The Ballard Twilight Crit has been on my calendar since last year, as an "A" race. That meant my whole training plan (when I had one anyway) was centered around this race. It's the atmosphere there that made it great to race there, and probably makes it an "A" race on most people's calendars too.
Getting 13th in the 4/5's last year, after about a month of racing, I figured I could at least do better this time around as a Cat 4, after about a year of racing.
And going into this one I was the overall leader in the Cascadia Crit series 4/5's, even though I hadn't actually won any of the races (placings were 4th, 5th, 3rd - being consistent was paying off, along with the fact that the top guy dropped out after Seward).
In fact I hadn't won any races up to this point - and isn't that why one gets into racing, to win? Getting fitter & faster is fun too, but winning is the ultimate goal.
Kira & I drove over to Ballard and parked close to the course, behind a building where others were parked (we figured it was safe to park there, but nope we got a ticket after all!) I didn't have to worry about getting into the race like at Seward, I was pre-registered and just had to sign in. Plenty of time.
Warmed up under our team tent, a Cat 3 let me use his trainer for a few minutes, sweet. And in fact it was for only a few minutes; after getting signed in, waiting in the porta-potty line, etc, there were only about 20 minutes until our race time!
Riding the trainer was so much better than my warmup for Ballard last year: rolling around the streets east of the course, just riding back and forth on the .5 mile stretch before Fred Meyer. I don't ever use the trainer we have at home, since I like riding outside, but for something like this it was a great way to get the heart rate up and get sweaty. I've always heard you should be a little sweaty when you get to the line, and even though the warm-up was only about 10 minutes long it was enough.
Got to take one or two practice laps of the course, and it was familiar from last year, though there was cardboard held down by duct tape over some 2x4" cracks in the pavement in corner one, and a set of hay bails blocking the apex of turn two, which was a little different.
One of the great things about being on the overall podium in the Cascadia Crit series is the "call ups" you get to do before the race. Once everyone is lined up they call up the top five people in reverse order, so I got to go last. It gives you some recognition and also gives you a good starting spot.
The whole pack of 75 lined up and ready to go - but only one can come out on top:
After some announcements from the official we were sent off, and I was excited! I used to almost dread the start whistles of these big crits, now I can't wait for them. Another chance for points, another chance for a win. Another chance for fun, and to gain more experience racing.
Got lined up in the first 10 or so riders in the first turn, and loved how much more smooth this race is from the front of the pack than from the back, where I raced it last year. Last year I felt like I really had to dig to maintain contact coming out of turn two, but this year we were coasting into a nice fast backstretch with a tailwind, and not having to jam it at all.
It felt a lot easier than last year overall, though the average speed came out to about the same. Guess I've just gotten stronger. Actually I know I've gotten stronger, I can see it in the training numbers and more importantly results. I was just surprised how different this race felt this year.
Before the race the announcer explained premes to the crowd, and said that "racers can used them to gauge the sprint and get a feel for it" or something along those lines, something I'd never thought of. I always thought of premes as a waste of energy or for those who were super strong, if they could win a preme and then take the race too. So I usually ignored them.
But this time when a points preme came up, I was on the front and went for it. Just kept the pace high and led the pack out (from what I remember). It seemed easy, was nobody else going for it or what I thought? Only 5 points to add to the ~800 I already had in the omnium, but for me it was more about figuring out that sprint. And winning that preme probably gave me the courage/confidence to really go for the final sprint (something I never thought I'd win).
Other premes came and went and I just made sure not to drift too far back, stayed in the top 20 pretty much the whole time. Some people like to ride the race from the back, and "tailgun" it, but it seems to me that just sets you up to have to deal with gaps, crashes, and the accordion effect. F that.
About half way through the race we come into the finish straight and we're being waved around a First Rate Mortgage racer lying on the ground in the middle of the course near the finish line. Doesn't look good.
Next lap we come through and there are more people waving at us, and at first we're getting ready to go around the injured rider again but soon realized they wanted us stop completely. I wouldn't have thought it was possible to stop a crit, but it was done pretty smoothly. The officials had the chasing pack stay about 20 feet behind our lead pack, as the field had split into two groups at this point.
They had an ambulance come and take the guy away. Heard later he was knocked out at first, probably broke his collarbone and might have separated his shoulder as well. Along with a concussion, as his helmet was supposedly smashed as well. On the one hand that's a scary image, but I guess that's what helmets are for..
I heard about three different versions of how/why he crashed, ranging from he was along and went down out of nowhere, to the version where a lapped rider took him out on accident. Either way it didn't look good but he was conscious and gave a thumbs-up on the way out.
Hope he's doing alright - anyone have updates on his condition?
