It was a wide open D-shaped course in a nicely paved industrial park. There was a subtle false flat for the first 2 corners of the course and a strong wind that made life pretty miserable in combination with the hot sun and 90 degree temperature. The last two corners were slightly downhill with a fast final corner then 150-200 meters to the finish into a headwind.
Prior to the race I was feeling good about my bike handling skills and felt like this race would be a turning point for me on that front. It turns out that it was as I found myself very comfortable in the pack and able to gobble up positions from the interior of the pack without any problem at all.
The big mistake that I made was twofold. First I didn't make up my mind if I was prime hunting or going for the win before the race. Had I arrived on time and researched the prime awards, I would definitely have gone for the win. But as it turns out, I ended up going after both, with mixed results.
For the first prime I was in bad position and came up the sheltered gutter (but without a wheel) for third, on the second prime, I bridged up to a 6-man break over about 3/4 of a .65 mile lap, sat on for about 200 meters then attacked on the finish stretch to secure my glorious prime award of four 24oz. cans of Full Throttle energy drink.
But after the prime, our break (or someone else's break really, all I did was attack them) got reeled in. So I mixed it up back in the pack and another break started to form as I was recovering. Soon I realized that this break looked pretty serious and so about 5 minutes later I decided to bridge up to this break as my companions in the pack didn't seem particularly spunky. So I set off on my own to cross about a 40 second gap to a break that I would later discover contained 11 riders and would indeed be the winning break.
I didn't get any help bridging though, a couple guys tried coming after me but sputtered out and settled back quickly. After four laps of chasing solo, I got within 15 seconds then hit the wall. Tail between my legs, I settled back into the struggling pack.
At this point, no one in the pack seemed that interested in coordinating a chase. If I didn't have the worst case of cotton mouth known to man (and an empty water bottle) I would have tried to verbally recruit riders to bridge up with me, but as it happened, I only managed to get out two or three twisted syllables at a time. After embarrassing myself with such gems as "gap...break...who's in...ack...smack...smack..." I decided to just keep quiet and stay at the front of the group and stick to anything that moved.
The local riders had no idea who the big babbling guy in the red jersey was, but by the end of the race, with all my antics, at least a couple of them figured out that they should probably keep an eye on me at the finish. So the race mercifully wound down, I was out of water 15 minutes into the race and had spent a lot of energy, so I was just looking to sprint for 12th place and get it over with. I held decent position going into the last couple of turns. Sitting third wheel behind a couple of sacrificial lead out lambs who got stuck out front on the last lap, I knew there were at least a couple sprinters sitting on me. I knew that the guys out front weren't there willingly and the pace would be lower than a typical sprint. I knew I made a mistake coming around the leadouts with about 150 meters to go. There was a fierce headwind that really put a damper on the finishing speed. One guy sitting on me discovered that as he burst around me at 50 meters and quickly faded back, narrowly edging me by about a wheel or so.
I think for all the energy I spent and my poor planning, it was a good race. I really think this race was a turning point for me and most of it has to do with comfort. It seems like once a comfort level is established with the basics of crit racing and pack skills, the big picture is much clearer and one is actually able to race not just participate.
Other lessons learned:
1) Take two full bottles of water to the line, even for a 60 +3 crit.
2) Get good directions to the race and get there at least 90 minutes early to warm up properly and find out if the primes are worth the additional suffering.
3) Flat Sprinting is 90% position and timing.