This morning, I rode in my first crit. The Des Moines Masters State Championship Criterium, hosted by my team, Union Bay Cycling / Wines of Washington. Crits are short (< 1 mile) courses, typically in a city around a few blocks. I had been nervous about this for quite some time… from what I’ve read, crits are hard, fast, and intense. Plus, the main factor in a crit is corners – no sweeping, gentle corners like you see in typical road races. Corners are city street intersections.
Well, the day of the event came, and I headed down. The first thing I realized about crits – later start times! The typical road race is 2 hours away and starts about 9 AM, meaning people in Seattle are leaving about 6 AM. Des Moines is 30 minutes away, and the first race for us (Cat 4/5) was 10:50 AM… amazing what a few extra hours of sleep will do.
The second thing I realized is that crits really are a spectator sport. At road races, there are some spectators near the start / finish, but for the most part the peleton is busy riding through tranquil, rural scenery. At a crit, there are spectators all over, as the peleton makes a loop every minute or two. At this crit, there were a number of spectators at the start / finsh, as well as a homemade grandstand at turn 3 (SW corner) where a bunch of residents were throwing a party while watching the race. It was quite the event.
Back to the crit itself. In road races, the pack starts with a neutral roll-out, which means a few miles of riding for a quick warm-up and to make sure everyone’s comfortable in their bikes. At a crit, you race when the official says go, and you’re going at 25 MPH as quickly as you can. Clipping in and sprinting fast is key so you don’t get towards the back. This is what happened to me. The back is dangerous in a crit, as the corners yo-yo — the first people through go a bit slower through the corners and then pick up the pace, which means the rear ends up going much slower and has to sprint to catch up. Much more energy is expended.
The Des Moines crit isn’t flat – the two short stretches are, but the straightaways are at an incline. Now, the incline is about 30 feet total according to the altimeter in my HRM, for about 1,300 feet – a 2% incline. This would be considered a false flat if anything in a Road Race, but going up this at 25 MPH 15-20 times, it certainly saps one’s energy — fast. Talking to some of the other guys, apparently this is one of the tougher crits because of the hill.
I was in the back third pretty quickly, and tried to hang on. After maybe 4 laps, I was dangling. a big gap would open on the hill, and while I could catch back up on the downhill straightaway a few times, after a while I was unable to make it back to the pack before they rounded turns 3 and 4. I ended up with a small chase group with a Hagens-Berman racer and an Oberto junior. We tried to get the junior back, but after lap 11, the official pulled us as we were about to get lapped. Just as well, as we were sagging badly.
Looking at my HRM data, it’s clear I was well above my normal intensity levels… a road race typically has my heart rate between 150 and 170, with spurts to 180. We started out the crit about 170… far too high for me to keep going for 35 minutes. And that was while I was in the pack, so it wasn’t sucking wind. Clearly, need to work more on speed and hill climbing for next year!
All in all, a fun experience. I spent the rest of the day as a corner marshall (well, intersection marshall) guiding traffic through the course and watching the races. I took a few videos with my cellphone, so we’ll see how they turn out. And now to see when the next (flat) crit is!