A Day in the Life of Rail 34s: Air Force Cycling Classic Weekend

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This weekend was the NCC-Tier 1 Air Force Cycling Classic, which is a dual weekend of criterium racing with Clarendon Cup on Saturday and Crystal Cup Sunday.  I have wanted to race this weekend since the beginning of my "racing career.” This spring’s challenge was to be in good enough shape to get my upgrade to Cat 2, and then stay in good enough shape to live through the races that made me want to upgrade in the first place.  It’s been a long process, but I was pretty amped up to get a chance to race it.  

Clarendon's a 5 corner crit with one corner being pretty close to a 180 but nothing totally out of control.  I arrived 90 minutes early and set up my trainer near the corner immediately following the 180 that seems to catch a lot of racers off guard.  True to form, I didn't get a chance to pre-ride.  So it was going to be a "vaya con dios" kind of early lap scenario for me as we were lined up immediately after the men's 2/3 race.  Since I'm also the absolute BEST at lining up and pulled up right in the BACK, I got a good look at the players for the day: Colavita sans their superstar sprinter, TIBCO, Fearless Femme staring Tina Pic, and my favorite somewhat local hero Laura Van Gilder, who had 4 more Mushrooms with her.  I figured, (as an optimist of my caliber might) that Clarendon would have the same kind of HOLY CRAP I CANNOT BELIEVE WE ARE GOING THIS FAST STILL, I CAN'T BREATHE, MARY CALL THE EMBASSY I NEED A VISA OUT OF THIS PLACE start as Wilmington, as there was a similar cast of players. I also thought that Colavita was going to try and get something up the road, because the other teams had their sprinters.  While I was thinking this, the announcer reminded me of something I had TOTALLY browned out: we were doing 50 laps.  50 is a lot of times around a 5 corner course.  250 corners to be exact.  Yeah, I get that the men do 100, but that’s just straight up insane. Anyway, the race started somewhat spirited, but nothing out of control.  Colavita and others were sending bombs upcountry, but the course was open enough that nothing really stuck.  I noted things such as the ability to breathe through my nose and crack a smile when catching the call of a vuvuzela in the crowd (thank you LP!). As is the custom, it took me awhile to settle in.  For the first 1/3 of the race I was near the tail end.  Braking through corners and then hammering to catch back on is no way to win a bike race, so I eventually got myself further up in the pack where there was less braking, and more pedaling.   Also notable, I wasn't watching the lap counter tick down, which was an excellent sign.  It means I was... HAVING FUN.  Which is the whole point of it in the first place.  

Here is when I tell you how awesome the 34s are.  They are awesome because nothing freaked me out, I was able to corner just fine with whatever line was available, and as it got windier as the race went on, nothing rattled me, I hit a few pot holes and all went without incident.  

With about 8 to go, I got myself INVOLVED by latching on third wheel to a Mushroom move going up the road. We went somewhat fast for awhile and then we were swarmed.  I could shorten ALL of these blogs by saying “I went really fast and then I got swarmed, I didn't win, the end.”  But that isn't blogging is it.  You need DETAILS.  So… the race came down to a sprint, I had good position until 1 to go and then I got swarmed and pushed back and was 25th or something coming out of the final corner and managed to pass some lead out train droppees and eke out 18th. IN THE MONEY.  YAY! Riding by yourself means not sharing your prize money with anyone else but yourself! I then prepped for Sunday by waiting like two hours to eat, having a sangria, and sitting out in the sun watching the men’s race.  RACE PREP 101 people, learn from the master. 

Crystal Cup on Sunday is all new to me.  (each year I have attended Clarendon Cup as a spectator , I have managed to WIN the "party".  So I've never made it out to day 2 of the Air Force Classic is what i'm saying here.)  Anyway the scene, the course, were totally new to me.   I thought it was a longer lap, closer to circuit length, but its not.  It's a 5 corner crit, but this course goes from wide and luxurious (which is pretty much all of Clarendon), to BARELY ONE LANE which are cordoned off by terrifying barriers.  Truthfully, I wasn't into this race. I was totally spent from the day before, and it isn't nostalgic for me like Clarendon.  But, there is a pro race in your back yard, you go and race it dammit.  So I did.  Unlike the day prior, I managed to eat something before my race, so I wasn't fueled on only GU and dreams. This time I was fueled by a smoothie AND GU.  Progress!  The women's race was after the men's pro race this time and also after the kids races. The announcers called us out right after the men's race finished but then had us sit and wait baking in the sun while the little kids (who are totally cute, I love kids, I promise but I was just really ready to start racing before all remnants of my warm-up were rendered totally void) raced like half a lap of the course.  And then I lined up in the back, because that is how I do.  The race started a lot faster than the day prior.  With no pre-ride available it was "vaya con dios" once again.  The first few laps were terrifying, a lot of riders (myself included) seemed tired and jumpy, and the course was rutted, full of manhole covers, and overall, not fun for me.  I don't like to be negative, (cough!) and I love me some technical crits, but honestly it seemed a bit unsafe.  Two lane wide portions that narrowed to one lane around a corner just seems like asking for trouble and an ambulance.  At any rate, I had a hard time keeping myself near the front of the group, I would work my way up on the finish straight, and then drift back when it narrowed.  My whole body was clenched the entire time.  There was nothing wrong with my legs, but my head was totally not there.  With three to go a fellow MABRA racer and I got gapped pretty hard behind another racer, and had to jump around to close it down.  I wanted a chance to sprint with the group, I was NOT going to lose that chance with 3 to go.  Anyway, long story short, there was a crash on the first turn of the final lap, I was luckily inside of it, and managed to hook onto the back of the group just in time to dig in and sprint past some lead out train remnants again to nab 15th.  IN THE MONEY.  

Lessons:  Racing two of these crits in two days is probably tougher mentally than it is physically.  Readers who are interested in 34s will be happy to know, that you can be "not all there" in a seriously technical and dangerous crit and do just fine.  Through two days and 500 corners among some of the best crit racers in the country, they let me do anything I needed or wanted to do the entire time. 

I’ve just earned myself a week off the bike.  Feel free to tune into my next blog about sitting on a beach and not moving for 48 hours.  


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