Yesterday (7/21) I headed up to Ontario with the rest of the SDBC 4/5 team to race in the 4th instalment of this year's Ontario Crit Series.
If you've been reading the blog since the beginning you know that Ontario is as flat as it gets, wide roads and fast. This course also seems to have a way of leading to accidents when you'd least expect them. Last year this was the course where a junior decided to veer out of the middle of the pack taking me and others out, resulting in a separated shoulder for yours truly. I've also seen a few strange crashes on this course where the field is rolling along a straight piece of road and all of a sudden 15 guys are on the ground.
My goals for this race were pretty simple:
1. Ride with the field the entire race.
2. Play a role that would help one of my teamates succeed. Our club is trying to pick up as many SoCal Series points as we can right now, so top results matter more than ever.
3. Stay safe.
Talking with the team before the race we agreed that my job was going to be to get on the front with a couple laps to go and try to keep the pace as fast as possible. While I don't think any of them believed I'd actually be able to get this job done, I was happy to take it on. First, being at the front keeps you away from all the craziness that can happen towards the end of one of these races. Second, I really wanted to test myself in this race. I knew that I wasn't going to be able to sprint with the really fast guys at the end, so getting on the front and hammering it with a couple laps to go would be a good alternative. Finally, keeping the pace high would disuade others from attacking early and allow our sprinters the chance to do their thing.
The course at this event is a pretty good sized lap, 1.2 miles. It wasn't too hot yesterday, maybe 85 or something. The wind on the otherhand was pretty strong, which makes riding on the front of the field a very tough job. When we were headed into the wind we were typically down to about 22 mph, which is pretty slow for a course as fast as this one. No wind and the pace would have been closer to 27 mph.
The race went pretty well for me. After the first couple of laps I was beginning to feel like my old self again. I was able to move up through the field when I wanted to. I was pretty comfortable riding in the middle of the group. I pretty much settled in on the rear of one of the wide bodies, held his wheel and took it as easy as I could.
About a third of the way in I found myself near the front, so I pulled all the way through and led the field around a lap. I definitely spent some energy doing this, but it was valuable to get on the front and get a good read on whether I was really fast enough to expect to pull the field with 2 laps to go. Sometime soon after the requisite stupid accident happened. Some junior decided that it would be a good idea to have a drink while riding around a corner at 25 miles per hour surrounded by other riders. Sure enough a guy went over his rear wheel breaking his collar bone in the process. I still don't understand why the guy who was injured didn't get up, walk his bike back to his car, and drive to the hospital; instead someone called 911 and the race was neutralized for 10 minutes while the paramedics got on the course and carted him off.
When we finally got back to racing there were maybe 10 minutes to go. This situation made me pretty nervous. Giving 50 or so guys 10 minutes to pedal slowly and get their breath back only means that some of the weaker guys were now on the front thinking to themselves that they felt remarkably fresh and wondering if they could indeed win this thing. Generally this only leads to trouble as guys who normally are spit off the back by now are instead mixing it up at the front.
With two laps to go I hauled ass up to the front and did my job. I was secretly hoping that I might even be able to pull away from the field, never mind just keep the pace high. However, each time I looked back to see if I was pulling away there was a guy right on my wheel. So no dice on the break away. What I wished I'd known when I was on the front was that the SDBC rider who was on my wheel was Alcino, one of our better finishers. If I knew it was him I would have tried harder to hold my position right to the end. With 1 lap to go I was really starting to run out of steam, I pulled off thinking that one of our other grinders was the guy behind me, unfortunately what really happened was that Alcino was now on the front with the wind in his face.
Just to keep things real, as I was dropping back and heading through turn 1, some clown went racing right across my front wheel and headed straight for the curb/dirt on the outside of the corner. He cratered pretty hard, but luckily for him, he didn't get to pile into a giant piece of cement like I did when I broke my leg. By the time I came back around for a warm-up lap there was no sign of him, so I guess he came out of it okay.
As for the finish, Alcino finished somewhere in the top 20. Kely Campbell, probably our best sprinter, took fourth. All in all a great day.