by Eric Landahl
I’m very experienced racing in a fast-moving pack, drafting with centimeter gaps, and taking and giving a bit of “accidental” contact. I take pride in my superior cornering ability, exquisite positioning, taking the perfect line (even when unable to see far ahead), and I still have a killer final sprint.
Until last week, I had only experienced this in open water swimming. It’s all just fun and games in the water—as soon as you master the fear of drowning, of course.
Watching the first men’s heat at Gapers Block on Monday I felt a little sick. Pavement is hard, and I fear crashing. I took a little comfort from Kinky Llama’s Becky Welbes who also was about to start her first crit, and admitted she felt squeamish as well. So I lined up in the back, swung wide at the first corner, and found myself in an all-out sprint to catch back up with the pack.
Following my first cyclocross race last Fall, I had spent some time reviewing cornering. I knew that the tangent of my lean angle should be proportional to the square of my speed and inversely proportional to the radius of the turn (Wilson, “Bicycling Science 3rd edition”, MIT Press 2004). The turns seemed really tight, and we were going really fast, so I was pressing as hard as I could on my outside pedal and leaning in as hard as possible. It really upset my physical intuition that the guys next to me were taking the corners tighter and faster and not leaning in as much. I was convinced they were going to spin out and hit me. After about a dozen corners, I could no longer sprint back up to the pack, and I ended up working with a few other guys who had also been dropped to finish the race. At least there was a great Spidermonkey cheering section!
Back to the chalkboard: I read up on counter-steering, and brought in some consultants. Having Sarah Rice and Katie Isermann in your crew during your second practice crit is kind of like having Michael Jordan and LeBron James show up to watch your middle school basketball tryout. My cornering was a bit better, and I stayed with the pack for about half of the race. After getting dropped I worked with teammate Hayes for a while, and then Mike from Half-Acre who told me to learn by following his line around the corners. That really helped. By my third race on Wednesday, I was able to stay with the pack the whole time. Although my consultants were yelling at me to “move up” I was still scared of crashing, and I finished at the back. I took Thursday off from racing and instead watched the Spidermonkey women maneuver themselves into a good position for the final laps of their race, and I resolved to do the same Saturday at the Burnham SSC.
My goal for SSC was simple: stay near the front and be ready to chase down any attack. Brandon talked to me just before the race, pointing out to me and teammate Ben that several of the other teams were quite large and could afford to have several riders block back during attacks, so staying near the front was critical. I tried to spend most of my time one or two rows back, sitting on the steadiest wheel I could find. It’s true, it’s actually less scary in front! With increasing confidence, I would yell every time somebody would make a move, and then hop on the wheel of the first chaser. As a result I was in great position coming into the last half of the course: I hadn’t been in front for almost half a lap, but was sitting just about three back when the leaders surged forward. Unfortunately for me a lot of those guys are really strong, and they rode me off their wheels; I had to rely on my endurance to keep pushing all the way to the end where I finished 13th.
I’m not sure when I’ll race again, but I know that I am now a better and more confident cyclist because of the experience. Lesson learned: it’s all just fun and games on the road—as soon as you master the fear of crashing, of course.
Some additional comments and/or words of wisdom:
Anna L. – “I think my story about snot rockets and XXX racers is pretty funny, but also kind of embarrassing. Leave it to me to be the person who blew a snot rocket that apparently landed on someone! I still feel like her yelling at me made me lose my concentration and I got dropped right after. :-(“
Kelly C. – “Last year I did all 5 days, and I was dropped right away and rode by myself each day. This year, after actually considering training during winter, I was able to stay with the peloton each day I raced. Physically, it’s a lot less tiring, even though you’re going faster. And it’s much more fun! Last year, going into corners with people was really scary, so I just didn’t do it. It’s still scary, but I have a lot more confidence. And when you nail a good corner, it feels awesome to come sprinting out of it! It was great to race with so many women this year, too. We had record fields with 30+ racers each night.”
Spidermonkey Official Participant List:
Notable Results: Sarah Rice won the Women’s Cat 3 race three out of the four nights, and came in second on the only night she didn’t win.