I woke up to send off the Saturday Morning Group Ride. It was a bit nippy out, but I was excited to start the criterium season. After finishing off the last few chapters of Reading the Race, I was finally in the mindset to “play bikes.”
3 hours before, the Pop Tarts and RedBull were in my system and already kicking into gear. A gel or two during warmups, and the energy was at an all time high.
In warmups, I rode the course, I checking out the corners, and the rough patches of the straightaways. As usual, I planned out where I would launch a sprint, but didn’t expect to make it that far.
Nervousness set in at the line, my leg began to shake on the pedal a little bit, not knowing what was about to happen. In the past, I’ve been off the back, fighting to stay in the race.
I started out pretty strong, sitting in the top 5 to 10 positions for the first few laps. The crosswind was brutal. A few potholes on the backside of the course made for some interesting riding. And a 180º haunted the entire field every lap.
I looked down at my Garmin. 11 minutes in. 22 minutes to go. My legs felt okay. I kept riding, kept picking the draft behind the wind, and playing it perfectly.
Lap after lap, I started to fatigue. A few attacks had to be chased down, and I felt like chasing them myself, or with another rider.
Suddenly, the announcer called “3 laps to go for the field.” I verbalized my thoughts, prompting stares from some of the riders around me: “Holy shit. I’m in this thing!”
The tempo began to build. We were sprinting for second place, with the lead rider about 15 seconds up the road, and holding on.
Coming around the last corner, I got knocked back a few spots as some big sprinters began to float towards the front of the peloton. They went left. I went right.
I brought out the “maximum-Cavendish” for the sprint: chin near the stem, back pointed down, legs grinding at the pedals. Shielded from the crosswind, I was picking up serious speed. And then I hit the brakes. A rider in front of me had jumped in front of me, and was not going nearly as fast. Blocked from the open road, I took 12th overall.
This is the first field finish I’ve ever had in a Category 4 race. It’s quite a bit more fun – and a lot easier to write a report – when you aren’t off the back. 12th isn’t necessarily the best position, but I couldn’t stop smiling after the race all the way until I went to bed that night.
Around this time last year, my advice was to go out and just ride. Ride your bike long, hard, and often. This year, my advice has changed. This year, find a coach. Find a coach to show you tactics. Find a coach who will push you to your limits and beyond. Find a coach who you work so well with, that you can credit them for your accomplishments. For me, coaching has made all the difference.
Next weekend is the Spring Super Criterium in South Beloit. I’ll be racing the Men’s 4/5 Category at 10:30. Stay tuned for my next report.
The 2015 racing season is upon us! Don’t miss out on any of the action.
- If you missed it, here’s my race report from last weekend’s Barry-Roubaix gravel race.
- Sign up for Higher Gear’s weekly email newsletter so you don’t miss Pepe’s next report from the Spring Super Crit in South Beloit.
- Looking for a great race or ride to enter or spectate? Check out the 2015 Cycling Calendar.
Joe “Pepe” Sullivan is a junior cyclists from Evanston, Illinois. He begins the 2015 cycling season racing as a 17 year-old, riding a Specialized Venge, named “El Diablo Dos.” Joe races for Higher Gear in both cyclocross and road. You can find him most of the summer and many weekends at Higher Gear.