Kat Garner brought home one of two medals for the Naked Women’s Racing pb TriBella team this weekend at the Longmont Colorado State Criterium Championships. Kat’s a wicked smart crit racer and you’ll understand why after this race report!
When I started racing bikes in 2005, I had no idea how much there was to learn about this sport. Racing isn’t as simple as pedaling your bike around and around. It’s learning how to use clipless pedals. Riding 3 inches from the rear wheel of the rider in front of you. Cornering fast and efficiently. Corning with 20 (or 30 or more) riders cornering around you at the same time all wanting to take the same line on tires that are 1/2 an inch wide. There’s sprinting without making your back wheel jump off the ground….what to eat…when to eat….how much to eat. The list goes on. And that doesn’t even get into race tactic. Let’s just say it’s not as easy as the guys in the Tour de France make it look.
I’m a lightweight at 5’3”. (No self-respecting female will revel her weight on the World Wide Web, so you’ll just have to know that I wear a size XXS women’s jersey and XS women’s shorts). Big, I am not. The first four years of my racing “career,” I fancied myself a climber. The logic went something like this: I’m small; small people weigh less than big people; and lighter people go uphill faster than bigger people. And it made sense when the very first bike race I won was a collegiate road race at the Air Force Academy, which is nothing but uphill and downhill and more uphill. And I hated crits – what was with all that cornering anyway?
And then about 3 years ago, I learned how to corner, and I realized that on every group ride, I would get dropped on the hills. It didn’t matter how big the hill was, I would shoot straight out of the back of the group, like I was a brick that someone had thrown off a roof. So I started to like crits, dislike road races that had a lot of climbing, and really really really dislike hill climbs (I may have as well sent in my registration fee as a donation to the race organizer).
And then this year I learned how to sprint. In March, I had a Retul fit, and was put in 165 cm cranks. I hated them for the first week until I started hitting some serious personal bests sprinting for stop-ahead signs and city limit signs. So with the cornering skills and the sprinting coming together, I set my sights on July 15, 2012 and the Colorado State Crit Championships in Longmont.
Eighteen Category 3 women showed up at the start line for the Women’s Cat 3 State Crit Championships, which is a decent-sized field. The court was a 1-mile pancake-flat L-shape with 6 tight corners. Ten minutes into the race, things got dynamic with two riders going off the front. I bridged up, bringing another rider with me. The next lap, 3 more joined us and we had a solid group that stayed away for 5 or 6 laps. And boy did that hurt. We were absorbed on a prime lap, but the high speed had split the group with only 10 riders remaining in the front group. I tucked in sitting or wheel for the rest of the race, where a few more attacks went off but nothing stuck. I spent the remaining laps focusing on the corners, trying to find the fastest line. I was particularly interested in the last corner, about 300 yards before the finish line, which also happened to have a nasty manhole cover in the apex of the corner.
Colorado is unique because it is home to a plethora of professional cyclists, both men and women, and they are an incredible resource. Before the race, I spent a couple of moments picking the brain of Kori Seehafer, who has made a career (literally) of cornering and sprinting faster than everyone else. She finished second in the women’s Pro/1/2 race before ours, and I wanted to get her thoughts on the last lap. Kori’s advice was to jump before the last corner with enough time to get a gap going in to that last corner. That sounded easier said than done.
With one to go, a rider from Jet Cycling (another very cool team women’s that you should look up) attacked through the start finish. My good friend Susan Hersey managed to jump on her wheel and I jumped on Susan’s. Susan is a big powerhouse and the three of us had a few seconds gap on the rest of the shattered field. Coming into the backstretch, I could sense we were going to get caught just after the last corner. I knew that the group behind would have the advantage of momentum on their side. It was now or never. With Kori’s advise ringing in my ears, I shot out of the slipstream of Susan and the Jet Cycling rider, punched it through the corner, and sprinted as fast as my little legs and 165 cranks could go. It would have been enough if the finish line had been 5 feet closer to the last corner. But it wasn’t, and I got caught and passed by one rider just as we got to the finish line. I managed a bike throw to save second place….barely. They had to go to the camera replay to check that one.
It would be easy to dissect every second of the last lap – what if I had jumped earlier, took a different line in the last corner, or hadn’t attacked with the two girls on the last lap – but I also know that I gave it 100%, left nothing out on the course, rode aggressively, and took chances. Bike racing is an incredibly demanding, unpredictable, and sometimes heartbreaking sport. Perhaps next race I’ll roll the lucky dice and the line will be 5 feet closer.
Thanks to all my teammates for their support, Naked Juice for fueling my pre and post-ride, Vredstein for their wicked-fast tires, and to my parents for letting me drag you on a 3-hour round trip drive to Longmont to sit in 95 degree heat while I rode my bike in circles.