Planning a weekend with 3 criteriums in a row seemed like a good idea at the time, but the intensity of both the heat and the competition made this a tough weekend to recover from. When we arrived at Madeira the outside temperature read 104, stepping out of the car felt as if you were stepping into an oven. Looking at the forecast the temperature was set to drop from 104 to 85 degrees by race time. Which is good from the perspective of not having to race in the heat; however, the dramatic drop in temperature created some violent storms and delayed race times by nearly 2 hours. Madeira was a very technical course with two sharp 180 degree turns at each end, certainly not my type of course and proved very difficult to navigate with a field of over 60. Every time through the 180s it was pure madness, more of a game of “bumper bikes” than racing. Unfortunately every time I would work my way to the front I would either end up in some one’s back wheel as I got jammed up on the inside or someone would end up in my back wheel as they tried to go to the inside, knocking me back 10-20 spots. This coupled with the fact that my bike kept coming out of gear upon acceleration made the 8mph to 30mph sprints out of the 180s really difficult. In the end I was not able to gain a good position at the end of the race and finished a disappointing 20th.
For anyone looking to attend just one race a season, Hyde Park would be towards the top of my list of “must do” races. An awesome course combined with thousands of partying spectators gave racers the feeling of being pros for a day. On a narrow climb through what was more of an alley than a road, spectators lined the road, beverages in hand and more than willing to share with anyone who had enough racing and would “stop for a beer” (some people actually stopped). To make things even more of an experience, a live band was jamming out about halfway up the hill close enough to the course that you could have reached out and grabbed the guitar. The racing was intense, one of the hardest races I have done all season. We started with a full field of 100 very capable cyclists and were started based on when we registered, which put me starting about 70 back. The battle to the front of that field was intense, with many hair raising moments, and yes some pushing and shoving. Once I finally made it to the top 10-15 people I wasn’t about to give up my spot and fought hard to stay within the top 15, which required more pushing, shoving and hair raising moments. The intensity was the same throughout the entire race, FLAT OUT!! I only had an opportunity and ability to take a drink maybe 3 times, it was one of the hardest races I have been a part of. With a few laps left a 3 man break somehow overcame the extreme pace and formed just seconds off of the front, I quickly made a move to go across, only to realize that I did not have the legs to even start the move. Sitting in about 8th wheel coming around for the last lap, I felt really good about my chances and even thought there was a good chance we would sweeping up the breakaway, which was dangling just seconds off of the front. However, on one of the last corners, someone making a desperate move to gain position nearly caused a crash in front of me and caused a small split. Once I hit the long finishing straight it was all about putting my head down and making up as much distance as I could. In the end the three men off of the front made it, and the best I could do was finish 8th in the bunch sprint, putting me in 11th overall. Normally an 11th place finish would be a disappointment, and given that I felt like I was in the perfect spot coming into the last lap it sort of was, but heck 11th in such a large stacked field on a technical course is a victory in my book.
Grandview, was my last chance to lose skin during that weekend, and with some high speed corners keeping my skin was right there with winning the race on my list of goals for the day. With temperatures well into the 90s the weather did not disappoint. The course contained the largest hill of the weekend and would be the main factor in determining the outcome of the race. An early race crash on one of the high speed corners created a split in the field, one that I was on the wrong side of. Sensing that this could be the end of my race, I quickly took chase, quick enough that I thought I was one out of a group of only three or so that stood a real chance of getting back into the race. I chased hard for nearly two laps before getting back on, only to see a large number of people heading out of the pits as if they had taken a free lap. My understanding is that in order to get a free lap you had to actually crash and to my knowledge only two people went down, but with all of the people filtering out of the pits a large group must have gone in as if they too were involved. At the halfway point of the race the hill had selected about 15 of the strongest individuals out of the starting group of 40+, myself included. The last few laps I fought hard to stay in the top 5, which may have turned out to be an error on my part, as the hill provided a perfect opportunity to move up before the last lap and staying so close to the front took a bit of energy that I could have used at the end. About halfway around on the last lap I found myself stuck in the “middle lane” to a strong surge from behind, I moved to the outside as quick as a could, but lost a couple of positions. A sharp left hand corner at the bottom of the finishing hill provided a perfect opportunity for a desperate move from behind on my inside, which sent me into the outside curb, nearly causing me to crash. The move worked out well for the individual who made it as he was able to carry a ton of speed up the hill; however, I had to slow significantly opening the door for more people to come around me. Again I found myself in a position of making up as much distance before the finish I could, and again I found myself finishing in 11th place.
Not quite the weekend I had hoped for, but I am well aware of the fact that technical criteriums are one of my biggest weaknesses. This coupled with the fact that I am still in one piece after such a crazy weekend, I am not too disappointed with how things went.