Well I finally got to race in my hometown.
For the inaugural Velo Fest they held what was billed as the Old City Crit in downtown St. Augustine, Florida.
St. Augustine, in case you don’t know, was founded in 1565 by the Spanish and is the oldest European settlement in the United States. Forbes magazine recently rated it one of the “10 Prettiest Towns in America.” The race was held in the Historic Downtown area, around the central Plaza de la Constitucion and the Flagler College green, a distance of about .8 miles.
Normally it’s too dangerous to ride downtown after about 7 a.m. I’ve been hit twice there by tourists who changed lanes at the last second, or, appropos of nothing, opened their door into the bike lane while I was riding by on the bridge (and then yelled at me). So it was a real treat to race in the beautiful old streets without regard to lights or fear of traffic. Though two pedestrian Tourons (Tourist + Moron = Tournon) sauntered right into the peloton holding their morning coffees.
The Crit in Cleats
I am a mountain bike racer. I don’t own a racing road bike. Instead I road-train on a Trek 5200 with eggbeater pedals, and instead of road shoes I wear Sidi Dominator cleats.
Though the Trek does have a race pedigree (Lance won the Tour on the model 5 times), it was replaced by the Madone line. My wheels are training caliber as well, though I sport them with Kenda Kriterium race tires.
I did make some minor modifications in a bow to roadies: I removed the presta valve caps and the front reflector. Hey, it’s a training bike, right? In the early morning you need that reflector.
Anyway, I wasn’t expecting much, and sweating those tight turns on pavement. Which is strange: I can charge down the face of a mountain and occasionally go too hot into a corner and crash into tree…I have no problem with that but gravelly corners on a road bike freak me out.
But the course was immaculate…swept clean and most of the manhole covers were blanketed with carpet and taped down.
From the start I was in a group of four for several laps, a regular wheel sucker, right where I should have been and doing what I should have been doing.
But I’m a mountain biker and and I donâ€™t know why I did it, but I think I got bored…I jumped out and bridged a gap between riders (twice) and of course everyone followed along. And of course it tired me out a bit and I never had the same pop afterward.
I did really start to figure out cornering though, and by the end I could feel the gâ€™s compressing my bike as I took some really aggressive lines. I would pedal into the corner, feel the bike compress, and as I felt it start to release I would pedal hard and kind of jet out of the corner right into the line where I needed to be for the next turn.
The trouble was, that no matter how good I thought my own cornering was, I could never hang on to anyone else’s wheel in a corner. I would go into the corner in a line, a gap would appear and Iâ€™d have to jump out of the saddle to close the gap. This happened anytime I was riding with anyone for the entire race. I just could not get rhythm and speed on it down.
And it never ceases to amaze me how hard it is to close a gap on a road bike. With about 6 laps left a faster group came by and I jumped on back, but when we hit a corner a gap opened. I would sprint after the group, desperately trying to close what always became a two-bike length gap. The only thing I could do was wait for them to bunch into the next corner, where Iâ€™d just catch up, and then the gap would open on the corner and I would have to start all over again. I could only do this for about a lap before I let them go.
In the end I finished approximately 1:45 behind the leader, which I don’t think is bad considering it was my first crit ever, and only my second ever road race. And as the other riders told me after the race, “If you stay up and don’t crash in your first two crits, you’re doing a great job.”
I’ll take their word for it.