My First Criterium

First let me come clean. In the past I have made public statements saying I wouldn't do a crit. They seem to have a high risk of injury and it they just didn't look fun to me. But after Todd's reports of attending a few Rocky Mountain Raceway criteriums, I got interested and my curiosity and willingness to try just about anything bike-related won out. Yes, I flip-flopped.

The RMR crits were on Saturdays in March, but from April on they move to Tuesday evening. Hence tonight was the first Tuesday crit of the year. My hope was that there would be fewer riders because of the day-of-the-week change, and the uninviting weather, but there was still a pretty good crowd.

When I arrived just after 6 pm, the A flight (Cat 1 & 2) and B flight (Cat 3 & 4) had already started. The race was held at the oval instead of the larger course with the drag strip because of one large puddle out near the chicane (Google Map of RMR). I was impressed by their speed - they were really moving. The A flight was up on the top two lanes, while B was in the lower two lanes.

Two or three times during the race I heard this awful scrapping sound up in the north east corner and when I turned I expected to see that someone had crashed, but there was no crash. Turns out there is a tire-wide gap in the asphalt for 10-15 feet and a few guys had dropped into it - I don't know how they didn't go down. One crack victim showed his brand new carbon wheels all scratched and gouged - worse part was, he had borrowed the wheels - that sucks.

The bell rang for the final lap for the B flight and they sprinted to the finish after 45 minutes of racing. Soon the A's finished after going 55 minutes. Then they called up the C and D flights. We all piled onto the tarmac, listened to some instructions (the pack must move up to the 2nd lane and stay there after overtaking lapped racers, who must stay in the inner lane) and then he said go.

I was relieved the group rolled out pretty mellow, unlike mountain bike races where they sprint off the start and just keep hauling. The speed ramped up soon enough. According to my cyclocomputer I averaged 24 mph with a max of 29.7 (not sure when I hit that).

Riding around and around an oval is a bit monotonous and hypnotic, but thankfully not dizzying. I was concerned about riding in a tight pack at high speed with racers constantly jockeying for position. It was a bit nerve wracking, but less threatening than I had imagined. Most of the time you were able to control the risk by backing off or moving out of the center of the pack - protecting your front wheel. I stayed at the back of the lead pack most of the time, but did move up along the outside a few times - sometime I found a wheel to follow, other times not and I'd soon drift back to the back to get out of the wind. On the back it yo-yo'ed quite a bit on each turn - slow or even braking going in, accelerate through and out the turn. Not so much yo-yo'ing on the outside of the pack, but more wind. Pick your poison.

There was one crash and I was involved. The pack started into a corner and I was maybe mid-pack when I felt a strong bump into my rear wheel. I let out a "whoa!" and then heard the awful sound of a bike crashing to the ground and sliding. I am pretty sure I was holding a reasonable line behind the rider in front of me and I sure hope I hadn't cut this racer off. Later I heard one racer state that he thought a racer on the inside made a move that caused the racer who crashed to react by moving to the right and into me. I hope the racer and and his bike are OK.

I knew the C/D flight race is 30 minutes long so I had set my cyclocomputer to display the ride time. I knew they ring the bell for the last lap and I was hoping I might get a jump on the final maneuvering and sprints by making a move with 2 minutes to go. But the race official announced 3 laps to go so that shot down my little strategy.

With 3 laps left the pace picked up. I stayed with the group OK, but just didn't feel I had the legs to make a run to the front. I sat in on the 2nd lap too. I tried to push up on the last lap, but I was boxed in and could only wiggle a few places ahead before the line. Lesson learned: if you're on the back for the final laps, go outside to move up.

After the race I talked with JE a bit. He wasn't feeling well from the start and dropped off. He was talking with some other Porcupine teammates. Good camaraderie with teams, I may join a road team (I'm already on the mountain biking team).

Overall it was a good new experience. It wasn't death-defying and the speed was a nice little rush. It was very dynamic with things changing all the time. It's very easy to get spit out the back if you aren't alert. I plan to do at least one more once they get onto the longer course as I'm interested to see how that changes things. For trivia, in the 30 minute race I clocked 13.5 miles.

Bonus: Before the crit I went out to look at the Hell of the North course. I drove around it - the dirt road section looks pretty nice. Hard packed, no deep gravel, a few mellow washboards that are avoidable, damp in a few spots but no real mud. Should be good for the race unless the weather interferes. After driving a lap, I got changed and did a lap on the bike. I took it easy but was still able to do a 20 mph pace. Pretty fast course. Here's a picture of the dirt road:


Unknown said...

Good to see you out there Kris. You raced a very strong race for a beginner. Much better than I did on my first time and WAYYY better than I did last night.

I know the crits are a bit of a drive away from home for you, but hopefully you can make it out to another race or two. Maybe even the Sugarhouse or Downtown Crits later in the season for som Saturday racing.

Your picture of the HoN road makes me even more tempted.

Eat Sleep MTB said...

I don't get the puddle thing. There are two puddles on the back stretch, and they are always there. One even has muddy chunks in it. I am sick of cleaning my bike because of that one puddle, why can't someone Get out a broom and just sweep it off?

Unknown said...

last night the big puddle was a HUGE puddle and there were several others.

but I agree. The organizers could do a much better job of cleaning the course in a few key areas and also of having a small video recorder for the sprint finishes.

StupidBike said...

puddle, puddle?

Come on, it is a puddle, have you seen Paris Roubaix Photos?

Brad Mullen said...

Although I didn't do any crits last year, I always see my highest HR at those races. Just hanging on is a challenge. When you get to the long course you may have a chance to use your MTB skills. Two years ago I had to jump a downed riders legs on the backstretch and my buddy made a foray into gravel and weeds with several other guys. It can get exciting, and FAST!

Downhilldiva said...

Good job last night. You'll have to come back and try the other course. I think it is a lot more fun. There are a lot more changes in speed and the corners mix things up.

Yes, crits can be dangerous. I broke my elbow out there last year and still have wires in it. But it is the best way I know to improve my road skills. So I'm back out there this year. See you at Hell of the North! Thanks for the pic!