Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Crit Inferiority Complex

Last year's Menlo Park Grand Prix, 35+ 3-4: my goal was to finish in the pack. 3 laps to go, I flatted, and with the pit closed that put an end to achieving that goal. Close? Horseshoes and hand grenades. I then entered the 35+ 1-2-3 race as a second chance and got dropped when I made a bonehead error: thinking the "pssst-pssst-pssst" I heard was my tire losing air, when it was the guy next to me... I stopped, then when I realized my goof I couldn't regain the pack.

But even though I knew I'd come close to my goal in that first race, I also knew I'd ridden badly. Too many times I'd found myself tailgunning, riding at the back of the pack. Call it CIC: "Crit Inferiority Complex". I don't belong there. Pardon me for getting in your way. I'll just hide back here, out of trouble, where it's "safe".

Warming up
Warming up at Menlo Park (Jeff Remer)

This year, a new team, a new goal. Finishing in the pack wasn't enough. I had to be a factor. My criteria for factorhood were generous: get to the front at some point during the race, and never ride at the tail.

The importance of this was highlighted from my girlfriend Cara's experience in the W4/35+ W4 race: going into the S-turn, novice riders slowed down way too much, filed down into a single file. Gaps opened. Those caught behind these gaps were gone: nothing they can do. Those at the front weren't waiting for anyone. I've been there too many times.

No, the race happens at the front of the pack. Those at the back are spectators at best, there at the mercy of the riders ahead. I'd been practicing this philosophy on the Noon Ride.

But crits are a long way from the Noon Ride. When the race began, I'd move up a few spots, then settle in. "I can't move up further": no room, too fast, yaddayadda. It's easy to convince yourself of stuff you want to believe. CIC. So I hung out, never at the back, but too close to it. As long as I was close to my teammate, I was content. And I wasn't always close.

In the end, I finished in the pack. Tim was in there somewhere, as well. If this had been a stage race: s.t., mission accomplished. But it wasn't a stage race. I was never really in this race.

Racing isn't just about the result: it's about the path to the result. Sort of Zen, that way. I need to step up next time. Maybe not escalate my goals, but certainly I need to believe in them.

In road races, the hills have a lot to say. That's the essence of racing to me, even if I don't always like what they decide. But in crits, it's left up to us. Ride smart, near the front, or stay home. These skills, these confidences, are important, even for road racing.

At least I lived to fight another day, rode better than I had last year, and met last year's goal. Any crit where you walk away at the end isn't so bad. But it still left an empty feeling. I hadn't done what I'd planned to do.

P.S. Special thanks to Lorri and especially the whole VeloGirls team for putting on a really special and well-run event. Despite pressure from those wanting more of the usual, Lori really focuses the race on beginners and especially women. Yet she still managed to have such world-class riders as Brooke Miller, Kathryn Mattis, Daniel Holloway, and Andy Jacques-Maynes.


Kimberly (aka. DrKim) said...

Hey--those thoughts are all too familiar! I think it just takes practice....and one day you'll find yourself sitting in the pack thinking "hmmm, this is kinda slow, better go shake things up!" and off you'll be! It is fun. I did my first M35+ open crit this past weekend (I'm a girl), and I had similar goals to your last years goal. Ride in the pack, and be seen up front at least a few times before I got too cooked. I rode strong with my male teammies until 2-to-go, when (because of bad positioning too far back....as you point out) a huge slowdown in the corner got me gapped and when they're ramping it up for the sprint...well....ouch! It takes time. and as you say, "crit confidence." Good job! Getting in there is half the battle. :-) Battling your mind is the other half! Good luck!

djconnel said...

Wow -- thanks for the comments! To practice is good advice. Of couirse a syndrome related to CIC is Critophobia... Gotta get past that, as well.

Another good recommendation I got was to find a good rider and stick with him (or her!)

Nice job mixing it up in an open field! That's always cool to see. M35+ is a hard category.

Kimberly (aka. DrKim) said...

Yeah--I think I finally conquered critophobia...it had me good a few times last year! :-)

velogirl said...

Dan, thank you for coming out to race. I was so happy to see both you and Cara out there. And thank you for the compliments as well.