Yikes! I've never been up to the Long Beach / San Pedro area before. It could just be that I didn't get introduced to the nicer areas of town, but based upon my one trip up to San Pedro I wouldn't recommend that anyone put it on their list of must visit attractions.
When I signed up for this race I was assuming that it would be a pretty flat course. The course itself was right down near the waterfront, which in southern California often means pretty flat land. When I was checking out the race flyer a couple days prior to the race, I noticed a little note on it that suggested the course had less than 100 feet of climbing. While 100 feet doesn't sound like a lot, for a less than 1 mile crit, it's reasonably substantial. The course was pretty much uphill the entire way. There was a short, steep downhill at the end of the back stretch, other than that, it was a one to two percent incline the rest of the way.
Because the race was right on the edge of downtown San Pedro, there wasn't too much free parking available. When I arrived I drove around the side of the course where the flyer had suggested to park, there however weren't really any free or flat spots (I need a flat spot so that I can warm up on my rollers). When I finally found a fairly flat spot, it was in a pretty rough looking area. My car was pretty much the only one that looked like it had been built in the last 10 or 15 years. As I got my bike assembled and prepared to ride down to the registration booth, some dude stopped me and told me that he just got an injection down at the psychiatric hospital and was wondering if I had a couple bucks so that he could buy something to "take the edge off". On my way back to the car I realized that I was parked next to a psychiatric hospital that in turn was surrounded by group homes and pretty low end housing. So I moved my car to a better spot and got down to the business of warming up.
As for the race, it was 45 minutes of really tough work. It always amazes me how effortlessly all the little toothpick climbers can ascend hills. This day was no exception. For me, each lap was an exercise in trying to stay as close to the front as possible. I'd start the lap near the front of the pack, slowly fall back as we climbed, and then pass as many people as I could on the descent and tight corner that followed. On the last lap, the climbers really turned it on. By the time we were to the top of the hill, I was at the back of the pack. From there on out all I could do was focus myself on trying to get past as many people as possible before the finish.
In the end I didn't end up doing as well as I would have liked to, but I did get a chance to get a race under my belt prior to next week's Manhattan Beach GP. I find it's especially important to race the week before a big race. Racing is the best way to get yourself ready for the power surges and accelerations that happen in big races.
One last note. In all the time I've spent participating in sports in my life (hockey, volleyball, track, etc.), cycling is on an entirely different plane when it comes to people who make excuses for their failures. After each race ends, no one lost because they weren't good enough, it's; "If I only had my good bike", "my coach isn't giving me the right workouts", "my teammates won't lead me out like I want", "I didn't get enough sleep last night", etc., etc. This last race, as we completed a warm down lap, there was a guy with a real classic:
Buffoon: "Man, my job is really interfering with my racing season. It's affecting my racing"
Cyclist beside him: "Where do you work?"
Buffoon: "I work at Starbucks"
When I heard that one I nearly fell off my bike, I was laughing so hard.