My lower back spasmed while I was cleaning up after breakfast. That's not what I wanted for the morning of my big race, so I quickly used my foam roller to massage the spasm out. Strangely, my back was fine during the race and it was my feet that were sore.
My preparation for this race was very brief to say the least. The last two years I have prioritized track sprinting, where my longest race is no more than about 1 minute. So my coach, Jeff Solt, had a tough job trying to prepare me in just 4 weeks for this 50-minute race. It was the same course as last year, about 1-mile laps in a Pleasanton business area, The end of the race would tell how successful this training was.
I warned up on my trainer, after borrowing an appropriate quick release skewer from Mike (thanks Mike!). I also used the foam roller again, to be sure. There were 34 racers this year, similar to last year. The course was also the same, with a 1-mile four-corner course on smooth pavement in Pleasanton.
The first several laps were pretty easy, but soon after that there were continuous attacks by solo riders and two or three man groups. I tried very hard to heed my coach's advice to stay protected and not try to go with breakaways, but sometimes that's easier said than done. Because I also try to stay near the front of the field I sometimes ended up being the point of the peloton and thus was in the wind. In those cases I always tried hard to soft-pedal, and even stopped pedaling and took a drink, so as to force those behind me to pick up the pace instead of me. Sometimes this worked, sometimes I ended up perhaps working a little harder than I intended without really wanting to. But in general I felt great and only occasionally was I anywhere near my limit, so I was looking forward to the final sprint.
With three laps to go the pace definitely picked up and people were trying to get into position. This is tricky because everybody wants to be in the same spot at once. I was near the front and had a perfect view of Daniel Shore (last year's winner) attacking us off the front, with another guy. But again, I had to hold back and just watch them extend their lead as I waited for the others to pick up the chase. Directly behind me was Eric Saltzman, who yelled at me to close the gap to them. As much as I wanted to I could only take a very short pull before I had to pull aside and let him or somebody else take up the chase.
After their lead was big enough, sure enough, others started to leap ahead to catch them. Then to Eric's credit, with about one and a half laps to go, he took a huge dig to bridge up to the break. I was right behind him but again could not afford to try to go with him. I just had to hope we would catch them both or else I'd risk completely blowing up (as happened to Eric, who finished last). I sat up and waited for the others to chase.
Once the rest of the field took up the chase I was able to slot in behind some of them and maintain a decent position from which I could hopefully sprint. But I was getting tired and the very fast pace made it hard for me to be fresh for the finish. It is always difficult for me to position myself yet not blow up. I was probably a bit too far back going into the last two turns, but we did catch the break, and Eric's teammate Jerome Nadel was able to leap ahead and win the race, while I sprinted hard just to get 14th. I felt Jerome deserved it as he had been working hard throughout the race. Congratulations!
Our race was pretty clean, and I was very happy about that especially after last year's erratic team tactics. One guy did go down, but it was supposedly self-inflicted by his own tendency to overlap his front wheel with other people's rear wheels. This same guy, incidentally seems to have gotten away with getting two free laps before rejoining us; the rules only allow one.
So, what does this all mean? For me it was amazing that such a short preparation could yield a result so similar to what I would have likely achieved in past years where I did many months of workouts geared toward such races. It also reminded me that even flat crits at this high level of competition are very challenging for me. I had a lot of fun, the race was clean, and I am looking forward to next season!