Bad Idea, Part III

As it turned out, the wife was getting almost as burned out fighting crowds and standing in lines as I was. Every day we left the park a little earlier. Tuesday came around and she announced that she needed to be back at the house at 4:00 for an online class. I pushed that back to 2:30 so she would have plenty of time to recover and to avert my pending daily migraine/brain tumor.
Just for giggles, I got on USA Cycling's website again and found out there was a 4/5 crit a little over 10 miles from the house at 5:30. Awesome. By the time I had my license purchased and all of the preliminaries completed, I had less than 35 minutes to get there, sign in, pin on my bib, strip the junk off the bike, do a quick loop of the course, and line up. Sure, 35 minutes would be plenty of time to ride there in rush hour traffic in Anaheim- if I didn't die.
I did a pretty decent time trial all the way to the park where the race was being held, and fortunately made minimal wrong turns before I found the sign-in table. As it turns out, the start time was pushed back 15 minutes, so my efforts to make good time were unnecessary and probably pre-cooked my legs before the race. My sunglasses were already streaked with sweat, and the fun hadn't even started yet.
In my haste, I didn't realize what I'd gotten myself into. From the website:
The El Dorado (“El Do”) Race Series is a twilight criterium held on a closed 1.7 mile course in Long Beach’s El Dorado Park. The race is one of the oldest continuously run races in the US, now nearing its 36th year. With four categories (Juniors, 4-5’s, 1-2-3’s and Masters) the races attracts everyone from beginning racers to Olympians. 
Oh... fuck. Well, at least I didn't do the CBR Dominguez Hills Crit the day before, which is a whole 'nother level of ass-kicking. That's where the local talent really throws down. Thankfully it got edited out of my search options on the USA Cycling website, because that would have been embarrassing. The Eldorado Crit was all the beating my fragile ego could take.
Right from the gun I was red-lined and looking for an excuse to quit. I didn't know anyone and hadn't scouted previous results, so once again I made the mistake of tail-gunning a lower-category race. After two laps the pack split neatly in two, and I had to bridge to the leaders. I latched on the back, finding only meager shelter from the wind behind a very short and skinny junior in a skin suit. Too gassed to immediately jump up, I just tried to stay low and control my breathing.
Every lap there was a surge when we turned into the wind. For that matter, there was a surge when we turned out of the wind. The kids turning the screws at the front really amazed me with their powers of recovery. Every other lap, a rider or two would fall off, and once again I was forced into the wind to bridge. I'd latch back on and just about the time I'd get my breathing under control they'd go again. The pack got smaller and smaller, and the excuses for dropping out bouncing in around my head got more numerous. I hung on, because I'm stupid like that.
They threw in the second prime two laps from the end, and four guys got a gap when they sprinted. The tattered remains of the pack seemed sure they would sit up, but I knew they were as good as gone. I made one good eye-crossing attempt at bridging, but it became clear that once you were off the wheel you weren't catching those guys. Halfway between the leaders and the chasers wasn't where I wanted to be, and since I couldn't close the gap I drifted back. I quickly realized that they were either completely gassed, demoralized, or both. I tried to get them to work together to try to close, but the firepower wasn't there. They were thinking about that prestigious 5th place finish. I was kicking myself for the bad positioning and crappy fitness which had resulted in the situation. Maybe if I had known the riders better, I could have picked a better wheel, but I'm not sure I could have held it. Crap those guys were strong.

I made a halfhearted effort at the end to take fifth overall and first among Cat 5s. It was less a sprint than a weak surge, but it got the job done.
I sat around afterwards, talked to some of the other guys once we had properly stuffed our lungs back in, and watched the 1/2/3s and Masters race. A few guys asked me why I wasn't racing in Masters, because apparently they're not too stringent on the USAC thing. Watching the Masters ride the course at a measured-but-fast pace instead of the attack-happy painfest I had just endured, I envied them.
With this result, I ended up the number one USA Cycling Category 5 criterium racer for the state of Alaska. Out of one. After over ten years of racing, that's just sad. When they posted the preliminary results of Facebook a few days later, the name blocks next to my race number were empty. I guess they were trying to save me the public humiliation.
Looking at Training Peaks, Sunday's race had much higher numbers all around. Higher peak, normalized, and average wattages. It wasn't nearly as painful as the El Dorado race for me, which indicated that maybe I was a bit gassed when Tuesday rolled around. Maybe walking around Disney for hours and a frantic ride across town wasn't the best warmup. Maybe skipping any sort of rest day while I was on vacation isn't the formula for peak performance. Maybe I would have been up there when the last split happened.
What's important is I had fun on vacation, which is something not even Disney provided.


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