This is one of my favorite criterium courses of the season. It is a hard race with a solid hill, lots of turns, and a high speed corner. I’ve got a good history here, winning the Cat 3 race in 2010 in a solo break, and placing 7th from the winning break in 2011. I was hoping to redeem myself in this year’s race and get some more points towards the weekend’s omnium.
Note: This weekend’s race is in Omnium Format. It is similar to a stage race, but instead of accumulated time, it is scored by points earned by finishing position. Here is the points table for the Suprior Morgul Omnium:
Last year the weekend only featured two races, the criterium and the road race. This left an empty slate at the start of the crit. This year the omnium points had already been established by the previous day’s TT. I should have thought more about how the team’s tactics might affect the race. Instead, I figured a breakaway would form as in past years.
The race started at a wicked pace. Usually I can choose my position in the field during criteriums, and it is only a matter of deciding where to ride and when to move up. Today’s race was so fast that I was just trying my best to hang on, and whenever I had the chance to move up I seemed to be making minimal forward progress.
I think it was partly due to the wind conditions on the course, with a light wind blowing from the north. The last corner on the course was downhill and northward into the head wind. Riders in front would lose a little speed heading into the corner while the sheltered riders behind would keep accelerating down the hill. The riders behind would have to brake, causing a significant accordion effect around the corner, which was followed by an uphill, cross-tailwind climb along the home stretch.
The was the perfect recipe to put riders at the back under serious pressure as gaps formed around the last turn. The furious pace caused many riders to be dropped in the opening laps of the race. After about 15 minutes, we were already passing large groups of a half dozen lapped riders at at time. I was hurting a bit myself, but hoped that the tired field would let a break go if it had the right composition. With only a single omnium point, I had an opportunity to get away so I went with a few moves.
The headwind on the downhill seemed to contribute to the demise of the breakaway attempts. Additionally, there were two very strong teams with large numbers of riders, Juwi Solar and Horizon Organic/Panache. I’m not sure if Horizon was under orders to shut down the breakaways, but it seemed that the two teams were never satisfied with the breakaways and they were always chased down by one of the strong teams.
Towards the second half of the race I was starting to suffer a bit from the speeds and my previous efforts. The situation at the back had eased with many fewer riders in the peloton, so I surfed the field for a while, riding where it was convenient to conserve energy. I had my computer set to time-of-day to keep track of how long was left to race, but I had to ‘calculate’ when how long to the finish from our start time for the 75 minute race.
I started to really get knackered and was having trouble keeping everything together. My back hurt, my arms hurt, and my hands hurt. I couldn’t see as much as I wanted to through my sweat streaked glasses. I didn’t have time to drink, and I wasn’t positioned where I would have liked. I thought we still had 10-15 minutes to race. As we passed the finish, I saw the lap counter: Two laps to go…
Damn! I totally blew it. Yes, I was tired, but I wasn’t paying enough attention to a very important piece of information in the race. I was now positioned too far back and couldn’t make up any ground. Horizon had all their guys amassed at the front setting up a furious leadout, and I would have to ride faster than them to make forward progress.
I did what I could but I didn’t make it very far. I probably finished about 30th of the 70 or so starters. The omnium points went 20 deep, so I likely didn’t get any. The character of the race was much different than I expected, but I should have realized the tactics would be different with protected riders and large, strong teams. The race had a 5% faster average speed than last year! (27.16 mph vs 25.77).
Tomorrow I’m not sure what to expect. I’ll spend some time tonight thinking about possibilities and hopefully omnium standings will be published. I’ll also have to chat with the team about how we’d like to approach things. I know Juwi and Horizon will be at each other’s throats for the overall, but I need to figure out how to make that work for me.
The Road Race is weighted heavily in the omnium points, with more than double the points going to the road race winner versus the time trial. I suspect the leader’s teams will be nervous to let a large break up the road because it may diminish the points available at the finish if the breakaway stays. Either way, I know it will be a very hard 3.5 hours of racing.