Criteriums - Getting in Touch With Your Inner Crazy

8:47 PM

Every June the Nature Valley Gran Prix rolls into town for a weekend of time trials, road races and crits; and two of the best summer evenings in the Twin Cities are represented in the crits that each city hosts.  St. Paul presents racers with cobbles and random manhole covers as they navigate the twisty circuit of our capital city.  A few days later we all gather again in Minneapolis to sit in front yards drinking beer and feel the wind created by racers as they fly through the Uptown neighborhood. 

When I joined my team I was interested in signing up for my first road race, but I soon discovered that cyclists are mad about crits around here.  Every Tuesday night throughout the summer brings a crit, and when you add in the weekend events you wind up with nearly 30 of these intense competitions.  When a racing couple on my team put on a crit clinic, I quickly signed up to check it out.

We met at the state fair grounds one evening a week for three weeks and rode various circuits on the empty streets.  I learned about taking the right line through a corner, bumping without falling in traffic, and protecting my space by riding in my drops.  The clinic ended a week before a summer series of crits on the same roads, and the (at first) unspoken assumption was that we would all queue up to the line in the coming weeks.  I never did race a crit that year.

I wasn’t until the following spring that I finally screwed up my courage enough to enter a crit.  Part of my reluctance was vanity – when I got dropped and lapped (and I was sure it was a when not an if) it would be in front of everyone.  Sure, this happens in cross races all the time, but cross is so confusing often only the racers know who is in the lead.  But the main thing that kept me from the registration table was the danger of the race.  I was confident in my skills, but criteriums require you to race amongst other racers just as inexperienced and freaked out as you are – and this is not a good combination.  I was far too good at envisioning crashes and broken collarbones, and just wasn’t able to envision a successful race.

My criterium resume is woefully short – I think I did four of them last year.  Nothing went wrong – no crashing, no bumping – but by the end of the series, I knew I was done with them.  The danger level still was uncomfortably high.  Though nothing happened in my races, something was sure to happen in one of the races every week.  I saw sheared cranks, broken forks, swaddled shoulders, and improvised bandages.  It also didn’t help that the chaos was always in the category 4 and 5 races, so involvement in a dust-up seemed more than guaranteed if I stuck around.  Finally, it appeared that the more experience I gained in racing crits, the worse I did overall.  A general summary:

  • ·      Race 1: finished with the pack.
  • ·      Race 2: finished with the second pack, scored 1 point on a prime lap.
  • ·      Race 3: thrown out the back somewhere in the middle.
  • ·      Race 4: lapped by the field.

Clearly, my criteriums career was really going places…why in the world would I quit?!

Right after race 4 I entered my very first mountain bike race.  A new love was discovered, and I spent the rest of the summer learning how to carve corners in the dirt rather than on the road…

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