The officials set 15 minutes on the clock, and restarted us. I looked around and the front line was almost the same as when we started, lots of points leaders: Dave Z., Chad, Adam, Rob, and me.
After a little while they switched from time to 8 laps to go, and the countdown began. A Lenovo guy went off the front, but couldn't get much distance. Pretty hard to go off the front in a flat crit like that, but he lasted a lap or two I think.
With about three laps to go the pack was back together and my team mate Kyle came around the front and started to light it up. I could see what was happening (he was leading me out for the win!) immediately, so I jumped on his wheel. This was the time that would decide the winner, I figured.
One guy in an orange or red kit was between Kyle & I, but on the backstretch he dropped out, couldn't hold the pace. I could barely hold the pace myself but yelled "GO!!!" at Kyle, making sure he kept the gas on. We were doing close to 30 mph, or maybe more, and it was all I could do to hang on. I could only hope our high speeds were stringing out the pack, and setting everything up for a win.
Looking at the photos, the pack sure was strung out! Perfect.
This effort hurt, a lot, but I knew that there were only minutes left in the race. Time to empty the tank.
One lap to go, and it's still Kyle & I on the front, and he's turning the screws as they say. In the back of my head I'm just hoping we can hang on to this, and see what happens coming out of the last corner.
Sure enough we come into the final turn 1st & 2nd, and as we get into the finish straightaway I'm hoping people don't start swarming around us. Wasn't sure how much of a gap we had on the field, if any, but I know my sprint isn't award-winning so it was going to take a little gap to get me to the line.
Switched all the way to 53x12, and ground out the sprint up the slight uphill towards the line. Felt hugely over-geared and as if I was doing 60 rpms, but just held the gas as much as I could. Nobody was coming around yet!
I could hear the announcer calling the sprint and my name, and it certainly helped as motivation. Since Kyle is so fast I was almost afraid I wasn't going to be able to come around him, but slowly gained ground on him and finished with space between us, his hands in the air in celebration of our team's win.
(as a side note, I promise to buy these photos!)
(from the GCRacing FinishLynx camera)
Thanks a billion, Kyle! Couldn't have done it without your leadout. Team work in the 4/5's, who would have thought?
After crossing the line I closed me eyes and thought "HolyshitIcan'tbelieveIjustwonBallard!!!!!", then sat up and gave my victory salute: arms down but slightly out to the side, as if I were ascending into the sky at that very moment. I like to think of it as my "Cat 3 birth" in fact, as it give me the points I need to upgrade to the 3's!
After the race we did a cool-down lap I got to give a little interview over loudspeaker, that was pretty surreal.
If all this description of the race isn't enough for you, someone from the Bikesale.com team made a great video of the 4/5's race! (and a bunch of the other races too)
The other thing I got from the race was seven upgrade points, giving me 26 total! Since you only need 20 points to get to the Cat 3's I can upgrade now, something I thought would take years. (Some never get out of the 4/5's at all) I became a Cat 4 back in March, so it's taken about three months, I can't believe it. I think the whole "build/base/peak/race" training plan has worked out well! (7-12 hours per week these days, for the record, as I've been asked a lot about this lately)
Since I want to finish out the Cascadia Crit series as the 4/5's points leader by doing the Tacoma Twilight Crit next weekend, I'm going to be a "sandbagger" for that one race and stay a 4 for now. $125 goes to the overall winner in our category and I want that person to be me!
A message to Rob, Ian, Chad, Dave Z, Tim, Kyle, Jed, Adam, and everyone else I know in the 4's: get your asses up the 3's soon! I'm gonna need the company. But I'm looking forward to longer races that start later in the day, and "Cat 3" certainly has a nice ring to it..
From what I keep hearing it's not that much faster in the 3's, it's just that the surges are faster and the fields are deeper, and of course the races are longer (crits are one hour, road races are 60-90 miles). The worst it can do is make me faster.. also looking forward to racing with Jordan R., Mark, and Jordan L. that I've raced with previously. See you guys soon!
Ballard Crit 2010 (minus stoppage time)
Duration: 31:10 (38:18)
Work: 463 kJ
TSS: 51 (intensity factor 0.991)
Norm Power: 287w
Distance: 13.071 mi
Elevation Gain: 855 ft
Min Max Avg
Power: 0 1004 247 watts
Heart Rate: 121 198 182 bpm
Cadence: 16 121 81 rpm
Speed: 0 37? 25.1 mph (a tad faster than last year I think)
Crank Torque: 0 1695 243 lb-in
Thanks to all the volunteers & the Second Ascent team/shop for putting on this awesome race, and all my friends (Liz/Dennis, John, Rachel) that came out to race or watch! And of course to Kira for coming out and cheering me on. I'm so glad you were all there to see it.