I've raced in a number of Pro-1 Criteriums before, so I generally knew what to expect, but the distance of the Clarendon race was really intimidating. I was still sporting some sore hands and a banged up knee, and I was still early in the training build. Sitting at the start line, I was thinking lots of negative thoughts, but a veteran and personal peptalk from +Joe Mazza got me out of the funk and took a lot of the jitters out of my stomach.
I started at the back, which if you have ever raced a criterium (specifically THIS criterium course), you will understand how big of a disadvantage that is. I spent an honest amount of time early on in the race gauging how easily I could move up, trying to find a sweet spot in the peleton where the cornering and braking was a little bit smoother.
For my non-bike-racer readers, there is a lot of technical skill disparity between riders, even at the pro level. When a peleton approaches a tight corner as a pack, there are so many small movements which can ultimately prevent you from having maximum exit speed, which in turn will cause you to have to put in a hard effort to match the speed of the front of the race (which is now 10 seconds ahead of you, and flying down a straight-away).
Eventually, I gave up on finding a smooth part of the pack where I could carry my inertia all the way through the corner without braking, so I tailgunned. Tailgunning is when you hang out at the back of the back, let the pack roll away from you slightly on the straightaways, and then you corner faster than them and make up all lost ground exiting the turns. You do have to pedal a little more in some sections, but you minimize the amount of sprinting you have to do coming out of corners.
Once I was settled, it was a 2 hour and fifteen minute battle for draft, preferred cornering lines, and time to reach for an energy gel or grab a sip of water. I wasn't having any physical issues in hanging on (besides putting in the HARD effort to stay in), but the MENTAL effort it took was surprising. If you relax and stop paying CLOSE attention to every minute detail of your position, use of energy, and your prudent entry and exit lines in the corners, you notice the physical price you have to pay QUICKLY. On two or three occasions I sort of fell asleep at the wheel, and by the time I realized it, my HR was going upwards of my own danger zone, and it would take 2 or 3 laps to settle back down.
As I said, this went on for over 2 hours. Eventually I came unglued off the back of the race when the rider in front of my blew a tire approaching a turn, and I had no safe and fast line to get around him. After the corner, I had clear space to move past, but there was a 30 meter gap to the next rider (and the draft box behind him). Those 30 meters might have been 30 miles. I gave about 10 seconds of effort to try and close the gap, but the engine room was SPEWING steam...my legs were well beyond their limit. I went into time-trial mode, hoping to keep riding quick enough to finish the distance without getting pulled by the officials. I did entertain myself by trying to get as many kids to give me high-fives as I passed. Don't worry, I was soft-hands-ing it. No missle-five from me!
I did, sort of. On the final lap, I could see the leaders behind me, and United HealthCare was quite obviously shredding the field, so I COURTEOUSLY pulled to the side and let the leaders fly past me into the final two turns. Clipping back in, I pedaled the rest of the way to the finish, crossing my fingers that I would be counted in the final results. I was!
Post race, I enjoyed a DELICIOUS HAMBURGER AND MILKSHAKE from a really cool crew of people at BGR on Wilson Blvd. After over two hours of fast and furious racing, that brought me back to life like no endurance recovery product could. It was a great day; I [barely] finished the Clarendon Pro Race, and my wife and parents had made the trip to watch the whole thing unfold! The drive home, however, was less enjoyable. MY F***ING BACK HURT LIKE IT WAS MY FIRST BIKE RACE EVER!
In the weeks prior, I had been considering consulting the folks at Bike Doctor in Waldorf to take a look at my position on the bike. The Clarendon race was a wake up call to go in and get it done, as I had never had a proper fit done.
The fit is a topic all it's own. Spoiler alert: I needed to change my position.