Getting Schooled: Walton Park Criterium Race Report

By: Andrew Steele (Cat 4)

My name is Andrew and I am what not to do. I was late to bed the eve of the night before the race. Then, I was late to bed the night before the race and I didn’t make time for my pre-race rituals. Waking up Saturday morning, my legs weren’t shaved, my bike was dirty, and I had put my race wheels on just the evening before. What a disaster. At least RJ stopped for gas next to a McDonalds so that I could grab my regular breakfast. Maybe everything wouldn’t be lost?

Arrival. Registration. Organization. Which pit wheels? Red skewers. [Thanks again, RJ.] All systems go.

Warm-up laps showed that Walton Creek gave familiar territory: we felt like we’d stepped back on to the Annual Downtown Wake Forest Criterium circuit. Cool. But on that, a note about the day’s racing: while the entire region was lamenting the loss of the Jefferson Cup Road Race to weather, the Charlottesville Racing Club couldn’t have had better luck. Registration numbers skyrocketed immediately after the post-ponement of Sunday’s suffer fest was announced. And kudos to a job well done, guys.

The course was lifted straight from the four-corner crit textbook: a couple hundred flat meters from the line was turn one. It lead to a short four or five percent downhill which quickly fed into another left. The road undulated downwards, which would have the peloton reaching 27mph or so each lap. Then another left and up a grade of similar steepness from the one we’d just come off. Finally, a left at the top of the climb for a slight dip on the run into the finish. The dip would end and lead directly into a one or two percent drag. It was flat from 100 meters, or so, to the line. Seven tenths of a mile per lap. It wasn’t technical enough to shatter the field, but certainly enough to pop any pretenders off the back.

On my third warm up, I heard a pop while I was coming out of turn two. Nothing seemed obviously wrong, so I ignored it. As I finished the lap, I started noticing noise coming from the back of the bike. Mental note to check on grid.

:check:

It was a broken spoke. Yes, seriously. Front row of the grid, during roll call, I’m frantic over a wheel change.

With a little help from The Dirt Field, I had a red-skewer wheel on the bike and was in business.

Oh, and really stressed.

Lap one found me off the front without much effort. Knowing there was no way that I’d stay away, I hammed it up for a bit and laughed when The Dirt Field shouted at me for being stupid.

"Get off the front!" Andrew, having a little fun with it. [Courtesy: The Dirt Field

All back together, the attacks came and went. Par for the course. And then Darion Flemming [Haymarket Bicycles] took a ride out into the clean air. I let it go. Darion – I knew from his performance at Black Hills – would be a threat. If he wanted to tire himself out ten minutes into a fifty minute race, I was more than willing to let him. But then something I didn’t expect happened: Matthew White and Patrick Nagler appeared at the front of the field. Teammates of Darion’s, this presented a problem.

Good afternoon, passengers, this is your Captain speaking. We’ve been placed in a holding pattern and expect to remain here for the next half hour. Thank you for flying Haymarket Air.

The Haymarket block was astonishingly effective. Darion had gotten too far up the road for anybody to realistically bridge, and no teams had, or were willing to use, the firepower to bring him back. Between RJ and me, putting the race back into one piece would have been futile. We would waste ourselves for the sprint finish we helped create. I’m sure we would have been very popular with the sprinters, though. So we didn’t do anything. And I got cranky. More than one other racer got to listen to me whine about how the race was already over.

So we collected ourselves, picked our motivation up off the floor, and decided to make the best of it. Between RJ and a few other strong figures, nobody else was getting away. If we were going to race, it would be for second, not third or fourth.

And so we played.

With six laps left to race, Matthew pulled up next to me, grinned ear-to-ear, and declared “the fun is about to start!” I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get nervous.

As the laps ticked down, the peloton would suffer from mild schizophrenia. Surges on the back stretch were met by riders sitting up on the climb. Aggressive racing – complete with the standard affair of elbow business – through the start/finish, then hard on the binders to nearly stop before turning. Oh well.

With a lap to go, RJ moved to the business end of things and I surfed his wheel up. Then I realized I’d made a huge mistake. We crested the climb, hung the left, and I found myself leading a very strong, very motivated field of Cat 4’s into a very power-friendly finish. Bells rang in my head. Everything flashed red. This was not where I wanted to be. The head moving a million miles per hour, I quickly figured that I would fake my sprint to get somebody, anybody, to come around. Out of the saddle, three strong pedals strokes and…

… I was alone. WHAT?!

“Well,” I thought “if I’m going to blow sky-high then I’m going to make it look good.” I set myself back onto the saddle and turned the pedals over as hard as I could. When the short rise ended, back out of the saddle, pedal until the horizon goes black, and brace for the inevitable wave of fastmen behind.

But it never came. Second? Well, I guess we’re not going to complain about that!

We're in this for the money. Obviously.

Big thanks go out to RJ for all the effort he put into keeping the field together.

This race should definitely be on next-year’s calendar. Check out the CRC’s next event, Wintergreen Ascent Hill Climb Champsionships on 7 May.

Oh, and that guy whose bike got run over? We’re really sorry that happened. Seriously. Didn’t get a look at the frame, but those were some nice wheels attached to it. If you need to pick up some new parts, though, we can recommend a great shop!

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