Thanks to all for the advice above. As I said, I raced two “practice” crits last night – for those interested, below are my takeaways and my power profile for each race. There was a mix of Cat 2 through Cat 5 racers and an “A” group and “B” group for each race, which was based on self-selection.
In the first race, I self-selected into the “B” group. After that experience (more below), I rode with the “A” group for my second race.
– The overall #1 piece of advice I received in this and other threads was that I would need to get comfortable riding fast/cornering fast and doing so in a tight group. I’ve asserted repeatedly that I am super comfortable riding in tight quarters, but many seemed to think crits would be a whole different ballgame for me. It sort of psyched me out. But I’m happy to report that despite the course having 2 legit corners, I was fine with all of them and as comfortable riding/cornering fast in a tight group as I thought I would be based on my road racing experience. I don’t know if I’m dumb, special, ignorant or what-have-you, but shoulder-to-shoulder riding at high speeds has never bothered me. I don’t get nervous. It’s not to say that I don’t have the requisite adrenaline, focus and awareness that others could take me out, but it never occurs to me to hesitate and I’m not skittish or fearful – and overall I’ve always felt confident. I’m guessing – based on the aforementioned feedback – others have issues with this. For whatever reason I don’t. So I’m glad to report that this part of the crit (and my own abilities) met my expectations.
– I can’t sprint. Need to work on this. I have a decent turn of speed at ~1200 watts, but after the acceleration that happened on the last lap of each race, I didn’t have much snap to accelerate to the finish. This is the most obvious limiter I identified. I had no problem hanging in with either group, managing the accelerations, and was always around the top-10 – but when the last 200-300 meters arrived, I was barely able to push ~900 watts. At the end of a 40 mile road race a few weeks ago, I put out about ~1000 watts sprinting for the line. But the surge-y-ness of the crit taxed my legs differently. It’s something to work on.
Race #1 power profile:
– I raced in the “B” group for this one, and it was a 10-lap shit show. About 20 riders in this race.
There was no sort of paceline, and others were taking wildly inefficient lines into corners. Every time I grabbed a wheel, I would find that they were taking a bad line and I would have to put my nose in the wind, or somehow otherwise adjust to keep myself clean.
– From the very first lap, someone popped off the front and went for a breakaway. They never got very far. Starting with the third lap, I decided I would try and help a break get going because riding in the main “group” wasn’t nearly as efficient as it should have been. Also, we were riding at a speed which was too low – and I was getting antsy and wanted to push it.
– So, essentially, for the next 7 laps I covered every single break. Good news for me, I got a good workout in. Bad news for me – by the time I got to every break, the riders in front faded and just about the time I was planning on pulling through, the group caught us. As such, I rode the ~17 minute race at an IF of .98 – and when the sprint opened for the line, I was cooked and I finished in the 10-12 range.
Race #2 power profile:
– Based on my experience in the first race with the “B” group, I felt like I had the fitness and skill to ride with the “A” group of about 40 riders for the next race. It was the correct call - and I had a much cleaner/better experience over 14 laps of a 1km loop. The lines into the corners were clean, and there was predictability to the movement within the group.
– Knowing that there were riders as high as Cat 2 in this group, I had a very specific race goal in mind – to hang near the front and not get dropped. I also made the decision not to cover any moves whatsoever, and just let the group pull me back if the break didn’t get away. And if it got away, so be it. I just wanted a clean ride near the front and to test my fitness to see if I could hang.
– This worked and I was really pleased with ride. As you can see it was surge-y, but my IF was .87 at the end, so I did a much better job of conserving energy.
– As the last lap approached what was left of the front group (about 20 riders) accelerated, I drifted too far back and was in about 15th wheel. I spent the whole lap working my way back to the front, and got about to 5th wheel just as the sprint opened up. When I got out of the saddle I felt like mush and my legs were spongey. I drilled it as hard as I could, but there wasn’t much there, and I finished in the 8-10 range.
Overall, a really good experience and gave me some good confidence going into my first “official” criterium this Sunday as a CAT 5 rider.