But I am on a cycling team, and that means we race! I'd prefer road racing or cycloscross, but we were sponsoring the Littleton Criterium, so I signed up. I'll admit, I was absolutely TERRIFIED of doing this! The course is flat and fast, and according to race officials, very "technical" with all of the turns. I prerode it with a team mate, and found it to be quite nice, free of obstructions, a wide through the turns where you wouldn't really have to brake going through the corners.
As we went into turn 1 off the line, we kind of settled in and headed towards the back side of the course. They were taking it kind of easy, and pedaling at a relatively easy pace I was passing the group, so I took the lead into turn 2. The group started to pick it up, and absorbed me going through turns 3 and 4. As we finished the first lap and headed down the straightaway again, the crowds cheered, and we were flying at around 25mph - as a group. We hit turn 1 again, and I was in the back half of the pack. 3 racers touched wheels and went down right in front of me (I would find out at the end of the race that one was a team mate who had to go to the hospital - separated shoulder). I broke hard, and jumped left and was somehow able to avoid going down myself and continued towards turn 2 with the peloton. They continued to ramp up the pace.
Here's the thing - there is no rest in Crit. It is all out for the entire time. You read what I wrote correctly - we were riding over 20mph for the entire 40 minutes. You're over that anaerobic threshold the whole time - and I was feeling it! I looked at my wrist and saw I was in the 160s-170s for bpm the entire time, nearly my max! The crash kind of got to me (remember, they make me anxious!), so I backed off the pack a little, not that I could have held on with the state champion setting the pace.
With 6 laps to go, I was lapped. The leaders were keeping a high pace, and with such a small course, it was bound to happen. They had one of those speed signs on the straightaway of the course, and my goal was to make sure I was 20mps or above each time I hit that section. I was able to do that, and by the end of the race, I was only 2 mins off the winner (the 15 year old, State Champion - I thought this was a beginners race?!??!) and I didn't crash. As I came up the straightaway towards the finishing line on the final lap, the entire crowd was cheering my name (the announcer would call out names a we crossed each time). It was pretty awesome and very encouraging.
After finishing, I did a cool down lap to get my heart rate down and returned to the team tent. It was then that I found out my other team mate had crashed during the race, but she just got some road rash, and was able to complete the race. I guess I was the last (wo)man standing on our team!
It was a great experience, and probably the hardest thing I've ever done in my life! The crowd was incredible; it was like having fans ;) Being part of a team is definitely a good way to go about trying something new. pedal Racing is great about helping new racers get comfortable in a race situation, no matter what the discipline, and being there to get you through it. While I'm still terrified about crashing going so fast, and so close together, I feel a lot better going forward knowing people are there to help and support me in my racing career. I'll certainly do another crit, but for now, it's time for Cyclocross season!
Here is a photo comp of the race I put together: http://magis.to/LSB-V0UHBwd_OywEDmEwCXt9