Finally popped my crit life cherry….
We are following Jam Ambassador Cat Forrest as she starts to get into crit racing. You can read her experience of her first race here:
I’ve been talking about racing for a while now but hadn’t quite mustered the courage to go for it.
I’ve always enjoyed success in sport and taken it seriously. As such, I struggle with the idea of going into a race or event if I don’t feel I can be competitive. With cycling I’ve never felt I could be – until now that is!
I made the decision to train with a coach in 2018, so for the last few months I’ve been following a more structured routine, helped also by using the Verve InfoCrank. This has enabled me to understand where I’m at, see the gains and build confidence in my ability to hit the race scene.
It was a bit of a last-minute decision to make this race my first.
It wasn’t until the Thurs that I found out there was an E/1/2/3/4 race at Lee Valley VeloPark on the Sat. I had a concert on the Friday night so was slightly hesitant at first, but with a 4pm start time I knew I’d be able to get plenty of sleep and have time to prepare properly, so no excuses…
It also helped that my friend and teammate, Anneleen, was heading over too - she’s a lot more experienced at crit racing and one of the fastest women on the scene, so I knew she’d not only help me navigate the pre-race rituals, but would give me a wheel to follow.
Nerves are something I hear a lot of people talk about – doing something new for the first time is nerve wrecking no matter what it is, but personally I think racing bikes is one of the most nerve wrecking things you can do. Averaging speeds over 34kmph in close proximity to others, watching wheels, covering moves and knowing that if you or someone else judges it slightly wrong half the bunch is down. And believe me, road rash is not fun!
That said, I found I wasn’t nervous on the day – just focused. The day before, however, well that’s another story!
Friday, I found myself playing through every scenario; routing and rerouting how I’d get to LVVP, making sure I had all the kit I needed, planning food and timings and bugging Anneleen with daft questions.
So, the race!
We hit the start line and off we went – it was a fairly steady start, the bunch stayed together and just got the measure of each other. My cornering was terrible at first, so I found myself on a bit of a bungee cord in and out the corners, working harder than necessary to stick with the group.
First lesson, smooth cornering and not worrying about other riders’ lines equals saved energy!
I settled down a bit, keeping in the main bunch and trying to sit in to conserve my legs as a few more laps ticked by. There were 3 riders from one team in the race and one of them put in a bit of a surge, this split the field momentarily, but was quickly shut down. I wasn’t in the best position and saw how easily a true attack would have left me off the back working doubly hard to catch back on.
Second lesson – stay closer to the top 5 riders rather than towards the back of the bunch.
Rider two from their team put in the next attack and this time got away – the bunch didn’t respond and that was the last we saw of her!
More laps ticked by and I was feeling good – the pace was fine and I knew I had it in me to chase an attack if needed. Just as well, because this time Anneleen decided to up the pace and set off with one other girl. Again, I was in a rubbish position hemmed in around 9th wheel, but I got lucky because the girl she set off with didn’t have the strength to help her stay away – a few moments later the bunch was back together and we all knew it was going to be a sprint for 2nd place come the end of the race.
Five laps to go and I was anticipating the pace of the race to step up, but it didn’t. I tried to reposition myself further towards the front for these laps, but clearly I wasn’t wanted there and found myself bullied off my line and back around 9th wheel. A sign of things to come.
One lap to go..
The pace stepped up, but no real moves – this was going to the sprint.
I started to move up on the right, but my inexperience showed again and coming around the second to last bend I was pushed to the edge of the circuit and forced to the back of the bunch.
We hit the last little rise before the sprint and I’d made up no ground – still with the bunch, but nearer the back and knowing I was about to get left in the sprint. The girls at the front, led by Anneleen, shot off and were in full sprinting flow as I was trying hard to make up ground and not let the gap open too much.
I dug in deep for the closing metres and crossed the line at the back of the bunch – 11th place, just out the points!
Third lesson – don’t be bullied off your line. If I’d had the confidence to stick to it, I’d have been top 10 and more likely around 6th place.
Despite being disappointed in the result, I was absolutely buzzing after the race and loved the whole experience. It was probably the best first race I could have hoped for – a strong group of experienced racers, but no-one really turning the screw to destroy the field or break it up.
It’s left me wanting more and hungry to get mixing it with these girls again.
It was also good to realise that the different race categories are in many ways more about the experience than the speed. Sure, I have work to do versus some of the Cat 2 riders, but in reality, 2/3/4’s were all finishing within the thickness of a tyre of one another.
My advice to anyone thinking about it is to go for it – it’s not as scary as you think!
Next up, Hog Hill……
Images by @benjiryder