Bad Idea, Part I

In retrospect, the original version of this series of blog posts was a bit too negative. That's why I tend to write them early but not post them, so I can reflect a bit and get some perspective. Usually it turns out I'm a giant fuckwit and blame everyone else for my failures but the guy who is really ultimately responsible- Lance Armstrong.
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As nice as the weather has been (relative to Anchorage) and as welcoming as the group ride had been, I was still needing a little more. Part of it was due to the steady diet of bad food I'd been ingesting ever since we got here. Also contributing were the flat, monotonous rides along the Ditch.
  
I hit the Google box and tried to find another group ride or something. The only published ride I could find in the area on Sunday was an easy pace affair along the Ditch. Gee, exactly what I didn't want. I wanted to get my teeth kicked in by some riders far better than I was on some new and interesting roads.
  
Out of desperation, I gave the USA Cycling website a shot. With such a short period before any event, getting a bump to Cat 4 from the Regional Director would have been next to impossible, so that meant riding in Cat 5. Maybe a nice road race over some rolling hills. Nope. 

What was available was the GS Andiamo Spring Criteriums. I Google mapped the course and it seemed safe enough- a four-corner parking lot crit that was essentially flat. I was hoping that the turns would be wide enough and pavement was good enough that people would lay off the brakes in the turns. The real issue with this was that the race was in Redlands- an hour away from Anaheim. Let's see, buy a one-day USAC license, pay for the race entry, throw in a t-shirt for good measure, and then drive an hour each way to race in a 30 minute criterium. Oh, and the race was at 8:00 AM. That sounds about right.

As a bonus, if I showed up an hour early there was a clinic put on by the sponsoring club, which I figured might be worth attending just for some ideas on how to pull off the same thing in Anchorage. Sure, I'm in.
  
So, before the sun rose I was showered, kitted up and on the road. Fortunately the freeways were clear of significant traffic that early on a Sunday morning, so I made pretty decent time. I showed up, then stripped the lights, pumps, and all of the other stuff strapped to my frame that I wouldn't need. The ti bike looked almost sporty. I had briefly considered asking for a Cat 4 bump anyway, but the Cat 4 race wasn't for another three hours and the wife would have killed me.
  
GS Andiamo is a relatively young program, but they're going all-in on rider development- especially in the junior categories. The kids there seem to be really having fun, and I hope the program continues to grow. Building a program across multiple disciplines is no small task, and the people that are throwing their time and effort behind it are to be commended. Every race had multiple USAC officials on-hand and an announcer calling the shots no matter who was on the course. Since this was the Junior Criterium Championships, it was run as an "Event", making it that much more special for the kids and their parents.
  
I showed up a few minutes late, but was on the bike and listening in on the clinic. It was actually worth some upgrade points, but since I was on a one-day Cat 5 license and probably would never enter another USAC race, I was just there to see what they covered and how they presented it. For the most part, it was cherry picked group ride curriculum from Smart Cycling/RideSmart, which is a good a place to start as any. 
  
They did keep highlighting a particular corner as "sketchy", which I found amusing because it wasn't particularly tight, off-camber, or rough. In fact, I would call it relatively open, flat, and smooth. They made a big deal about a specific race line for this corner, running the group through it 10 or so times through it at moderate speed. Because of the emphasis on this particular turn, I'd see riders tense up and start braking as they entered it, then have to hammer like crazy to bridge the gap they just created. Since this was the slower of a pair of turns, when most of the speed from the "downhill" stretch had already bled off, braking wasn't necessary or desirable. I've run three-wide in crits on turns tighter than that with no issues, but their repeated emphasis on this one turn and a "correct" line (which was appropriate at 20 MPH, but perhaps not at 30 MPH) had a lot of the guys really over-thinking it.
  
I used the rest of the clinic to see who could corner and looked strong, so I could identify the reliable wheels. The problem was, I couldn't pick out any that exhibited both characteristics before the race started. The guys who could corner (you could see it in their body position and attitude in the turns) didn't have the engines to really go. The guys who had the big motors relied on them too much, braking heavily and then sprinting. When you're young and can recover quickly, you can get away with this.
  
After the clinic, the rest of the field was looking at the other bikes to gauge the competition. Expensive frames and deep carbon wheels. Me? I was looking at legs. A fair number of the guys had some very tan, lean, stringy-looking muscles. My pale legs looked puffy in comparison. I guess long riding season down here builds different legs than we see up north. Maybe it's just the sun-influenced tinting that makes them look so much different. 
  
Whatever it was, there were some very strong riders looking to get a result. Some had made a four-hour drive from Vegas to do the clinic and ride in this 30 minute race so they could get upgrade points so they could get out of Cat 5. Can't blame them for that, but I kinda felt a few of them were rushing the process a bit. Cat 5 is all about learning to race (or at least getting a sound introduction), and trying to get through it as quickly as possible seemed to defeat the purpose. 
  
I figured it would sort itself out in the race. With legs worn into aching nubs by a few days of pushing a stroller around Disney and some exciting rides up and down the Ditch, I was expecting nothing less than eternal glory. Actually, my goals were to:
  1. Keep all of my skin. Walking around Disney pushing said stroller with extensive, Tegaderm-covered road rash sounds like a great way to spend a vacation to absolutely nobody.
  2. Get in some intensity. Something outside a Zone 2 average would be nice, just to mix things up.
  3. Maybe do something here. I hadn't based my entire life on this one 30 minute crit like some of the guys, but I figured it the opportunity presented itself it would be a nice bonus. The first two goals took priority, though.
All that was left was to actually race.

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