After upgrading to CAT-4 in the end of April, I've had a string of decidely mid-pack finishes, and a nasty crash on the last lap of a crit in which I was lined up to take 3rd...
Basically, I'm strong, I don't get dropped - but dealing with the more aggressive pack, larger fields and a faster pace had mostly kept me a pack filler. Knowing I've got the legs, but had been screwing up my pack positioning has been eating at me as of late. Especially in crits - my forte. So, this weekend I decided to make the 400 mile drive down to Georgia to do a couple races. I think driving all night, and sleeping in the back of my pickup motivates me to do well in races. Racing becomes my only focus for the weekend, and I get into a calm, aggressive mindset.
During my warmup, I recce'd the course, and went around to the 180* to watch the 5s. I chatted with the course volunteer for a few minutes, and made a quick friend who'd later cheer for me as I went around the 180. I like being 400 miles from my team-mates, and 1000 miles from home - and still having a fan section Lots of friendly folks involved in the race.
The weather was nice, and very cool for Georgia in June. Probably mid 70s for the race start. The course was 7/10s of a mile long, with a 180* corner for the first turn, a tight 90* for the second, a one lane chicane, and two more 90* turns - the final on a fast downhill, before the start/finish line. I was a little anxious, as I'm still a little tentative after eating it in the crit up in Raleigh a month ago. It was a decent sized field with ~40 guys, with a couple teams (Aarons and Cycleworks) making solid showings. The race started off fairly fast, with nobody getting crazy on the first few laps. As the race tempo picked up, a group of three guys stacked up on the 180 - as I passed I saw a mess of what looked like computers and brifters...ouch... No major harm to the racers though, as it was a fairly slow corner.
For those wondering what CAT4 crit speeds are like, I'd say this race was fairly reflective of the norm I've seen so far. We were doing 26-33 on the flats, with corner speeds being generally moderate until the last few laps. Now...speaking of corner speeds. At around 20 minutes into the race, I'd moved my way up through the pack, and coming around the final corner of the lap in the top 10ish, I was moving through the corner pretty hot, not sure of the speed, but it felt like a solid 30 and before I'd straightend up fully I began accelerating - my rear wheel slid, and then flatted. I immediately sat up, clamped onto the seat with my legs, kept my weight neutral and rode it out. I didn't go down - and nobody behind me did either. Not thinking I'd need a spare on this course, I left mine in the truck. Another gesture of kindness from a stranger got me back into the race though, as a team allowed me to use their spare and the course mechanic gave me a push to the back of the pack at the end of my free lap.
With a new lease on the race, and riding on a borrowed wheel, I had something to prove I smelled blood in the water, and began to attack up the pack fairly eaisly, as I remembered being able to do in the 5s. I moved up to the front, worked with another rider to reel back in a two man break, and kept near the front to stay in contention. Feeling strong, after the 180* on the final lap with about a half mile left to go, I attacked with everything I had and got a bit off the front. I rounded the last corner in first, but with not quite enough speed (recalling my previous mishap...) and 5-6 riders who had been sitting in my draft came by me. D'oh. I attacked a little too early, and cornered a little too soft - and it cost me the race - but in all I'm happy with how I rode, and finally got my first top 10 (6th/7th I believe) in the 4s.
The race was well executed by the organizers, and it was for a good cause (APDA - Parkinson's Disease Charity).
Driving in the Atlanta suburbs on the other hand, was not such a good time