In my quest to not use the turbo trainer during the summer and as part of my “attempt to get a bit of speed into my legs before the ‘cross season kicks off” plan I headed over to Manchester to have a go at the flat out gasp-for-breath-a-thon that is criterium racing.
For the uninitiated, all they are, really, is going really fast on your bike round a short circuit for an hour or so. For people who really love them they’re a whole lot more than that; tactics, highly specialised equipment, attitude, lore, strange behavioural patterns and complex mid race etiquette that can become totally engrossing.
I was very much in the “turn up and just ride really fast” camp. I’d made sure my newly rebuilt road bike worked, chucked some race kit on and sprinted over to the event (in the car) just in time to sign on, get charged an extortionate fee for a day racing license and do some pretend warming up in the car park, surrounded by people who appeared to be in the same lowly category as me (I felt it necessary to kick off my crit racing career down in the ’4th cat’…which isn’t unlike the ‘fun’ cat in mountain bike racing…only with more shaved legs) many of whom were taking it worryingly seriously with turbo trainers and stretching regimes that I’ve never even thought about for the big important races.
We lined up, someone said go, then we rode really fast for an hour. Which is what I was expecting.
I dropped off the small group at the front of the race early on, but over 45minutes or so worked my way back up to them, dragging a couple of other guys along with me who seemed happy enough to sit in my slipstream until they started to fade, not long before I bridged back up the leaders and finished in the bunch.
I’d been told about how 4th cat bunches work (or don’t) by several racers I know who’ve worked their way right up to 1st and elite status and decided to just watch what happened around me – after all this was just a turbo trainer session outdoors in reality – until we finished, whereupon I was told by the organisers that I’d been lapped.
I knew I hadn’t, I knew (as did several of the marshals around the course who congratulated me during the race for putting the effort in to catch the bunch back up after losing ground early on) that I’d just closed a gap that I’d let open, but thought that maybe the results would work sort themselves out when everything was checked later. Sadly they didn’t and I’m surprised at how peeved I feel about it, given that I was happy to sit back during the event and watch and, due to only using a day license, wouldn’t earn ‘points’ or anything like that anyway.
I think it’s a mixture of knowing I worked my arse off (189bpm average heart rate for the hour the race lasted = putting in the effort, mmmkay) for the whole race out on my own, often leading a few other riders round until they fell off my wheel and yet still didn’t get noticed…I mean, I don’t exactly blend into the background in the nice bright JMC kit, do I?
Anyway, ignoring my overly precious ego taking a bashing, it was really good fun. After only one go at it I can see why it takes over many peoples whole racing calendars and why some races, run round closed off city centre streets have become ‘must do’ events for many riders. I’ll definitely do some more and hopefully in doing so get myself in decent enough shape to bother the top ten in a few ‘cross races again this year