Monday, April 13, 2009

Spectating at the Volunteer Park Criterium 2009

One of these days, I'm gonna bight the bullet and jump into one of these local races. In fact I found a NW race calendar I had back in 2004, and even back then I had the same thoughts. So it's been years that I've wanted to give it a shot..

But you see, years ago I started "training" to race by riding a fixed gear. That time period was a lot of fun, and I learned how to do backwards circles in the process. Then I got side-tracked a little, as my fixed-riding friend said "Hey let's do STP!" (on the fixed bikes)
We did the STP on fixed gears back in 2005 (two day option, mind you), and my knees never forgave me. Too much skidding kills the knees! If I do that again, I need to remember to actually use the front brake..

So that big "fixed gear training" diversion somehow led to me becoming a long-distance fanatic. Maybe it's the fact that on some level it's a little easier to slog through a long ride (at your own pace) than it is to hang onto the back of a 20+ mph peloton.. Or the fact that I'm a 1/2 pack day smoker, and that doesn't mix well with high-intensity riding like races.

Anyway, point is that really soon I'm gonna make the leap over the fence, and turn from a spectactor to a participator. In fact, I had such plans on Saturday, knowing the race was happening so close to home at Volunteer Park.
But jumping into to something like that course, in the rain (so that would be a winding downhill, in the rain), unattached, is quite daunting. So, I wussed out (again!) and didn't race, but I at least strolled down to the park and took some shots.

The Cat 4 Women's race was well under way when I got there:

Rachel, a friend of mine who rides for Group Health, was in the Women's Cat 4 race, putting on a strong show as usual. I think that's her on 2nd wheel going into this turn (there had just been a wreck seconds before this shot too):

After that race, I stuck around for a few more minutes to take in some more action. Got to see an interesting award ceremony for the Men's 4/5 race; only 2nd place showed up to claim his prize:

Then it was time for the Masters (35+) C/D race:

The pack was pretty big, but of course strung out. There were a lot of stragglers just struggling to hang on to something, or at least not be pulled from the race. You could just see the pain emanating from this guy, for instance, and there were many more like him:
(I'm having a flash-forward to me in a similar photo, suffering; so I shouldn't laugh too much at this poor soul!)

But the front of the pack doesn't concern themselves with what's going on behind! It's all about what's ahead of you.. and in this case it was a prime sprint for a water bottle and some Nuun tablets:

Coming from the rando-world of full Honjo fenders and luggage, this is a different sight indeed. I don't even think you're allowed to run RaceBlades for these races, so you have to just eat up the road grime like everyone else. That'll take some getting used to for sure..

You can find a couple more shots, and some vids, on my flickr page.

After Rachel's race I was telling her about how I might do the Brad Lewis Memorial Crit (aka Boat Street) the next day, but she advised me that it might not be a good idea to do my first crit on a technical three-turn course, in the rain no less...

I'm usually really bad about taking advice (read: I generally ignore it) but this was one time I figured she was right. So Volunteer Park didn't happen this year for me, nor Boat Street, but there's always the Seward Park Crits, which thankfully happen weekly. (And they have a 20-minute "first timer's" clinic, just for people like me)

Although this Friday is our 24-hour fleche, I might do the Seward Park race this Thursday. After all, it's only 25 minutes long, so how bad could it hurt me? Well, there is that crashing part of it (sounds like it's one of those "it's a matter of when, not if" things), so maybe this isn't the best week to take that dive. But soon, dammit! Soon.


Robert H said...

I will personally punch you in the nards if you wreck the day before our flèche. Just say no!

matt m said...

Yeah luckily the Seward Park thing is weekly, so I can always crash some other time..

Aaron Edge said...

— I'm doing the 2-day STP on a fixed-gear this year, might you give me some advice on a good midway place to stay (as all the hotels have filled up)? Should I stay on a floor at a church/school/etc? Also, I use a front brake and only skid 'round on flats, I imagine since you did it, I'll be ok... I'd love to hear about things you'd have done differently and any advise in general that you might have for a first year rider. Thanx in advance!

asdf said...

