Although my fourth ever crit, this is my first race report, as this race was clearly my best and more so eventful than the previous three. Strangely enough, I lacked confidence going into this race. My speed had diminished somewhat thanks to being bikelessly out of town for two weeks in early July, in addition to not being able to race since Glencoe on May 31st. Additionally, I embarrassingly crashed during a team ride several weeks ago on a horrendously botched corner. I realized that the crash was more the result of psychological fear of corners than lack of skill. To overcome this, I went back to fundamentals by working on corners and doing some figure 8’s at LaBaugh Woods the night before the Prairie State Chicago Crit. I built my corner confidence back up, but still feared my speed was not entirely where it needed to be.
Despite some of my apprehensions, I was eager to participate. My attitude was simply “go out, have fun, and whatever happens, happens.” It helped that my day got off to a pretty good start. I got a full eight hours of restful sleep, ate a proper pre-race breakfast and arrived with sufficient time to warm up.
When the CAT 5’s were called to the start, my familiar pre-race jitters kicked in, which was clearly another psychological element for me to overcome. However, my “just go have fun” attitude helped keep those jitters at bay. When getting up to the line I was up in the front with a few teammates, but decided I did not feel comfortable starting in front of everyone else, so relocated to the middle of the pack.
When the race started several riders zoomed past me, but unlike my previous three races, I was able to stay in sight of the pack. After the first very successful corners I thought “hey, that wasn’t so bad.” I also later realized there were no issues with my speed. Although not near the front, I certainly was not near the back. While I will admit that the corners of the race were not particularly difficult, I felt I handled them exceptionally well, and exceeded my own expectations. After all the corner fear prior to this race, the corners interestingly were a great part of my success. I had noticed that at each corner I was able to pass a few riders and build some speed off a solid turn.
At what I felt was my strongest point of the race was an unfortunate end for another. When coming around the turn on Paulina Ave., I noticed a Spider Monkey rider down, bloody in the face and close to unconsciousness. It was a sobering realization that the sport can surely be dangerous. As a result of his crash, the race was suspended for around 10 minutes to allow the ambulance to take in the rider and vacate the course. During the delay, the official had told everyone that the riders in the front pack had to be the first to start, while those that were in the back had to stay near the back at the restart of the race, lest they face disqualification. Two riders disregarded this instruction and of course were disqualified. As I did not desire a similar outcome, I complied with the official’s request and let the lead pack take off.
The race had only four laps after the injury delay. Upon resuming I was in the back-middle just as I was before. I realized at this point I needed to change the way my cycling brain works. Although new to the racing scene, I have always been an avid cyclist, often going for rides that were anywhere from 40 to 70 miles in distance. For those particular rides, I was very cognizant of my energy levels, and refrained from any bursts of power that could result in inefficiency in the long run or a premature bonk out. I also briefly thought of the Glencoe race, where I had worried too much about how much was in my energy reserves to a point where I did not use it and refrained from sprinting. The lack of sprinting and pulling was obvious to me after Glencoe, as did not exactly feel as if I had just done a crit after the race. This time I pushed hard thinking, “this is only for four more laps, then you can recover AFTER the race.” For the first time ever I tried sprinting which allowed me to position myself toward the back of the front pack. I threw all the energy I had in the final laps and found that this time I was actually passing other riders, and not being the one passed. On the last lap I pedaled with every ounce of strength I had. I felt like a beastly lion charging hard. On the final Paulina-Walton turn, I sprinted like mad. With my best estimate, I would say I passed three to four riders on the final sprint. Although it does not sound like much, that reflected a great improvement for me.
While I did not finish near the front (31 out of 43), I felt that my racing had improved significantly as I finished the entire race and not getting lapped. It should also be noted that the pack was pretty close, so my race time reflected a significant improvement as well. Despite the low difficulty of corners, I conquered my fear of corners, and even found them to work to my advantage. I was able to stay within reach of the pack, which is a major step from Glencoe where I found myself lapped and finished a lap short. For the first time, I worried less about my energy reserves, confidently sprinted and took some pulls. While the crit season is coming to a close, I feel a great boost in confidence and much to build off of the Prairie State Chicago Crit. I will conclude with some lessons learned: Always keep fundamentals sharp (i.e. cornering), don’t be too frightened to expend energy with sprints or pulls, and most importantly, just have fun.