CRCA Women's Club Racing is Fire
While we've written about some of the issues that plague women's racing in general (such as combined fields, unequal payout, and shrinking race/racer pools), we NYC women actually have some of the best racing opportunities right in Central Park, in the heart of the City. The Century Road Club Association will run 13 Club Races (for CRCA members only) this year in the Park, in addition to several Open Races, and there's always at least one dedicated Women's Club field. Our Club races vary in distance based on sunrise, ranging from 4 laps of a 6.2 mile circuit, all the way to 7+ laps (or 44mi). Last Sunday's Club Race was such a 7 lap race with a Met (Metropolitan Museum of Art) finish - a deceptively long flat sprint immediately after a leg searing wind-up over Cat's Paw Hill.
CRCA has many co-ed sub-teams, and a few women-only squads. Of course, teams change and racers come and go, but even just racing half a season, you start to get to know the cast of characters who show up week after week, and their individual and team tactics. This is what makes CRCA Club racing safer, and a lot of fun: using intel learned from observing race dynamics week after week and building on that for future races, in a familiar place with familiar faces. Playing the bicycle racing game among friends & frenemies is addicting.
Our CityMD 2018 squad is comprised of a small but mighty crew of mostly seasoned racers. Weekly throughout the spring, we enroll in a course we affectionately call "AP Bicycle Racing with Professor Allan Rego." It's an advanced class (graduate 400 level probably if one were to classify), focusing on very nuanced skills and tactics to squeeze every bit of efficiency out of our bodies, our equipment, the weather, the terrain, and our competitors. I can honestly say I bank no less than 3 tips from every session - so many good tools for the proverbial toolkit. Then, I test out my new tricks at the next Club race. That's what these "training races" are for - right? - to hone your skills and try new things in a low consequence environment.
So, getting back to Sunday's Women's Club race. We started with a pretty big peleton given the only other women's field that day was a women's intro to bike racing clinic, so all the CRCA women's squads were represented. The Dave Jordan Racing team has done a helluva job recently recruiting and developing new talent in the women's pool, with two of their newest and brightest stars, Kristen & Sarah, able to solo away from the field. In doing so, they're practically running away with the Elite Women's Jim Boyd Competition and the Women's Team Cup competition. This tactic may work once or twice, but rest assured, you're thereafter a marked woman - never to be allowed up the road... at least not without a fight. Houlihan Lokey and NYCC Racing have also recruited and developed some powerhouse ladies, and Rockstar Games & Radical Media's core squad is strong as ever. Team Veselka, while not new to the scene, also acquired some lateraled firepower this season.
My general race strategy (after having raced MTBs the day before) was to assess how the legs felt, but to race aggressively and try to initiate, or at least not miss, the winning break. Lisa & Liz toed the line with me. The race started off fast and more or less stayed that way throughout, with so many attacks & counterattacks from all the teams that I lost count after the first lap. I sat in the front few wheels and watched the early attacks closely. The legs felt okay, so I covered moves that contained threatening riders, which was most of them TBH. As predicted, the usual suspects, Jaime Nicholson Leener (Radical), Kristen Faulkner & Sarah Sjoman (Dave Jordan), teammate & cat lady bff Liz Marcello, and newcomers, Emma Betuel (Houlihan) & Sofie Camacho Bermudez (NYCC), all made good attempts at getting away, but were all brought back quickly. I also tried to make a move in the 2nd lap but the heavy hitters were alert and immediately on me, and the field didn't seem willing to let anything go. After that, I decided to stop playing offense and focus on conservation & defense. The next 3 laps were a blur of more repeated attacks & counters, and the field rushing to bring everyone back. It was relentless. Pretty sure I heard someone actually yelling "OMG! YOU GUYS!" after yet another counter.
One professor Rego tip I practiced during the race was to try to conserve energy by using other people to bridge me up to every move (and conversely, to never be the one dragging someone else up). Over the course of the race, I was amazed at how easy it was to find someone to catch a ride with, and surprisingly, it was often a teammate of someone up the road.
Toward the end of lap 5, I found Lisa to check in thinking things were coming down to a sprint. She asked how I was feeling and I told her I felt cramps coming on, but I'd try to do what I could to keep the pace fast at the end. On the 2nd to last lap up Harlem Hill, Kristen accelerated, and being on her wheel, I seized the opportunity to follow. Turns out, that move split the field, and by the end of Three Sisters we were a group of 7, with almost all of the teams represented and the field nowhere in sight.
In the last lap, my cramps were getting bad. I tried skipping pulls and shaking out my legs as best I could, but heading up HH a 7th time, I was double leg cramping & gapped off the group. Somehow, I managed to claw my way back by the last of the Sisters. But by then, the 2 DJR riders had attacked the group and were gone. By Tavern, those that remained began looking around at each other, trying to suss one another out, me being the most pathetic looking of all, trying to beat the cramps out of my legs. Someone told me after the race that they were trying to decide if I was faking - I wish!
The pace picked up into W72nd and up Cat's Paw and that was the nail in the coffin for me. My legs were spasming and I was pedaling squares - speed dropping down to a crawl. I honestly thought I would end up falling over in the middle of Cat's Paw. Miraculously though, I was able to crest the hill and literally coasted thru to the finish line in 7th. WHEW! Lisa then won the field sprint for 8th. When I got off my bike back at Rambles, I had to lay on the ground for 20 minutes eating whatever my teammates were willing to spare. (Note to self: have CRCA add salt bagels to the next order)
Cramping aside, it was such an exciting and vibrant race, with everyone playing a part in making it fast and interesting. There was hardly a moment of idling. We averaged almost 23mph over 2hrs of racing. This is what CRCA Women's Club Racing has become. It's FIRE. I can't wait to race again with these women, in our Park, here in NYC.