Sunday, July 22, 2007

Superweek Evanston crit: Ohmygawdfastscarycrashrace!!!

This was the first year for the Evanston, IL venue for Superweek. Some glitches were to be expected, such as wrong directions that put me 4 miles in the wrong direction, and a start that was delayed by at least a half an hour. However, learning from experience from all the other crits this year, I did everything right, and it paid off. I queued up right at the line for a good start. I tightened my quick release skewers so tight I don't think I'll ever get my race wheels off. And I did everything possible to stay near the front, which paid off most of all!

This was an extremely technical course. Not only that, it was flat, so speeds were high, and the field was full (60 riders I believe). This made for a great pro course. But category 4/5s - not so much. Unlike the Waukesha course which lopped off a couple of corners for the 4/5s, this course did not. The 'corner of death' was actually two 60 degree corners immediately following each other after a long fast straightaway. The crashes started the very first time around this corner! I was actually blamed for this crash, as the wheel in front of me crossed into my line, forcing me to go wide, causing the next guy to go wide, which pressed people into to the outside (left side of pictures). The next lap had another crash, and pretty much every third lap of 30 had a crash. There was pretty good communication in the field though as the more experienced riders gave the less experienced riders friendly and not-so-friendly lessons in bike handling.

One rider in particular was getting blamed for crashes, sometimes for good reason and sometimes not, but he quickly got a reputation in the field. He was a xXx racer who was racing without handlebar plugs (illegal and a peeve of mine), rendering his bike a weapon of impaling destruction. In any event, he got yelled at a lot but still stayed near the front, so there was a wide swath behind him of riders avoiding his wheel. It wasn't until three laps to go that he finally took himself out of the race, crashing into the corner of death himself.

Riding near the front, there was only one crash that went down in front of us, and it was a pretty big one. Fortunately I was in the middle of the course, so when the field tried to go around the carnage I wasn't pressed into the barriers on either side, but rather into other riders. I went shoulder-to-shoulder with a couple of riders as we maneuvered around, but they were also good bike handlers and no one panicked at the bumping. Rubbin's racin' right?

This was a very fast, very scary, but extremely exciting and adrenaline-inducing race! I quickly learned and/or reinforced some crit-racing skills:

- Stay near the front to avoid crashes - duh.
- In corners, don't be either on the inside or the outside. In both cases, you can get pressed to the outside where you have no place to go. At least in the middle you can either brake if you absolutely have to and fall back out of danger, or go shoulder-to-shoulder with other riders, thus ensuring you both stay up. Going shoulder-to-shoulder with the barriers never works!
- Racing at the front saves so much energy over yo-yo-ing at the back. This race seemed easier than yesterday's race from a lactate-inducing perspective, although being primed from yesterday's race probably helped.
- Crit racing is hard - but fun! I'm sure I'll change my tune once I finally go down hard, but until then, it has the intense fun of cyclocross and I'm even thinking of spending a super week in Milwaukee next year.

Some bad news: James Lockwood went down at Waukesha and had to go to the ER. In the he was okay, although he does have a neck brace as a precaution. Poor Heather was a mess though, as she didn't hear from him for a long time, and I was telling her stories about the crashes in Waukesha! The SRAM neutral support had promised to call her, but apparently they never did, and James didn't know that they hadn't. He was also looking for his bike for a long time, and it turns out support had taken it to Evanston. Fortunately they let me bring it back for him after my race.

In the end I finished the race with the front group, and I'm extremely happy I was able to avoid crashes and finish strong (for me)!