As soon as I decided to start getting back into racing a little bit this year, I knew that I wanted to do the Grafton ToAD race. It’s as close to a hometown race as it comes for me. Not to mention that I love a good technical criterium. After one of my better days in many years of riding with the guys of Ozaukee Bicycle Club on Wednesday prior to the race, I was feeling very confident in my fitness. My only concern was that I haven’t really had a lot of cornering practice this year and the last corner of the Grafton course is tricky.
Saturday morning I woke up to a light rain. I checked out my weather app on my phone and it wasn’t looking very promising for the next few hours. I had planned to ride my bike to the race as part of my warm up, but with the possibility of storms in the forecast, I opted instead to drive and warm up on my trainer. By the time I arrived at the course and parked, the rain had let up and the roads were starting to dry out.
Since it’s been a couple years since I raced in ToAD, one thing I forgot about is that the category 3/4 women like to line up REALLY EARLY! It’s one of the perks to being the first race of the day I guess. About 15 minutes before our scheduled start, I came around the last corner after having done a few laps to check out the course, planning to do another lap or two yet, only to find everyone lining up already so I was forced to start at the back. It felt like the last few minutes took FOREVER to pass, but finally we were off.
Since I started so far back, I spent the first few laps getting around some of the girls who were timid around the corners, letting gaps form in front of them. I was surprised that it wasn’t as sketchy as it has been in the past. After a few laps, we finally settled into a rhythm, but I couldn’t really move up; I’d use a lot of energy getting in front of some of the weaker girls, then the pace would slow and the field would bunch up and everyone I just passed would get in front of me again. It didn’t help that I was still not 100% comfortable taking the last corner at race pace.
At one point in the middle of the race, the pace slowed again on the finishing straight and I was able to catch a wheel to move towards the front. For no apparent reason I decided that that would be a good time to attack. I guess I just wanted to test my legs and lungs to see what I could do since it’s been a while, but I’ve always been stronger at sprinting than time trialing, so I have no idea what was going through my mind. I was off the front for half a lap when I knew it wasn’t going to last, so I sat up and got back into the field to recover from the pointless effort.
The bell lap came and I was sitting towards the back half of the field like I had been most of the race. My goal was just to finish with the pack and it looked like I would, and make it safely through the last corner one last time. Luckily (??) I was sitting back pretty far because it looked like one or two girls slid out in the last corner, but I was able to get through without any problems. At that point everyone was pretty spread out on the finishing straight, but I was able to pass a lot of girls with my sprint and ended up finishing 21 out of 42 who finished (49 started). I was happy with my sprint and my finish, considering that I was starting my sprint from the back of the field.
It was a really fun race and I’m glad it stayed dry all day. Thanks to Team BELGIANWERKX for helping to keep things run smoothly all day! The weekend’s takeaway was that it’s one thing to be fit, but a whole other thing to be in good criterium shape! Time to do some cornering practice and work on my patience!
Jessica Helmlinger is a Belgianwerkx sales associate, and category 3 criterium racer for the Belgianwerkx road racing team. She also races cyclocross from time to time for the My Wife Inc. cyclocross team. She is a full time personal trainer and nutritionist and just started her own business called Afterburn Personal Training, doing most of her training out of Anytime Fitness in Cedarburg, WI. See jessicahelmlinger.com/ for more information.