I was considering ending the road season but have a ridiculous amount of fitness for me and am really close to upgrading via top tens or points (15 points for the calendar year after some points aged over twelve months this week...), and get to see most of the other familiar faces for this end of season crit (used to be), so I pre-reged for a couple of races.
The course layout at the Giro has the start/finish about 150 meters from the final turn. The first, left turn is a slight descent parallel to some old trolley tracks so it's tight, then there's a right after a short block, then another right with a gradual ascent for one block, then a slightly steeper ascent for one block over a bridge that narrows, making passing difficult sometimes in bigger fields, then three blocks of flat or slightly descending to the next to last turn, a right for a steep downhill but short block, then the final right hand turn. Position at the top of the hill on the last lap pretty much determines within a few places where one finishes in a field sprint because only a few places can be made up or lost due to the descent/two corners/short finish straight. In some ways this is good for me as I am not a sprinter but I can go really hard for two to five minutes. The roads are in pretty rough shape as well to add to the challenge.
Teammates: Erik O
Haven't race a flattish crit in a while. Since most of my teammates are in different age groups/categories, the best courses for me by myself are a little hilly, which isn't the Giro! Forgot about the thrills and spills.
The race felt pretty tame for the first few laps and was able to move up easily on the hill. I wanted to try to attack on the hill and see what kind of gap I could get so when the next prime was announced I moved up to fifth wheel, then just jumped hard when the climb got steep. By the next to last corner I could see Eugene/ICCC chasing so I took the last two downhill corners without braking and put in a little sprint on the finish straight to make sure I got the prime and was able to coast across the line. Now if I could only do that on the last lap! The pack was about five seconds back when I was in turn two, when I heard the sound of bikes and riders falling, looked under my arm and saw it was in turn one. Eugene had caught up and I hung onto his wheel up the climb then thought better of trying to stay away, then the announcer said neutralize. So we went kind easy/tempo for three laps while they attended to one of the fallen riders. Then it was game on again.
Rest near the back when one of the riders and I collide after turn two, we took slightly different lines but his handlebars go into mine from behind, I steady and after a bit of wobbling he steadies and we both slow and unlock bars and get back to racing. I use this to make myself start moving up.
I planned to attack on the last lap up the hill so moved into position, but let myself drift a bit too far back. Was in about thirtieth position entering the hill but easily passed about twenty riders. The problem for me was the riders ahead were slowly drifting to the right, and cutting off the virtual passing lane. I was about to burst into the lead, right at the corner when the rider two feet to the left of me took the corner really tight and took me into the curb so I had the choice of braking hard or attempting to jump the curb and I braked. What someone told me afterwards was one of the riders behind me locked it up and a few riders went down, but since it was uphill they were not hurt badly. After braking there was a gap to the first ten riders so I had to sprint on the descent to catch up, got in the draft just before the next to last corner and waited a bit too long to uncork my sprint on the finish straight, was gaining on everyone but only got seventh, too little too late.
Teammates: Erik O
OK, after finally being in position for a sprint at this race, what I learned was I need to burn a match *two* laps before the finish to ensure the correct setup for last lap position, so my goal is to attack two laps to go and one lap to go.
This race feels about the same as the first race but more strung out, possibly due to higher winds. Then as I sit in the shelter of Erik's wheel, some riders go down between turns one and two (again!) and one of them is screaming quite loudly. More than anything this is a sign that he is OK, a silent rider would be one that one would worry about. Our race gets neutralized because he's in the middle of the road between turns one and two. So we start riding neutral but it still feels kind of fast to me, just sitting in, we go hard until we get to turn one and we go five miles per hour, then sprint up the hill, that's probably what makes it feel harder than it is. So we get the signal to start racing again after four or five laps, and then we get the signal to stop racing.
Apparently a spectator saw the blood from the downed rider and fainted and fell on his head so an ambulance was called for the spectator. We have to stop and the start and leave room for the EMT's to drive pass on the course. After about twenty minutes we restart with ten laps on the lapcards and a prime a lap. I try to mentally prepare myself - this is going to hurt. The ref says the first lap will be neutral but when the moto pulls off with a 500 meter lead, it's only neutral if we catch the moto... Erik gets a great start and I use him as a carrot. I tell myself I've done track races much harder than this to motivate myself to hang in there when I feel like quitting. Every single time we go into turn one it seems like there is a potential crash or five - we are single file until that corner when we are going so slow that everyone bunches up and there is a lot of close contact and none of us is strong enough to go to the front and keep the pace up. Finally this catches up to us with two laps to go, a few riders make contact, and one starts cartwheel with his bike and the other careens the other direction. Another rider trying to avoid the carnage without braking runs right into Erik and locks bars with him and I see Erik braking hard and I am braking hard to avoid running into him when finally the other guy goes down and this takes Erik's bars out (thankfully at a very slow speed so I am sure he is not hurt badly and this is confirmed after the race). I do my best standing start after forty minutes of racing and chase. The group has about fifty meters now at the bottom of the hill. I pound the pedals and make up twenty meters and keep even for the rest of the lap. The next time out of turn two, another rider rides into my handlebars from behind so we have a side by side tandem for an excruciatingly long time, I can feel him wobbling while I keep it steady and he brakes a bit and we finally disengage. OK, now after that drama, it's last time up the hill, I put everything into it and I make it back to the lead group. Keep up until we get to the start of the descent and I have nothing in the tank. Roll in for a back of the front group finish, with one rider off the front, and my first sixty plus minute crit. Almost threw up after the finish. This made me think it was harder but the data reveals it was only harder for that bridge effort, the total effort was easier than the first race, I just didn't push myself hard enough in the second race to make something positive happen.