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".
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.