Crazy Webmaster's annual race for 1999... a
Criterium! What was he thinking???
August 8, 1999. In the old days, I used to hate
criteriums. Silly bike races that went round and round and
round, lap after lap, with riders packed together in the corners
like sardines. Road races were much more fun and, I believe,
a lot safer. Only one problem with road racing... you really
have to be in shape to be there at the finish.
Criteriums aren't like that. Technique and knowledge is
far more important than sheer strength, since there typically
aren't hills to contend with...just the accordion effect as the
pack strings out in the corners and then bunches back up on the
straightaways. I used to think of Criteriums as cheating,
since you could be way out of shape and still do OK...road racing
was the real test.
Of course, as one gets older, cheating doesn't sound so bad
anymore! Still, with no desire to spill blood, I've limited
my annual USCF race to the road variety...until now. I had
no desire to do a criterium, outside of a certain morbid
curiosity, but the 1999 schedule didn't have a whole lot of road
events on Sundays, my only day off. That plus the Timpany
Criterium has become something of a Chain Reaction event for our
staff...last year we had maybe 10 riders in it.
Another nice thing...this race takes place at a reasonable
hour...10am...and it only takes a half hour to drive to.
What more could one ask for?
So I assemble at the starting line with maybe 80-90 other Cat 4
& Cat 5 riders (actually, nearly all of them Cat 4 it
seemed...never a line at the Cat 5 table!). No butterflies
this time, certainly nothing like that first road race two years
ago. Mostly curiosity...am I fast enough? How fast is
a criterium these days? How squirrely are the riders?
What's it like going through corners, pedaling at high speed the
From the gun the pace moves pretty quickly...certainly no
"get familiar with the course" lap here! I started
towards the back and stayed there through the first couple of
laps, getting my feet wet. To my great surprise, it was
very easy staying with the pack, and I constantly had to look down
at my computer to verify that we were, indeed, moving fairly
fast. On the straights we were moving from 27-31 mph, and
generally about 23 through the corners. Average speed at the
end was precisely 26 miles per hour over a distance of 18.4 miles
(someone else told me he clocked it at 27.2 mph average
speed...too bad I trust the accuracy of my computer!).
I stayed around the back-middle section of the pack, frequently
thinking to myself, you know, sure, it's comfortable here, but
what if Vaughters was saying that in the Tour de France just prior
to that nasty mid-field crash in the third stage (which took him
out of the race)? Dick Kiser from our Redwood City store was
doing a much better job than I, maintaining a position
considerably closer to the front. Keep in mind that the
"accordion effect" actually makes it much easier to ride
up towards the front...you don't slow down as much going into the
corners, so you don't have to speed up as much coming back
out. But my confidence level just wasn't quite there...yet.
With about 5 laps of the 20 lap event gone, I suffered my only
real mishap of the race when I hit a
recessed sewer access plate at high speed. I was fine, but
my bars slipped slightly downward into a (for me) uncomfortable
position. Dick likes to ride that way, but I much prefer my brake
levers slightly elevated. Plus, I lost a bit of confidence
in the handlebar's ability to stay put for the rest of the
race! So much for expensive Ibis Titanium stems.
also had a near-major mishap involving a cone, and I had the
presence of mind to do it in front of a camera! That's me in
the highlighted circle above. Coming around the corner just
before the start/finish, I got bumped off my line by another rider
and had to seemingly jump my bike sideways to avoid hitting the
cone. One of those things that happens so fast you really
have no idea whatsoever how you pulled it off and remained
With about six laps down, I no longer worried that
I'd get dropped off the back...it was all coming back to me, and
finishing this race with the pack was simply a matter of mental
toughness and not losing my nerve. Of course, nerves are in
short supply in a Cat 4/5 event, as pushing and shoving in the
corners, mostly unintentional, is the rule. In fact, I don't
recall nearly as much contact with other riders back in the days
when I used to do crits (criteriums) twice a week!
By the way, one ray of hope for those who, like me, carry a bit
more ballast than the average racer...it makes it much easier to
hold your line when someone bumps you! (Previously, I'd
thought the main advantage was for traction when climbing...you
know, kinda like how they weigh down train engines so they can
climb better...yeah right).
