Cherry Blossom Cycling Classic Stage Race

(photo from Oregon Cycling Action. And once again, not us.... no one ever seems to take photos of Cat4 women)

STAGE FOUR: The Criterium

(ps... if you don't know what a crit is, you should click on the above link.)

Sunday was pretty kick ass.... in fact, all of the long weekend of bike racing was pretty kick ass for many reasons (cheese plate).

Stage I and II were big hill climbing type races and even though that type of event is my worst, I surprised myself at being up front most of those races instead of settling into the pack as I typically do. Overall, I did my part to pull and help control the pace and was pretty pleased with myself till my legs blew up and I’d get popped 3/4 of the way through. When I look back on it, maybe pulling my fair share wasn’t always the smartest thing to do; however, I went into this stage race knowing that “anything with a hill” is not my forte (in fact the general question is not “if I’m gonna get popped it’s when I’m going to get popped”), so that being said, I might as well go out there and enjoy myself and have fun; besides, no offense to anyone's team kit, but the view is so much better from the front of the pack anyways.

Sometimes I ask myself why I paid all that money to torture and challenge myself with the long road races, maintain through the time trial just to do well at the one race that in terms of general classification time, doesn’t mean a hill of beans? And honestly... I don’t really have an answer for that other than I like being able to sprint past people who kicked my ass earlier. That... and well, I like being able to maneuver a tight corner, get a good lean in and I like knowing exactly how far I have left to go. So, yeah... doing well in a crit isn’t really worth it in a stage race; in fact, when you break it down it’s the most cost inefficient race of the whole weekend. Regardless of all that though, I was currently sitting in 16th place and if I did well in the crit against 36 of my other competitors... as far as I was concerned that was as good as a top 5.

An hour or so before the race I laid in bed at my hotel room and tried to relax. All of my teammates and I were talking about how we felt in the time trials, who passed who and who might be the overall winners of the race when my roommates piped in and said... "Jenn, we expect you to podium at the crit". And you know, I hadn't really thought about that before. I mean yes, the crit is my best event and while I had been racing strong all weekend and planned to do well at the Crit, it had never really crossed my mind that I could podium. In my short history of bike racing, it seems that anytime I had really really won a race or done well, it's because strongest racers weren't there or the field was small. I've gotten 4th, 5th and 6th so many times in a race that the idea of actually placing top three seemed like a mirage. I knew that I could be competitive against the field of 36 women... but for the first time I really thought about standing up there in the top three, on the podium... and well, I kinda liked it.

So needless to say, as soon as the gun went off for the race... my fellow 36 women and I were out of the gate like racehorses for a fast 25min crit on a kilometer long course. I made sure to get out towards the front of the pack quickly as sometimes, lining up or getting behind a slow wheel can make or break your race (or your bike). The best idea in a crit is really to stay up front as much as you can without wearing yourself out or getting behind the wrong person. It's a gentle balance. Also, the more you are out in front, the less people you have to worry about cutting you off, so really... racing hard and fast is much safer than being overly conservative. And here, it didn't take too long before a massive break in the pack happened and there were about 12 of us separated from the rest.

(photo from Oregon Cycling Action. And once again, not us...)

In a bigger crit, there are usually prize laps were if you win that lap... you get the prize. Some folks really try to earn those prizes... but really, I don't need another t-shirt or gift certificate or free sandwiches, I wanted a top three finish. I was reminded of that “podium” when during the first prize lap I found myself up in front and with no one right beside me, I figured I might as well go for it for the sandwiches since no one else seemed to want it. However, closing in on the finish line, I found a good racing friend of mine off to the side sprinting for the prize as well. She beat my wheel across the line by a few inches. Not liking how much that sprint seemed to take out of me, I decided I'd just sit in for the rest of the prize laps and wait for the finish.

That being said, I lurked about somewhere in the front five or so... never getting behind too much, nor really "racing" anyone who wanted to be in front more than I. Those last ten laps seemed to take for friggin ever and by the time we hit two laps to go... it was game time. "Stay up there.. stay up there" is what I just told myself over and over and over again. Then, going into the last lap the overall race leader and Amy Shepard from Brihop (a big local track racing team) took off in front of me. I hit the turbo button and chased them, trying to stay on their wheels. As we entered into the final turn those two girls were still slightly ahead of me and and the finish seemed so far away. While I didn't think I could catch the two girls ahead... I wasn't going to let anyone catch me either. I was watching my peripheral vision and couldn't see anyone's wheels closing in... so I just hammered it hard and took it to the line. The two girls were slightly ahead of me, but... there was no one beside me.

Shit, I couldn't believe it. Where was everyone who usually catches me right before I cross the line? Where were they at? Did I just friggin get a podium at the biggest crit I’ve ever done? Did that really just happen? Did anyone from my team even see that? Fuck yeah!

In summary, I got third place in the crit and I won a much coveted spot on the podium in a stage race and as a result, I’m a very happy camper. Granted, I still came in at 16th overall in the general classification, but for me it really doesn’t matter in comparison to placing well in the crit and having people say I raced well in the other stages. That makes for a very good weekend of bike racing.

That, and well... looks like I’ll be racing as a Cat3 from here on out.

(please imagine a photo of me standing on the third tier of a podium here as I do not have one, this drawing will have to suffice.)

And ps... thanks to Maryhill Winery for the nice prize bags!!! Two bottles of wine, two plastic wine glasses and hearty wine opener (I'm getting crunk), earrings from some local artisan and shit loads of coupons too! PS... and thanks to Castelli for sponsoring that stage.

PSS: EDIT! Got a photo, thanks Alana!

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