The race was part of a series of races at Seward Park.
The race flyer is here:
A criterium is a short race on a short (generally less than a mile) loop. Usually the race is for some set period of time plus a couple of laps.
We had been to Seward Park before. It's a pretty good-sized park, located on a peninsula on Lake Washington. Lake views abound - the scenery is fantastic. The weather was fine, too - about 65 and fairly sunny.
The race course is a 0.8 mile loop located at the top of the park. One end of the loop has a downward slope, and the other has an upward slope. There is one 140-degree hairpin curve.
Rebekah picked me up from work, and we loaded the bike on the car (I had ridden my "race bike" to work) and the whole family drove to the park and parked at the lot up by the course.
It was a nice area for kids. While I was getting situated - and trying to figure out how to get my number pinned on - Jacob was riding around the park sidewalks on his Big Wheel. It was cute to see him cruising around among all the serious racers and their high-end bicycles. (I was nervous that he was going to knock some $3k bike over on the sidewalk, but no incidents occurred.)
The race organizers offered a "first-timers" clinic, and I found it very helpful and pretty fun. About a dozen riders rode the clinic. First, we rode a few laps around the race course. This was to get us used to cornering at speed. Then, we concentrated on practicing the hairpin. We were taking the corner at around 17 mph. Once, I started pedaling halfway through, and my inside pedal struck the ground because I was leaned over so far. It wasn't a big deal; the back of the bike stepped out a bit, the rear tire grabbed again, and I continued on. I didn't realize that I had experienced pedal strike (for the first time) until after negotiating the turn.
While I was learning race skills, Stan was enjoying the swings.
As soon as the clinic was over, it was time to race. Here's a picture of us at the start. I'm on the right a few rows back in a yellow jersey and blue helmet:
I had tried to prepare myself as much as possible by reading "your first crit" internet articles and getting advice from those who had raced. So I was thinking:
Dont get dropped.
Hold your line.
Stay at the front of the pack; avoid the "accordian effect"
The pace will vary - might start off fast, slow down, go fast again.
DON'T GET DROPPED!
So, I decided that my objective was to finish with the main pack of riders and try to learn what I could of race tactics. Tactics are key in road bike racing - not so much in mountain bike racing. On a mountain bike, your adversary is the course. Your level of fitness and skill at navigating the path determine how you place. On a road bike, the concept of drafting results in a need for race strategy, and the other racers become your adversaries. "Drafting", or riding behind another rider, your power requirements is decreased by up to 40%. The typical race strategy is to draft in the pack as much as possible the entire race, and save all your energy for a sprint across the line ahead of your adversaries at the finish. Sounds simple, but it's what everybody is trying to do, so it's not that easy.
There was no gun going off or starting bell. We were just told, "okay, go!" and we went. I was trying to get up in the pack quickly, but the fellow in front of me was stumbling with his pedal. In a second, he figured it out, and we got going.
A typical loop was like this: We started on a fairly straight and nearly flat section. Hard acceleration to get up to speed (mid-20's). Then an inexplicable slowing of the pack for a slight right-hand bend, and the course dipped downwards. We rocketed down to a tighter right-hand bend. Slight feathering of the brakes to keep from running into the rider in front while negotiating the turn (about 30 mph), then fairly hard acceleration out of the turn and across a wide flat stretch. We roared across the flat stretch and hit the uphill. As the course turned upwards, the lead riders slowed before the rest of the pack, making the whole pack stack up and spread out across the hill. We worked our way up the hill. Speed was moderate, effort was substantial but not extreme. I generally rode the hill seated, in the large chainring. At the top of the hill, the hairpin turn. We took the turn very slowly each time - the clinic skills were wasted. Then it was back to the straightaway. Lather, rinse, repeat... for a half an hour.
In the end, the best advice was from my buddy from work who also rode the race with me. "It's like a Tuesday night ride," he said. And he was right. The intensity was manageable. I fulfilled my goal of staying with the pack. Rebekah said I was about 1/3 back in the pack at the finish.
Entering the race, I was afraid that I wouldn't have the fitness needed to hang on and that I'd be off the back of the pack within a couple of laps. Instead, I felt that my fitness was adequate, but that I need to learn more racing skills, and that I need to relax more on the bike.
Here's a Jewish (?) guy watching us climb the hill.