Last night I raced again in the ongoing Newington Armory Criterium Series.
Boy, did I learn a thing or two.
A little background. For the last few weeks I’ve been labouring with a cascade of minor injuries, each flowing on from the last. It started with tendinosis and bursitis in my elbow, aggravated by a low aero position on the road bike. Subsequently, I managed to strain my shoulder and neck, from trying to stay off the elbow. My physio got that under control with massage, taping and enforced rest, to which were added a set of recovery exercises to both strengthen weak points and loosen things up a bit. Of course me being me, I managed to add a calf tweak and strained abs to the list of woes by overdoing the off-bike workouts. Yeah I know.
So there I was, hurting already before I’d even turned a pedal. Leading to lesson learned number one: If you’re injured, don’t carry on as if you’re not. And if your training regimen changes, ease into it instead of suddenly shocking your system with new workouts.
In addition, because I’d lowered my overall training volume, I’d also let myself slip and had a few mid-week beers the night before the race. And, to be honest, the night before that. This meant I’d spent the morning fighting off a bit of a hangover and didn’t get properly hydrated through the day. In fact, I ended up slamming nearly a full bottle just before the start.
Lesson number two: lots of beer the night before is a bad idea (though to be fair I already knew this)
Rolling off the line I felt a bit sluggish, and ended up at the tail of the group. “Oh well”, I thought, “at least I’ll be out of the wind”. Well, yes. But I also ended up at the back of the queue into the sharp corner at the foot of the lap, so I couldn’t carry speed through there, and I had to accelerate even harder to stay with the group.
Lesson learned number three: being lanterne rouge is not always an easy ride
After a few laps of this, I got a proper huff on and cut through the pack a bit to find a nicer balance between a good draft and the ability to carry speed out of the hairpin. At the front of the peloton were a group of riders in Park Bikes jerseys, trading turns and generally controlling the race. Inveigling myself into this group, I though, would give me a good position up to the bell lap, and with luck and power, a good finish.
It didn’t quite work out that way. In the end, what it meant was individuals could make big, probing attacks, then when reeled in, they could sit in while another attack came out. And meanwhile, I was dealing with changes in pace, sudden surges and chasing things down when they looked like getting away.
Lesson learned number four: if you’re outnumbered, it might be best not to fight at all
Somewhere around 17 or 18 minutes in, a big attack looked like it was going to stick and I ended up in chase mode. With my nose in the wind and averaging roughly 40km/h it’s fair to say I was pretty pegged, but I kept low and got the attack reeled in in the next couple of laps, but it was a big effort. I was, frankly, a little bit cooked.
Tactically speaking, with several riders having worked so hard at the front establishing and then chasing down a break, the best opportunity right now would be for someone to counterattack as it came back together. That someone was not going to be me. But it was certainly going to happen. And happen it did, and the race was on again.
Passing the finishing line with 20 minutes gone, completely redlined, I succumbed to a stitch - probably a direct result of my messed-up hydration – and within the space of 100m, despite putting in the biggest effort I could muster, the entire field had streamed past me.
I’d been shelled. Like a prawn.
As I curved round to the left and into the headwind I could see it was hopeless. I’d lost contact and didn’t have the watts to get back in touch. Dropped in a crit for the first time. Ugh.
Lesson learned number five: sometimes you get dropped, and it’s horrible. It’s not, perhaps, as humiliating as you’d first expect – it happens to all of us at some point I guess – but it’s dispiriting and demoralising, and if you’re physically maxed as well, it hurts. I don’t know how I can emphasise this enough. It’s really, really awful. I hate it.
So that was that. With no hope of getting back into the bunch in the remaining five minutes, I rolled off and joined the onlookers. Both grades got the bell a few minutes later. B-Grade had completely reshuffled after the counterattacks and ended in a big sprint. A grade, starting with only four riders and losing one out of the back, ended with a dominant-looking solo breakaway and a sprint for the remaining places.
But I can’t be that disappointed. This crit is always a brilliant event in a superb venue. With the sun setting, with the prizes handed out and the camaraderie of a group ride home, it’s one of my favourite nights of the week.
And there’s always next time. Until the autumn sets in and the evening sunlight runs out, that is.