I highly anticipated the Glencoe Grand Prix this year. I had been riding very strong on team rides as of late and been able to stay in the pack for my more recent races. Whatever it was, something clicked at one of the practice races. Could have been improved pedaling and greater will. Since that “ah-ha” moment, my teammates and I have noticed great improvement in my riding. Now that my ability to race was no longer in question, my only issue was being too afraid to burn matches by taking a pull or not knowing when to heat things up. This time I expected to be more aggressive…except for one contingency: rain. In the internal debate between being aggressive and being safe, I gave more credence safety as Glencoe has a reputation for crashes for some reason. The rain would only worsen that, and I did not want to risk the entire season. Despite the forecast raining on my excitement, the day got off to a great start. I had a good solid breakfast and blasted The Birthday Massacre on my iPod on the drive to Glencoe to get into my calm zone.
I had raced on the treacherous Elgin course several weeks prior in the rain, but in a much smaller and spread out field. Those variables lessened the slick danger somewhat. Glencoe would surely be more dangerous with a bigger field. I will however say what I learned from Elgin and Glencoe. If you are scared of the slick surface, then so is everyone else, especially CAT 5 racers. That is exactly what happened. All turns were slowed, much more so than other dry crits which I have participated in. Since they slowed, I did not have to sprint on every turn. I slowed down less than everyone else to keep my momentum, and while most of the field was trying to sprint after a slow down, all I had to do was pick it up with minimal effort to stay in, while also expending less energy.
As is common with Glencoe, a crash did indeed occur. Luckily it did not take me down, but unluckily I had to slow down to avoid eating the pavement. I was actually rather proud of myself for that moment. When you see another crash you may be inclined to panic which can result in a fall. I managed to hold it together and stay up. Another unfortunate event resulting from this was that a whole bunch of riders who were ahead of the crash were able to take advantage and take off.
Well fiddlesticks. I had been riding strong and crash screws it up for me again (a crash took me out of contention at the Elgin 5A race when I had been in the top 5 the whole time), leaving me out of the lead pack. I also had no teammates nearby to work with, so I was in big trouble. My only solution was to make an alliance with another rider who was willing. I took notice of strong rider nearby whom I was keeping pace with in the pack and who also happen to be team-less. I told him what the deal was: “We are both far back, we are both riding well and neither of us have teammates to help. How about we work together and take turns riding on each other’s wheel to catch up.” In the occurrences of luck and back luck through this race, luck was on my side this time as he agreed. Phew. I wasn’t about to waste breath to negotiate alliances with other riders while I was expending more energy than I should.
This proved to work like a charm. When one of us needed a break, we did the good old elbow wave and the other took charge. The race turned into a solid round of Mario Kart: Double Dash, and the two of us had a bunch of red koopa shells. One rider after another, passed up. In the final 5 laps we were able to move up 7-8 spots as we took turns getting a breather. Do this allowed the both of us to have enough energy for the final sprint. Toward the end, we both knew what the deal was. We worked together to catch up, but on the last lap, we were on our own.
Finally, I had fuel for a sprint in a tough race. I also finally knew when I should start lighting it up. At Elgin, it was way to late before I started sprinting, and I lost a great opportunity. What I learned from Elgin, is that even on the last lap, there will be a slow down at turns. Remembering this, I started to sprint before the last turn to pass up other riders reluctant to sprint too soon. That gave me separation and less worry about cornering fast next to too many riders. Another trick that worked like a charm. On the final pull, I finally experienced that “give everything you have moment” with enough power to make it work. I thought briefly of that video I saw of the final sprint of the Tour of California, and pedaled that crank like an insane person. I beat several riders on the final sprint which lead to my first top 10 finish.
For once, everything went right, at least everything I was able to control. There was a crash in front of me (out of my control), but I overcame the slowdown. There were no stupid mistakes this time and no poor judgment calls. Quite the opposite occurred, in addition to great strength and focus. Things are starting to fall into place. My speed and skills have improved and I have been able to learn an apply strategy. Finishing 10th at Glencoe is something to be proud of, but I know I can do better.