This is a longer race report but I had a great result and have some tactical points to discuss. I hope you find it interesting, and again, thanks for reading!
City Park Criterium is a classic race with a lot of history. Its first edition was held in 1971. This is not the City Park Criterium, which occurs mid-summer, but a collegiate edition held in the early season on the same course.
There have been variations over the years, but today’s course was the ‘technical short course’. A loop just over 1k with four corners, three of which are over 90 degress, and two of which are chicanes or doglegs. Combine this with steady north winds, pavement changes, and a strong field, the name of the game became breakaway.
After missing out on the break last week I was on high alert. The field of about 40 racers started at a moderate pace and I made sure to stay near the front. A few moves from minor teams moved off the front but didn’t look very dangerous and none of the faster riders responded. Once the race had picked up speed for a few laps I saw some fast guys getting in on the action and I knew there would soon be a split. A group including Colby Pearce (in last weekend’s winning break), and Chris Winn (2010 Nature Valley GP Best Amateur, and 2011 signing for Fly V Australia Pro Cycling) formed off the front.
I decided it would be worth the effort to bridge up to the break, which was only about 5 seconds up the road. I jumped and rode hard in the downwind gutter. It only took about ten revolutions of the cranks to get up to speed, and I dove into the last corner as fast as I dared. The rest of the gap was crossed as I leaned hard into the 150 degree bend around the roundabout.
The three long, sweeping corners were too sharp to pedal through, but at over 120 degrees each, a fair bit of speed would be lost over the few seconds when pedaling was impossible. This made entry speed very important to maintain momentum through the corner. I used this to my advantage to gain on the break without using too much energy. When I checked over my left shoulder as I exited the corner I saw nobody had come with me and we had a tenuous lead.
The early phase of the breakaway is critical. If a team in the peloton doesn’t like the composition of the break, they can bring it back with relative ease. If a rider wants to join, they can bridge with relative ease. If too many riders want to bridge, the pace lifts too far and the break can come back as well. To prevent the above scenarios, the riders in the break need to quickly begin working together smoothly to keep the pace high. I have learned that even in a moderately sized group, like our’s of seven riders in today’s early break, I can effect the early chances of the break with how I behave.
I took a strong pull to extend our lead, show my interest, and remind everyone why we were there. There continued to be some disorganization for a few laps as the pace was so high that a few riders were having difficulty keeping it tight (meaning, keeping the distances short and accelerations smooth). They were gapped off the break one after another until we had a decent group of four: Myself, Colby, Chris, and Zach (another Cat 2 I believe).
The time gaps shouted by spectators had steadily increased by a couple seconds per lap. 10 seconds. 15. 20. 25. 35. Then they stopped shouting. This was a good sign as they didn’t seem to believe the pack was closing. We continued to ride hard with Colby putting in many monster pulls up the gradually uphill finishing straight.
An interesting scenario occasionally develops in criterium races: Lapping the field. If the field is lapped by a group of riders, the field is -1 lap, but the lead racers can re-integrate into the field. Their finishing positions are then dictated by where they place amongst each other in the final sprint.
Honestly I was a little confused by the way the tactics played out. We each had at least one teammate in the main field which presumably would be well rested after riding easy as they had an interest in our break staying away. Once re-integrated, our placings would be dictated by team tactics in a hectic bunch sprint. Personally it seemed like Colby was riding so strongly he would have been better off easing the pace and winning from our small group without lapping the field, but the pace remained high enough that instead of looking across the course for the pack, we could seem them in the next corner about 20 seconds ahead.
Next came our near-death experience! As we rounded the second corner, a half lap of a large roundabout followed by a >90° chicane, a pair of riders on mountain bikes was casually pedaling right towards us! I think I was second wheel at this point I will admit I hit the brakes a little harder than I mean to and locked up the rear wheel while we were still in the corner pretty hard. It slid out but I was able to react and let off the brake before I had slid too far and the bike righted itself. The good news is that this can be dangerous force for a glued tubular tire as the side load can pull it off the rim. It held tight which gives me further confidence in my glue job.
There were about ten minutes remaining and I had gotten pretty tired. Zach had stopped pulling quite a while ago and was simply along for the ride. I was taking token pulls as to not upset the group. I knew when we both seemed like dead weight, the stronger riders would probably try to get rid of us. The near-crash disrupted our rhythm and a few corners later Colby jumped. I tried my best to get on Chris’ wheel as he chased, but couldn’t get quite close enough. I looked back and Zach wasn’t able to hang with me either so I was alone.
I chased hard for about five laps and came within about five seconds of the pack but couldn’t quite make the junction. I gave up at two laps to go and just rode in as fourth place was well behind me at that point. As I came through the last corner (the tightest on the course) I saw the wreckage of a minor pileup involving a few of the lead riders as they tried to position their teammates who had made the junction and lapped the field. Chris Winn ended up taking the sprint for the win and I happily crossed the line for third place.