As my time on the bike in May was less than optimal, I decided to attend the NRC A Race on the Tuesday prior to the Preston criterium. I figured the high speed would be good training and I could also work on my cornering. I got “lost” trying to find Blair Road from the Rockcliffe Parkway in my ride to the event and as a result, I arrived about 2 minutes before the start having already spent 25 minutes riding at or above threshold just to get there. I wasn’t expecting the 90 riders that had showed up for the race and I ended up starting at the back of the group. The speed was high from the start (averaging 50 kph on the straights) and I spent the first 10 minutes sprinting out of corners and closing gaps as riders got shed out of the pack. Soon after, there was a single rider crash causing a large enough gap that I couldn’t close. I continued to ride hard with a few other Eurosport cyclists until we were lapped about 20 minutes into the event and subsequently pulled. Once I was comfortably watching from the sidelines, I realized that Neil was racing and he looked quite comfortable within the aggressive main group. I left the race with a few insights for the upcoming weekend: (1) I felt comfortable on my bike cornering at speed, (2) don’t ride crits from the back as sprinting 4 times each lap on the corners is extremely tiring, and (3) I hoped the Masters-only Preston race would be a little bit slower.
I arrived to Preston Street on Father’s day with my family and cheering section. I was happy to see David registering at the same time, knowing that I would have a teammate in the race. I proceeded to warm up with a few hard intervals to ready myself for the upcoming high intensity effort. Our race was delayed in starting and we weren’t even allowed a single warm up lap on course. About 50 Masters 2 and 3 riders lined up at the start and I grabbed a position in the second row. My game plan was to stay in the top ten for the first 10 minutes to avoid the chaos behind. (See lesson 2 above). While waiting for the pace car to start, the announcer listed off the top teams and riders. There was a large contingent from Eurosport and the West Quebec Wheelers, teams from the Cyclery and RWR, and a few racers from outside the Ottawa area. There was a shout-out to Tall Tree Cycles, “ a welcome and growing presence to the Ottawa road scene.”
The race started quickly and soon each corner and each lap blurred into the next. The course was not overly technical and each corner could be pedaled through with the right line. Riders seemed reasonably courteous of each other’s movements and it was easy to move up through the group, particularly on the backstretch. My positioning strategy was successful and I was able to maintain my position well with much less effort after each corner. I could see David was riding quite strongly and he spent the majority of the race riding near the front just ahead of me. About 15 minutes in and feeling comfortable, I decided to take a flyer to get some face time for my kids. It felt awesome to accelerate out of the group and dive into the next corner at top speed. I came through the start finish with a small lead on the trailing peloton, but I was already sucking wind and we were all back together by the start of the next lap.
Time went by quickly and soon we were at 5 laps to go. It was about this time that the rain started to fall. Quickly, it went from a light shower to a heavy deluge. With the water, the course became very slippery through the corners. The speed slowed substantially as caution seemed to prevail. Despite this, there was a small crash near the front with about 4 laps to go. I instinctively made it by the carnage, but was unclipped from my pedals and close to a standstill before beginning the chase to the leaders. By one lap to go, there were at least 6 riders who had a gap on the remaining peloton which I had re-entered. David was in the same group. I accelerated hard on the back straight even though the leaders ahead were not likely to be caught. Despite a fairly scary slip through the 3rd corner, I came out of the last corner leading the chase group and sprinted in for a 9th place finish. David was right behind me.
Overall, it was an immensely enjoyable experience and I’m considering more criteriums in the future. After the race, my wife told me that while I was off the front, the announcer remarked that I was riding a steel bike, “which you don’t see everyday!”