Gateway Cup has come and gone. I raced three of the four days--Friday, Sunday, Monday. The short version is I raced pretty well, but had no results to show for it.
Tour de Lafayette
Friday evenings's race, the Tour de Lafayette crit, was hot--around 100 degrees. I got off to a poor start, placed very far back in the huge, 120-rider pack. I spent the first half of the 45-minute race working my way toward the front. The second half of the race I shuffled around the front third of the pack. I was in the top 10 with one lap to go. With two of the final four turns remaining I made the mistake of moving towards the center of the pack in an effort to shield myself from the wind. At that point I got swarmed by riders on the outside and blocked in so I couldn't move. This left me about thirty places back for the final sprint.
The good thing here is that, for the first time in my life, I actually was able to sprint at the end of a bike race. I even passed more people than passed me. I was probably in 25th or so place when I crossed the line. I say probably because I don't know--the officials didn't score that far back. Right before I reached the line there was a massive crash directly in front of me when I was going about 36 mph. I had to swerve at high speed no less than three times to avoid various crash-related obstacles (first a wheel, then some handlebars, then a rider's head!). I thought for sure I was going down, but I somehow managed to keep it upright. So, unfortunately, my best result of the weekend wasn't counted.
A few days later I was talking to a neighbor who works at the closest hospital to this race. He was on-duty when four riders from that crash came in with multiple broken bones each. 120 riders is simply too many for a cat 4 crit. Half that would be a good size.
The later races took place in the dark(!), which was a bit crazy. My pal Mark (who started bike racing at the same time as me, and who I beat our first 5-6 races) is now a cat 2 and racing against professionals (including the current national champion). I watched the pro/1/2 race for a little while before retiring for the evening.
Apparently there was a big crash in Saturday's cat 4 race as well. What a shame I missed it.
Giro della Montagna
Sunday's race, the Giro della Montagna, was the one I was most anticipating. The first race was flat, whereas this one had a long, gradual hill on each lap. I typically have more success on hilly courses than I do on flat courses. Again I started poorly, much too far back in the 110-rider field. I spent the first half of the race simply making my way to the front. The second half of the race I worked to maintain my position.
With five laps to go I was in the top 10 when we rounded the first turn and I heard a crash behind me. Apparently it was big enough to block the course because the officials stopped the race to clear the course. After 10 minutes or so they started the race back up (with the same mass-start style as the beginning of the race) and once again I was 50 places back. Bad luck. The next three laps I really worked to get back into the top 10. As the bell rang with one lap to go I was sitting in 5th, ready to push up the final hill just two turns away. We rounded the first corner and the guy in front of me slid out. I had to screech to a halt to avoid crashing into him and by the time I started back up I was 40 places further back. More bad luck. My race was over.
I stuck around to watch some friends in the cat 3 race. Right in front of my eyes at turn 4 was the biggest crash I've ever seen. There had to have been 40-50 riders involved. There were bodies and bikes stacked five feet high. It happened near the front of the field immediately after a tight corner so all the riders coming into the corner couldn't see that they were riding directly into it. It was awful.
Benton Park Classic
Monday's race was the most technically challenging. All the others had 4-turn, rectangular courses. This race had 10 turns per lap. The wind was blowing much harder that day too, meaning any little gaps that form in the group might be difficult to close down.
I showed up plenty early, only to find they races were already 90 minutes behind schedule (apparently they had to tow a bunch of illegally parked cars). I got off to a poor start (are you noticing a pattern here?), but this time it would hurt me much more than the others. The field was strung out into a long line with the leaders a few turns ahead so that I couldn't even see them. The turns were so frequent that it was difficult to pass people.
After a couple hard laps yo-yoing towards the back of the pack somebody in front of me let a gap open up, which essentially ended my race. I worked for two or three laps to close the gap. Just as soon as I regained contact at the back of the main pack another rider a few in front of me let another gap open. I spent the rest of the race chasing.
So I had one finish in the top quarter of the field that wasn't even scored. Then I had two finishes in the top half of the field, one of which was a great race marred by bad luck, the other was a poor race from start to finish. Next year I think I won't try to cram all my bike races into a single month.