“This shouldn’t be anybody’s ‘A’ race.” Wise words from Team Extreme Crit Practice organizer Jim Giese before the start of week two of the practice race series April 16 at West Bend’s Washington County Fairgrounds, but perhaps a bit optimistic when you have a couple of dozen Type A racers toeing the line. The weather was the nicest outside biking day we’ve had all year, sunny and in the mid-50s with a light breeze that picked up a bit as the night wore on, and a great improvement from the cold and windy conditions two weeks ago. That, combined with the upcoming WCA race in Menominee Falls this weekend, seemed to have the field amped up a little more than the last event.
We ran the first three laps of Race 1 at a snail’s pace, trying to make up for splitting up the group too soon two weeks ago. Jim pointed to me to set the pace: “Keep it slow.” Not a problem! We loafed around the course, shorter and more technical than the version we ran two weeks ago, for three or four laps before the hard chargers made their way to the front. I made the mistake of spending too much time near the front, and especially by leading a lap with about three to go, so when Pedal Moraine’s Jeff Melcher forced a big split at the front, I missed it. I got passed by five or six riders in the mid pack before I shook myself out of the stupor and picked up the pace to gain back a few positions. The second pack closed the gap up a little to the leaders by the end of the 20-minute time limit, but I still ended up somewhere near the bottom of the top 10 and too far from the front to see what happened at the finish.
After a few cool down laps that turned into the opening slow laps of Race 2, the pace picked up faster and sooner than the first race. I was feeling pretty strong and was able to hold the wheel in the top five when the throttle opened. The back half of the revised course was pretty technical, with a flowing left-right-left series of turns that was mostly single-file. I had a couple of dicey moments early in the race, once when a guy dove to my inside then drifted wide on the exit, forcing me to move way to the outside to avoid having my front wheel taken out, and another when I got pushed wide by another rider exiting a corner.
But my big ‘Oh Shit’ moment came on the final corner of the last lap when I was setting up to make a pass on a Velocause rider ahead of me for fourth place. I took a slightly tighter inside line into the 90-degree right hander and clipped a pedal hard on the pavement, which stood me up and shot me several bike widths wide, and the loss of momentum was enough to end any attempt at gaining a position. After the race a few other riders commented that it looked like a wild ride. One guy even said he saw my rear wheel come off the ground. I may not have the talent or bike handling skills of Peter Sagan but I was glad I at least kept upright and finished strong. I feel like my form has improved greatly in the last three weeks of heavy riding, so hopefully I can make a decent showing this weekend.