Grant's Tomb Criterium: How the Race Played Out
The Grant’s Tomb Criterium always elicits excitement from the CityMD team as it serves as our first big race of the year. It is the first crit on the New York City race calendar and while no one ever feels ready it is a good opportunity to clear the crit cobwebs. For the past couple of years, under CRCA's leadership, many iterations of women's category fields have been added to the schedule meaning the chance to race multiple times in a day against other women. This field structure is unfortunately a rarity in the sport today but it is one we wholeheartedly support.
On top of all that Grant's Tomb is both right in our backyard and for 2018 it also served as the NYS Crit Championship. This meant plenty of opportunities for championship medals. The forecast blessed us with decently mild weather - all things considered - given past race day conditions. This made for a good day of spectating and cheering with all our teammates. To top things off, we had just gotten in a shipment of brand new sparkly Garneau helmets to show off just in time for the races. So overall stoke levels were high.
We had racers in all 4 of the women’s fields which might be a first for our small and mighty squad, so what better way to highlight the highs and lows of race day than share our perspective from among each women's peleton.
Women Cat 4/5 Field - Maria Vlassenko
Newbie Chronicles or Don’t take Grant's “For Granted”.
Being a newbie not only to racing but to cycling in general, I treat each race with the utmost respect and diligently collect each piece of information which I can use to my advantage. The ugly truth is that you can rarely compensate for the lack of experience with theoretical preparation. There is a gap between knowing what to do and actually doing that.
The night before the race I had interrogated my teammates and lined up at the start line with an instruction list in my mind which wheel to follow, what lines to take and where to hide from the wind. Have I followed these? I guess I tried. One thing is certain, though. By crossing the finish line, I brought myself a bit closer to bridging the gap between the experience and the preparation.
I am excited about my next race and thankful for the support of my wonderful team which brings more fun to my educational process and makes it a lot easier.
Women Cat 3/4/5 Field - Lucia Deng
Coming off an unexpectedly successful season opener CRCA Club race, where I took a 2.5 lap solo flyer in Central Park, I felt extremely nervous for the W3/4/5 field (also the W3 State Champs). Typically, I am not nervous before bike races because, well... I race bikes for fun, and usually for a team result, not an individual result. This time though, I felt pressure to repeat the result from last weekend. I stalked the pre-reg list leading up to the race, previewed the course with the team earlier in the week, and played out multitudes of scenarios in my head of how things could go down to try to decide on some strategies.
Ideally, I would have loved to attack with a handful of laps to go and solo away for the win, but a combination of factors including a large and tremendously strong and smart field of racers, and a brutal headwind in exactly the parts of the course where I would have liked to attack, threw all my breaking away solo plans out the window. I tried one move halfway through the race, but I felt like I was slow motion sprinting through air molasses. Nope. I tucked back in, hoping someone else would try, and I could join them. No such luck though, as the group was all together heading into the last U-turn before the sprint. I got on a wheel I thought would be a good one to lead me out, but the field had other plans and swarmed around us, and before I knew it, I was spit out the back of a charging wave of riders. Oops! That's racing, though. One week, you manage to capitalize on a slew of factors in your favor: a moment of inattention, great chemistry w/ teammates, and early season hesitations, and then the next week, the bicycle racing gods tell you to sit down and be humble, reminding you that you still have a lot of work to do and a lot to learn among a very inspiring and growing community of badass women bike racers.
Luckily for me, all was not lost because I still had one more race on tap, and one more opportunity to contribute to a team result. (See Shane's recount below) Overall, it was a great day of racing, cheering for friends and teammates, catching up with friends from out of town or whom I hadn't seen since the fall, and just enjoying hanging out with our great big bike racing community.
Women Cat 2/3 Field - Shane Ferro
Consider this advice on how not to race your bike. At Grant's Tomb this year, I did everything wrong. I sat dangling off the back of the field, occasionally yo-yoing and gapping myself, being basically the race version of the girl who stands in the dark corner by herself at a party (also me at actual parties). More than once I came through the finish and heard voices in the crowd yelling at me specifically to move up (embarrassing!). Here's the thing though: I love being at the back, especially at Grant's Tomb. It's nice and protected from the wind. You can see everything going on ahead of you. And, as a person who often attacks for no good reason other than compulsion, it is the only place in the field where I can make myself actually be patient and wait for the right moment. With the wide lanes and steep mid-lap kicker of the course, it's also really easy to move up in the pack when it's time. Roughly half a dozen times during the race I'd give the person in front of me a little leash on the Claremont straightaway, pick up speed with no one directly in front of me, take a breath blowing through the corner onto 122nd St., then step on the gas up the climb*. I'd find myself near the front, decide I didn't want to be there, and move right backwards again.
When I somehow found myself in good position on the last lap (see above strategy, but try harder on the downhill), I really thought I blew the sprint. I came out of the half-circle at the bottom of the course second wheel (too far forward!). Then Lisa, in front of me, didn't speed up. It was over. Out of nowhere, Lucia showed up on my right because she's the best. We accelerated. But as she started to slow and pull off I still couldn't even see the finish line. All I could think was "Too far! Too far! It's too faaaaaaaar!!!!" My options were to sprint too early, or risk getting swarmed by the pack and not sprint at all. I went. Halfway there I was ready to give up. I was sure I was done, destined for last place for the sin of Going Too Soon. But Lisa was yelling at me "Go! Go! Go!" I kept going. Somehow I made it? I made it! I was so gassed I couldn't speak for several minutes afterward.
While I got second in the race to a really amazing late solo attack, I won the Cat 2 State Championship, something I hadn't even let myself consider could be mine in the days leading up to the race. I wish I could take credit, but it was a full team effort, and as far as I'm concerned it belongs to all of us.
*Not a recommended strategy in any field larger than about 25.
Women Elite 1/2/3 Field - Lisa Vandivort
The Elite field was my second race of the day, and after the high from a very successful and fun 2/3 race was weening combined with the prospect of racing alone, I didn’t have much in the way of excitement or ambition for this race. But, I wanted to use this as an opportunity to race my way into shape and get back up to speed with my crit skills. My legs were a bit fried so my plan was to sit in and relax for a good portion of the race. However, there were some heavy hitters in the race and paired with some whipping wind that seemed to get worse into the late afternoon, by lap 2 there was a fierce attack which basically blew apart the field. Being near the back of an already small pack, I realized a little too late that we were in trouble and the leaders were very soon too far to chase down. The pack took a while to organize but eventually regrouped, picked up some of the blown apart field and settled into a race within a race with some attacks and eventually dejectedly turning the pedals around the course. Once we slowed down, we eventually got lapped by the 2 leaders (yes, they are fast) and the field was all too eager to let them do all the work on the front of the race.
For the last couple of laps, I sat probably 5 wheels back and just relaxed while listening to my friends heckle me from the sidelines (no, I will not be buying a new Volvo), tried to take smart lines, use energy efficiently and then sit in for the final sprint, which I knew was for around 5th or 6th place. The final drag to the line was fast and the leaders took the preferred inside line - maybe all too close to the straggler parked cars along the course - which didn’t leave a good lane to move up so I went into the wind a bit earlier than maybe intended to try and make a pass and ended up 4th in the field sprint for 7th overall. At the end of the day, I certainly felt tired - though managed to rally for a few beers and nachos before sleeping for approximately 15 hours - but it was overall a really good and confidence boosting start to the season, specifically for the team as a whole which is about all I could ask for.