"Faire l'elastique": Crit Racing at Larkin
Faire l'elastique- (French) "doing the elastic."
There was a large field, and I was predicted to finish second last. I wondered who that poor guy was that was ranked lower.
Last night we witnessed the last criterium races of the BBC Larkin Series. This annual event is arguably the biggest one on the local calendar, and riders come down from Ontario and out of state to participate in a well run event that highlights the strong racing community in Buffalo and Western New York.
Crit racing is something that is not for the faint at heart, but that might be why it attracts decent crowds. With high speeds and the occasional crashes, crit racing along a closed circuit allows fans to see the riders multiple times over the course of the race. Having watched many crits at Larkin, I cannot imagine going to see a large stage race and seeing two or three minutes of riders passing by before calling it a day. The high speeds and crashes are also the main reasons that I usually don't race, using the series as an excuse to fulfill my two mandatory club marshaling duties. That was until yesterday.
I don't know why I decided to don the skinsuit and race last night in the 40 minute long 4/5 race. I would like to think that I signed up to help the team, which did eventually help Jeff gain 2nd place standing in the overall. But I know that isn't 100% true, because I knew I probably wouldn't be around for long enough to actually help.
The last time I raced Larkin, I lasted all of 10 minutes before being blown out the back and left to TT the rest of the race. The last crit I did during the Two Days of Buffalo, I was blown out the back even sooner. Both were pretty awful experiences even though my numbers showed I raced hard. I think I signed up this time to just see if I had it in me. Could I hang on longer? Could I dive into the turns and hold my speed? Could I sprint back on if I took a bad line? Could I keep my cool?
I spent yesterday at work breathing deeply and just telling myself I was ready. I could dive those turns, and I had the legs to stick. I actively tried to keep myself calm throughout the day leading up to the race. I packed my gear bag and pinned my number on the skinsuit, and I started my warm-ups hoping for the best.
When I jumped on the circuit for a lap or two, I rode up to Alex and John and just sort of pretended that I was supposed to be there. They discussed race strategy and the plan for getting Jeff on the podium. I told them, "I don't know how long I will last, but I am 100% in for whatever you want me to do." Good teammates make each other feel needed, and this was exactly how they made me feel. I knew that even if I just rode down a break on lap 3, I would be ready to help if the opportunity came up.
The women and juniors' race ended, and our race began to line up. Breathe. Relax. The director did some call ups. It's no big deal. There was a large field, and I was predicted to finish second last. I wondered who that poor guy was that was ranked lower. You ride fast all the time, over some pretty crappy roads. Breathe.
The horn went off. Somewhere in the first three seconds of the race, my left shoe came unclipped. My foot slid out loudly and garnered a polite, "Dude, you okay?" I took a deep breath, and instead of being rattled like usual, I clipped back in and headed into the pack. Breathe.
The race headed into the first corner and then the second, third, and fourth. This wasn't so bad. I stayed in the rear. When they surged out of the turns, I had the power to match and hang on. This lasted for ten minutes. I was still in the race.
At about the twenty minute mark, nothing much had changed. People were slowly getting strung out the back as the pace picked up. Coming out of the second turn, the pack was gone up the road. I gave it all I had and surged to rejoin. Just as I caught the wheel ahead, I realized that I had not only got back on, but that two teammates who had been strung out and off the back had used my wheel to bridge the gap. This would be my major contribution, as later they would help Jeff get a good place up front for the sprint. I can do this.
Each lap got faster, and each time I thought I was falling off, I bombed the corner and sprinted back onto a wheel. The headwind on the front stretch was brutal, but it was keeping riders from getting away. Each lap I held on a little longer.
There is really no great triumphant story here. I lasted 32 minutes before I just couldn't go any longer. I came out of turn three and somewhere before turn four, I fell slowly off the back. The wind hit me, and my legs just couldn't push the pedals down. Bike racing is pretty easy. When the pedals come up, you push them back down. Until you can't any more. The elastic had finally snapped. Game over.
After crossing the line 41 minutes into the race, I think that I lapped two guys, and I think several more were behind me or didn't finish. The front had not lapped me. I had dived into every corner without fear. I hadn't looked at the head unit more than a little. I just raced and raced until I couldn't any more. I'd say that might be pretty good for someone due to be second last.