On a late Saturday a couple weeks ago I lined up for my first Cat 2 Criterium. It was a good offering of the 1/2 racers in Oklahoma with strong finishers like Jacob White, Bryan Duvall, Evan Bybee and Micah Newell in attendance. And as much as I feel like I’ve raced in the past 3-4 years it felt like I had just gotten to the beginning of being in the “Real Race.” The fastest race of the day, all the other categories are setup in a development cycle to help people on the amateur level get to this point. Everyone in this race is strong, committed and making sacrifices to be here.
Going into this race I had zero expectations. I hadn’t hit a crit in 8 weeks, was into strength and endurance training preparing for cyclocross, but had been feeling alright after a big race scheduling leading up through June. I also didn’t really know the players in the game. In the Cat 3 world I knew which attacks were legit, and which ones were always bound to come back. I knew who to watch in the sprint, who’s early move was dangerous, and how my fitness fit into the rhythm of races in that group. At this level all bets were off.
I was lining up with the names of guys who’d been dropping me on group rides for years! The ones in the races at the end of the day that you had a hard time seeing who was who as they flew by - now I had to figure out how to hang onto that whirlwind.
I’ve heard these guys talk about their races as being “smoother” then the other category races. I would have to agree in a sense - on a scale of 1-10 we were going between 8.5 and 10 all night - HA! My goal was to find team leaders in the pack and stay around the protective bubbles their teams were creating. I had no intention of being in any break, but with a fast and flowing course I didn’t think a break would stick anyways.
There were several laps of 31mph where gaps would start to form, sometimes because I couldn’t hang, sometimes cause others couldn’t. I think the “win” of the night was that I never felt like it was so hard I wanted to quit, everything, even it if was closing the gap and getting back to the lead group through a couple hard laps, felt doable. But if you were going to term my racing for the night you would call it “passive.” I wasn’t looking to be in the move, I was just looking to be efficient and there at the end.
The problem with passive racing is that you are basically trying to avoid the redline if you can. You get into a rhythm with the group, the lines you take, the position you are that lulls you to sleep. As you get to 5 laps to go and on, especially in this group, unless you can give yourself a slap in the fact to start racing aggressively for position - you will finish were you go through the line at 1 to go.
That is what happened, I didn’t get to ever use a Sprint or Jump cause I waited too long to even consider it. I was able to hold onto a long line of guys going for the sprint and knab 11th; Which I was both pleased and displeased with. I’ve failed and learned the lesson of getting lulled to sleep in a race - of when you need to switch gears - but I was so new to the group I let the passive “just race” mentality creep in instead of always slinging your bike for the win on the line. But getting near the top ten in a race with those guys was a great entry into this new category of racing.
I don’t expect any race to play out the same way as I move forward. Team racing is a significant part of results at this level, not everything, but important. I’ll still be racing solo a large majority of the time as we develop our road program on the Bike Lab team, but that’s okay since it’s mostly all I’ve know (barring our killer Cat 3 crit crew this year.) And this was just a local race - the big 1/2 races you are going up against Pro’s and Semi-Professional racers that us local guys can most times match but rarely ever shake.
The Enid race was a good confidence booster going into the fall.