Redlands Classic, Stage 2 Redlands Criterium
What probably sets NRC racing in the US apart from the stage races I did in Spain and the bigger races in the sport are the inclusion of criteriums. NRC stage races are probably the highest level where criteriums are still allowed. Big races like the Tour of California do not allow criteriums. For the uninitiated, criteriums are races held on short (roughly 1 mile) circuits composed of city streets. They usually feature many corners, very high speeds, and intermediate prizes (or primes) for winning certain laps. To put it in perspective, a long criterium is only 90 minutes, whereas a long road race is 5 hrs. This year has seen the deviation of NRC criteriums from the rest of the NRC races, namely the creation of the NCC or National Criterium Calendar. This validates the point that criteriums are very different from the other disciplines within road cycling.
Stage 2 is a 90 minute criterium through downtown Redlands. The course is unlike anything I had done:
Is this a lightning bolt shape?
Honestly this course is super fun, and relatively safe. One of my teammates, Andy, fell through turn 1 and I scraped a lot of my pedal off in turn 5, but it’s all good. With 150 or so starters (we lost 40 guys on stage 1) when the field was strung out it took up the majority of the finishing straight. Now, I’m not a criterium racer. I mostly just try and get through these races unscathed and without loosing time. In fact although I don’t know this for certain I think there is a rule in USA-Cycling that the criterium in a stage race should not effect the GC, but I don’t know. During the race Mike Creed (Optum) went up the road only to get reeled back by his whole team (also Optum) so they could set the sprint up for Paddy Bevin (Bissel, not Optum). This made it 2 for 2 for Bevin – pretty impressive. I made it though with the bunch without spending too much energy and went back to the house. I kind of wish I was better at these races, the spectator and ‘rock star’ factor is a lot better than my favored hilly road races.
Stage 3 Sunset Road Race
I was stoked for this race. It’s a hugely technical and difficult course where the best riders are forced to the top and attrition is the name of the game. Unfortunately I woke up with a pretty nasty upper-respiratory infection which made me pensive about the event. The race began and my legs were up for the effort. The first lap was blistering, made especially difficult by the cross wind putting the entire field in the gutter. Riders were randomly crashing everywhere – sand pits, cracks in the road, curbs, it was war. Over the top of the climb my rear wheel hit one of those slotted storm drains.
I should have known something was wrong when the Bissel rider on my wheel gave a ‘woah’. My tire went flat and I discovered later that the impact had actually bent the rim. I got a change from the Shimano motorcycle and a push. Circuit races of this sort are the worst to get a flat, chasing is futile. In a criterium you get a free lap when you have a mishap then you rejoin the group you were in. In a road race you get paced up to the caravan of team cars where you’re allowed to draft and jump your way back to the field. Circuit races have neither of these, so when you have to stop you can kiss the front group good-by. After chasing with all the unfortunate riders to get caught up in problems I decided to call it. I always really hate quitting races, even when you know that it’s from bad luck. I probably would have chased longer if I wasn’t sick and hacking up stuff. Not an excuse but these are the rational that you think of as an athlete in order to stay motivated. In the end the race would get whittled down to only a few of the strongest men. I was seriously impressed to see Evan Huffman in there and happy to see Luis Amaran my old teammate hacking it with the best. Bevin would win the stage, making it 3 for 3 – seriously impressive. Next year I have the knowledge to perform at this event.