There were no successful attempts at getting away, probably
because the course layout didn't favor that...too easy to catch
back up to people on the straights. Even the three primes
(mid-race prizes for the first across the finish line) didn't find
anyone more than 20 yards off the front.
By about lap 15 I'm finally getting into the swing of things,
moving up a bit and maintaining position more easily. I'm
also beginning to realize something else...and I wish I
hadn't. This isn't where I'm supposed to be. The
memories come back, the strategies, the need to be up at the front
for the finish. Egad, calm down I tell myself, I haven't
ridden in a high-speed pack for years!!! But there's that
voice that keeps calling, and there certainly isn't a problem with
the legs. In fact, sprinting out of the corners is almost
fun; I tell my legs what to do, and they do it, period. I'm
almost having, dare I say, a good time!
But at the end things start to get pretty darned squirrely, and
with two laps to go the corners start to become downright
dangerous, people yelling, lines not being held etc. I have
two choices- go to the front, which I lack the confidence to
believe is possible, or find a comfortable place mid-field where
it seems like I'll be safe. I chose the latter option.
I shouldn't have.
For the final corner I'm pretty-much mid field, expecting all
manner of riders to come flying past me. Guess what?
They don't! My line is steady, I'm holding my own and then
some. In fact, I'm still passing people at the end, and
finish the race with a mixture of emotions, including-
#1: That wasn't as hard as I thought it would be.
#2: That wasn't as hard as it should
#3: Crits aren't so bad as long as you just go
with the flow. Don't worry about your bike handling, just
try to ride smoothly. If the other guy can do it, so can
you...just follow his lead.
#4: How can you minimize just how wonderful STI
shifting is? Going into and out of the corners, shifting
anytime you felt like it...this is heaven!
#5: Doing another crit would be dangerous, as
there's this voice in the back of my mind that says, hey, what's
the point if you're not up at the front at the end? If I
want to have a good time on a bike, go on a nice ride. If I
want to race...well, that's another thing entirely. Why risk
the crashes, why pay the money if it's just to finish with the
pack? In a road race, it's a different story...half the
reason I used to race was to visit new places and ride roads I
hadn't been on before. Crits? Yeah, sure, I want to
map out the precise location of a sewer access plate by riding
over it 20 times, just in case I might come that way again...
#6: My bike is awesome! This was my first
crit on an OCLV with Rolf wheels, and I just can't say enough for
how well it held its line and never wobbled. Shameful plug
for what we sell? Sure! But it has the benefit of
being true. With the exception of the stem slippage noted
previously, it performed wonderfully. What I could have done
with this bike 25 years ago...
Many thanks go to Bruno, Amber, Steve, Amy, Jeff, Heather, Paul, Brent,
Pam, Courtney, Eric, Igor & Sergei for being out there cheering us on, and to
Pete, Clayton, Mario, Jesus, Jim and Dick, all fellow Chain Reaction
employees and alumni "flying the flag" in Chain Reaction
jerseys! And we shouldn't forget Joe either, our only
employee racing who wasn't appropriately attired. We'll have
to talk to him about that.
More photos from the Timpany Criterium...and one from the past!
Above you see a photo of me after my very first bicycle race, the Redwood
City Criterium, in 1972. 27 years later, after the Timpany
Criterium...I'm in just a bit better shape! The first race found me
on the ground after a crash on gravel in a turn...lost a lot of skin,
including about two feet of hamburger on my left leg and pretty nasty
stuff on the elbows as well. Behind me are my Tifosi at the time,
Mike, Mark and Clint. You can't tell from the photo, but that's a
classic Campy hat I'm wearing...I was pretty much living the life of the
kid in the movie Breaking Away.
you can see here, the Tifosi have improved a bit from my first race, as
Dick is being welcomed back to the land of the living by Courtney, one of
many who came out to cheer us on! On the right you see Dick in
action, jaw clenched, bike leaned over, ready to prove once again that
youth is wasted on the young!
And at the front here you see Pete, the most "experienced"
(ok, oldest) staff member in our Los Altos store. Considering this
was Pete's first race in two years he did very well (as did all of our
riders!). Just to the outside of Pete is Todd, a Chain Reaction
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