September always marks the end of road season for our cycling region. Gateway Cup in St. Louis is always the last ‘big field’ criterium race weekend of the year and because it’s the last chance to compile any sort of results it usually is packed with anxious racers. The fields are all mixed categories (4/5, 3/4, 2/3 etc.) which, in my opinion always proves to be an interesting dynamic. You will get racers who are stronger than they are smart or experienced racing up; and you will get racers who are smarter than they are strong racing down. Whatever your thought is on that dynamic, one thing most people can agree on is that Gateway Cup is somewhat of a crash-fest.
Leading into the weekend I was feeling confident as my fitness has been high of late. I haven’t raced in several weeks, which enabled me to get an abnormal amount of training for August. After being crashed out in the last turn of Tulsa Toughs Blue Dome (Cat 1/2) Crit, I was itching to come away with a result from a big race.
The opening race of the weekend takes place Friday night around a local park in Lafayette. Having raced this event last year, I knew how the race would likely unfold. The four (left) corners are completely uneventful (other than the fact that you ride through them all 5-7 wide at about 29 mph), my focus for the race was positioning myself within the top 6-8 out of turn 3 heading into the final corner. I was pretty unconcerned with positioning for the rest of the race besides these key laps.
The race began and I immediately sat in near the tail. Just close enough to the guys who weren’t fragmented so I could find a good draft. 30 minutes in, I found myself moving up with ease so I decided to make it all the way to the front so that I could assess how fast a swarm could happen. Let’s just say that once I made it into the top 10, I was swarmed back to 30-40th by 3 corners. Knowing the swarms were unavoidable, I settled back in planning to surf a swarm around to the front with 5 or less to go. 5 laps to go came, and I did exactly that. I felt like my timing was perfect because after I made it near the front with 5 to go, the gas was on and the swarms were not really occurring anymore. We were really picking up the pace at the front because for the first time all race and I could feel my legs working. 4 laps, 3, 2, 1 and I was still within striking distance. We crossed the start/finish and the bell rang to signal the final lap. Turn 1 was the most eventful as it was the fastest and darkest corner around the Park. I made it through clean in a single file line and then accelerated hard around the outside of 3 guys to move into about 5th/6th. Out of turn 2 one of the riders found himself with a slight gap on the rest of us (maybe 2-3 bike lengths), and he did not hesitate. He stood up and launched his attack. We were basically already all out, so I’m not sure how he had much left but he did. I was about 6th wheel riding into turn 3; right where I wanted to be. After the apex, I knew the sprint would start here up the inside part of the course racing for position into the final corner. Last year I had been swarmed here and lost 6 positions, so this year I was prepared, I stood up and sprinted up the inside along with every rider in front of me, and at least the 10 or so guys behind me. Moving from 6th to 2nd wheel (3rd overall because of the rider off the front) before leaning into the final corner. Out of the final corner I was ready to dash for the line, but I had a slight misjudgment of my legs shifting into too hard of a gear. I was bogged down in my cadence and literally had none of the pop that I am accustomed to. It forced me to downshift mid sprint, which cost me 2 bike lengths on second place. I closed in quick at the line and gave a bike throw but 2nd place still had me by a hair. 3rd out of 87 riders. I was pleased with the result!
With a dose of confidence from a well-executed plan, I was ready for a better result from Saturday’s Francis Park Crit. It was almost identical except the course had a slight rise coming up towards the finish. Nothing really to worry about, just that it meant you could win from maybe 4th out of the last corner with a sprint.
My plan was the exact same. Sit in and chill until 4 or 5 laps to go. Chilling was going great until a few riders got tangled up for no reason on the slowest and straightest part of the course. I was near the outside when I heard the dreaded pile up crash happening to my left. I saw Brian Lea from Experience Fayetteville swerve hard right to avoid the crash and I followed. Unfortunately I either wasn’t quick enough, or was held in for a split second too long by a rider outside of me. My left hood was bumped/hooked into by Brian and my front wheel toppled over on top of him along with several other riders.
When you hit the ground in a race your body goes through a series of events/emotions. 1) guard yourself from other riders crashing into you 2) come to a rest and survey your body for damage/pain 3) decide if you can get up and race 4) survey the bike to see if its ride-able 5) walk back to the pit completely enraged. I made it all the way to step 5. I walked back to the pit, completely infuriated about my bike and front wheel because I had just fixed it from the Tulsa Tough wreck. When I got to the pit I grabbed a spare wheel to re-enter the race. They put me back in with 12 laps to go. The first 2 laps back in the race I was completely ‘out of it’. My mind was not in the race, I was thinking about a million things and it was hard not to be timid. I refocused myself and knew I could still win if I got my crap together. I began my move with 5 to go. The swarms were worse than Friday, and sitting up front was more difficult. It was a complete battle for position nonstop. Knowing this, I knew I would be better served to burn a match late to slide into position. I burned it out of turn 2 heading down the hill towards turn 3 sliding into 6th wheel. Out of turn 3 heading towards the final turn I was expecting the guys in front of me to be hammering full tilt. I guess they were gassed because they sat up a bit. I was yelling ‘go go go’ and trying to exit the pace line. But I was unable to exit because riders from behind boxed me in. I watched 6-8 riders on both sides move up pushing me from 6th down to 24th or so. The experience in me decided it was best to sit up rather than sprinting for 15th. I finished 35th.
It crossed my mind to not race the Sunday edition of Gateway Cup (Giro de Montagna); however, I couldn’t let a crash keep me from the result I knew was possible. The race takes place in the Italian district called The Hill (appropriately named) known for its narrow streets, old brick homes, and Italian restaurants. It’s amazing how the locals who live in this area cherish the race coming back every year. The actual hill in the race isn’t too bad if you’re in shape. In the beginning I found myself drafting wheels really not having to do any work. A few laps in, I decided that the pace charging up the hill had slowed enough where I could move up. I slid around the outside approaching the top of the hill before turn 3. Having done this several laps by now, I felt comfortable with the space I had between myself and the outside curb of the course. But, I guess the race got congested on this lap because when I moved up the outside I immediately felt pinned against the curb. I held my line knowing we were about to lean our bikes over, but a big rider from OBP put his hip on my left hand rubbing my wheels against the curb. I heard the contact, still having control until a hay bale guarding a light pole (sticking out about 5 inches onto the course) hit my right hand and threw me down. I somehow almost landed on my feet but my bike went flying. I was fine, and grabbed my bike to get back in the race then I realized my right shifter and saddle were completely broken. Race weekend over.
Criterium racing is a roller coaster of emotions. When you cross the finish line safely with a great result, you feel on top of the world. I think it stems from the fact that it is such an aggressive event. It’s fast, on edge, dangerous & tactical. It takes a special type of competitor to have success. But the lows you experience are just as low. I cannot tell you the number of times I have contemplated quitting Crit racing. Broken body, broken bike, broken egos; but something keeps bringing me back. I guess it is knowing that you are only as good as your next result. So I will get my bike parts fixed, and my body will heal; and you can count on me to throw myself in the mix when the bell sounds. I guess I cannot let myself be one of those timid souls that knows neither victory nor defeat.
Thanks to our sponsors for enabling us to race and represent them around the region. We hope we serve you well. Pedaler’s Pub, Harrison French and Associates, Onyx Coffee Lab, Native Nectar, All Laundry, NOW Helmets, Kind Kitchen, Mojo Bike Shop & Mindzi Creative.
Numbers from Friday Night:
Time: 52 min
Avg. Speed 28.9 mph
2 min Power: 417 w
5 min Power: 362 w
NP: 268 w