Ortolan - when we did the two day STP we had a hotel room, and these days I do it in one day; so I don't know of good places to stay. The gym/school option is definitely there, not sure if that's first-come-first-server or what.

If I did it on fixed again (which could happen some day), I'd probably gear down slightly from the 40x14 (~77") I used back then. Of course the gearing depends on you mostly, but towards the end those "rollers" really took their toll.

For doing the two-day option, definitely make sure to train your body to do back to back rides, e.g. do 50 miles Saturday then 50 miles Sunday.

Also be careful in pacelines on the fixed gear! Since they slow down way differently, sometimes faster sometimes slower, it can be a little dicey, and pacelines on STP are already dicey. We did fine in pacelines with geared bikes, but looking back it was a little dangerous. I'd wait for the crowds to clear out after 40 or so miles, then find people to ride with, if you're looking to do that.

Oh, and coming down the Lewis & Clark bridge at the OR/WA border there are expansion joints that startled me a bit since I couldn't coast over them or hop.. I don't think they're big enough to take you down, but if you're doing 30 mph+ on fixed and see that, it could throw you for a loop. Just take it easy on that part.

Have fun!

matt m said...


Uh, oops, that was me btw.

Mike said...

Nice pictures, how do you find out about these events?

Anonymous said...

I would recommend starting off your racing career with a road race, it gives you the experience of riding in a pack at speed while cornering and such,with less crash potential.

Aaron Edge said...

— Right on, my gear ratio is set to a 46x16... I have no trouble climbing Pine or Pike from the water front to Madison (well, I should say that I stop sometimes for a break), hopefully I'll fair ok. Thanx so much Matt, yer a helpful man!

matt m said...

Mike: Check out the WSBA schedule here.

Anon: Thanks for the tip - unfortunately RR's seem to be scheduled less frequently, and also tend to be farther away. But I would like to try one of those as well some day.

Anonymous said...

Believe it or not, this old slow guy raced for about 6 years back in the stone age. You might not want to jump into a crit before the fleche. When you crash and Robert punches you in the nards, I'll hand him a Silca pump to finish it off.

We can have a long chat about how to race without crashing much.

Joe P

Random Menace said...

Seward Park (on a dry day) is probably your best choice for a first-timer. Corners are wide and not that sharp (except for the hairpin at the top). Another option is the Pacific Raceways weekly series on Tuesdays down in Kent (

Anonymous said...

Ortolan, another option for STP is to swap out the fixed cog for a freewheel and singlespeed it.
I saw quite a few people ride it singlespeed last year on the one-day option. (Helps with sections like those expansion joints, or just to give your legs a break once in a while on the rollers between mile 100 and 150.)
If you're willing to ultralight it, camping out around (I think it was) Vader, 30 miles past the college looked like a good option. If the weather's good, I'm willing to say nothing more than a lightweight sleeping bag is necessary.

Robert H said...

I think I read somewhere that the key to not crashing while racing is grabbing your brakes early and often.

You're welcome.

matt m said...

And as I approach a turn in the pack, I should just close my eyes and hold on for dear life, right? Wait, all of that plus jam on the brakes..

OK, got it! Look out Seward, here I come (next Thurs. that is)

Dan O said...

Nice blog - fellow bike pal pointed it out to me. Looking forward to checking out past and future posts.

Mountain bike racing is a great way to try racing. Super friendly folks, can race at your own pace without getting dropped, and crashing on dirt hurts a little less then pavement.

Check out for some local races. First race of the season was last Sunday. Fun stuff.

Dessa said...

You can do pacific raceways, flat course.
It is like road race on the race track, wide, open and safe.

As for your FTP etc. Just do 20 minutes all out effort and multiply by 0.95 That is your ftp. Sweet and easy. Just make sure you are rested and have warmup before.

Ian Schmidt said...

hey matt - the weekend rides over thanksgiving were pretty great, I hope you are recovering!

I just ran across this post from way back... are you still thinking about doing some racing? ;-)

Ian Schmidt said...

oh, volunteer park is a 'B' event for me this coming season... are you targeting it as your 'home crowd' race?