Uhl in Eagle, ID – How do you finish a Pro/1/2 criterium when you're not fit and can't produce much power? Easily, just ride at the back! I know this sounds like heresy to a crit-racer; due to the accordian effect, riding at the back can cost more energy than riding at the front. But if you ride at the back, and I mean the very back, you can let gaps open before the corners, then just hold your speed through the corners (don't brake!) and you'll catch right back up with the pack! By laying off the brakes and cornering well, you can maintain your speed while the tail-end of the pack is braking. With practice, you'll learn what's the optimal gap size to let open, that still allows you to close it without much effort. I put this to good use tonight as I stayed seated for almost the entirety of the race...I think I only stood up and sprinted 3 times!
I often use this technique when I'm not feeling good in a criterium, or for stage race criteriums where a pack finish is inevitable and I rather conserve my energy. So going into today's race, with a couple months of de-training, I knew I needed to play it conservatively. Usually the first 10 laps are fast and since I take a while to warm up, I mentally prepared for suffering. It wasn't unbearably hot like last year, but it was still in the low 90's so that affected my intestines during the first 10 minutes of racing. But after that, I was able to hang on without too much discomfort.
My strategy was to expend as little energy as possible for the first 40 laps, then if I was feeling OK, maybe go for a prime during the second half of the race. Well, after 40 laps, I was just happy to still be on and knew a prime opportunity was out of the question.
With 20 laps to go, I realized that I was actually going to make my secondary goal of just finishing. I wasn't feeling bad during the race—I wasn't breathing hard and my legs weren't burning—my main problem was that I just couldn't push the pedals hard enough! This has been the case over the past couple months as I've been dealing with overtraining issues.
With about 5 laps to go, the pace picked up but my legs felt like they were on the verge of cramping. So rather than kill myself and risk cramping for an 80th place finish, I fell off the pack and rode with a few other guys to try to hold off for the finish...without being lapped! It was close but we made it; as we crossed the line the lead motorcycle came right up behind us as the front-end of the peleton was sprinting to the finish! We all kept going and just finished up with at least a sliver of dignity by not getting "pulled".
Between my let-gaps-open-before-the-corners technique and my lack of fitness, my power statistics look pathetic for a Pro1/2 race. My normalized power was only 253 watts for 1.5 hours (3.4 W/kg, for those that care). Essentially it should have felt like a walk in the park. But I'm obviously still suffering from over-training issues. It still was a fun race, nonetheless. The crowd was huge and it's great to hear people cheer your name multiple times during the course of a lap. And finally, I didn't see a single wreck in our race and that's always a good thing in a criterium!