I have no idea whose good in Washington. One name stood out among the top ten finishers for crits and circuit races- and sure enough he would be the guy who won my race. Sometimes, even with studying, strategy, and good legs, someone else wins. What can you do?
The Capitol Crit circled the greens right next to the Washington state Capitol bldg. Pretty cool. A five hundred meter gradual uphill straight followed by a right turn, a half a roundabout, followed by a downhill chicane, then a back straight to make the difference of the five hundred meters, a super fast off camber back turn, straight and a finishing corner, pretty close to the finish line. It was pretty evident that you had to be in the top three or so to have any chance to contest the win.
I rode the race from the front. Never getting involved with anything toward the second half of the race. Looking at the group at the start, it was pretty evident that as a masters c/d field there was a wide range of fitness levels. Knowing that usually means a corresponding gap in handling skill and racing intelligence, being at the front was self preservation as much as anything- fewer open doors to close, fewer bad braking choices to over come (other than my own).
From the gun, there were riders pushing the pace. It was like a juniors race. One guy in a yellow and black jersey (team?) and ponytail jumped on the front and drilled it for one full lap, before pulling off. That burned off all the weaker riders pretty quickly. Someone else took up the charge, and kept the pace pretty high until about twenty minutes in when it finally got down to a more reasonable pace. I wasn't feeling particularly powerful during the race. I was still feeling it from the previous weekend of indoor soccer- which, as fun as it was, was a big mistake for the cycling legs. Left me with no chance at competing all week long.
It was a pretty straight forward race, really. I found the wheel of a Starbucks rider, who by my estimation was a giant, to hold on to. He was strong, consistent and totally unwilling to chase down any breaks or otherwise do any work besides pedaling at the number two or three spot. Which for me, makes for some pretty comfortable racing: steady pace, steady wheel, and like sitting in behind a moving truck. Awesome. Based on his racing, I was sure he was going to lead me to the finish, and I followed him till the last corner- but just like the rest of his racing, he was unable to open it up and go full gas for the line...Big and diesely- No kick. Big mistake. He fought pretty hard to hold the front of the race and I was obliged to follow him. Up until the back side, when on the down hill chicane, he (and I) gave up five or six spots. By the end of the chicane and down the hill we had picked up all but two of those spots- good. Final straight, two more riders had pushed forward in an effort to gain the corner position. Once we hit the corner, we splayed out across the finishing straight. The Starbucks rider had no jump and I went around him. One of the riders who had just gained the corner ahead of me had nothing for the final jump and was in my way. I kicked hard around him and found the daylight of the finish line obscured by four riders. Digging hard, trying to make up for my obvious tactical mistake, I passed another rider easily. I was running out of real estate quick. I saw the third place rider just ahead of me. I had built up so much speed I though I could catch him. The line was about three feet too close. I threw my bike and missed the podium by six inches. Painful. Less than two bike lengths ahead, the winner had his arms up... So close. The speed I had carried me past the winner so fast I had to break to slow down to talk to him. I felt like I had the strongest legs out there- but I didn't race like I did. Its starting to feel like I need to change my tactics a bit...be more aggressive, think more about imposing my self on the race, rather than waiting to capitalize on someone else's mistake. It takes confidence, I think. It takes a strong will, and a knowledge of your opponents, and most of all, I think it takes nerve.