Category 5 Quad Cities Criterium 2014 Race Report
The old Quad Cities Criterium was a mile-long, eight-turn affair, dead flat, and almost invariably a sprint. After crawling up the 25% grades of Snake Alley and bunny-hopping the Melon City speed-bump at 36 MPH, I was looking forward to a flat course. Not how I said the old course was flat. This year’s course was not.
Under the direction of a new race promoter, someone from the same company that runs ToAD and the Prairie State Cycling Series, a new course was drawn up, located in downtown East Davenport. The course featured narrow roads, a 2-block 4% climb into a 1-block 11% climb, a screaming but straight descent into two narrow, super fast corners. Normally, this would have been a really cool course. After Snake Alley and Melon City, it wasn’t a race I was looking forwards too.
Luckily, my dad and I were staying overnight just outside Davenport so we headed over to the course the night before to preride and check out the climb and lines through the corners. As soon as I saw the course, I groaned – although wide, the climb was really steep and even going up it easy was difficult. The descent is super-fast. I reached 38/39 mph each time down. The best tactic, especially on junior gears, is just to tuck and fly down – spinning out your gears will only waste energy and won’t make up any ground. The descent comes down at pretty much the same grade and spits you out of the trees onto a long straight, probably about 400m long. Along the straight, you’ll still be going 32/33 mph so pedaling can be efficient, but still probably not worth it. The corners are tight and over sealed brick – the kind of faux-brick pathway that turns banana-peel slippery in the rain. If it’s a rainy day, have caution going through the corners.
After pre-riding the course and discussing with my father, I decided not to race the juniors race. I knew it would be really fast and going down the descent and into those two corners at the end of the back straight would be dangerous and I didn’t think I would be able to be safe with such an aggressive, more advanced field. Bike racing isn’t exactly about safety, but you have to know your limits and when you’re taking unnecessary risk. If I had three more years of experience and Cat 2 fitness and could think clearly the entire race, I probably would have stayed in. First year racing, it wasn’t worth it. As it was, my first lap, I overcooked the first corner and almost locked the rear wheel up, which would have been pretty bad. Even then, for the rest of the laps, the last corner was always super fast (b/w the two corners, it’s downhill).
Lining up for Cat 5, it was hot and muggy. 85 degrees but more humid than a dog’s breath. I warmed up on a great bike path along the Mississippi, jersey unzipped, trying to stay cool. Strategy going into the race was to go into the last two corners second, ideally, or first with a gap. From the last corner to the finish was probably 350m, making it better to be second wheel, but I figured the speed coming out of the corner would be so high that any farther back and it’d be too many people to come around. First or second into the last two corners meant some sort of attack, probably onto the climb as it was almost impossible to pass people on the descent and flat (spinning out). I could attack into the corners, but that’s sort of a jerk move and not entirely necessary to win.
30 people lined up at the start but I sorely overestimated how competitive the field was. After the first lap, there were only eight of us in the front group. Huh.
Anyways, second lap, the eventual winner of the race attacked on the climb and dangled about 20 seconds off the front for 3 laps. It turns out he had won Snake Alley and Melon City the two days before. When he attacked, I didn’t follow because I didn’t think it would get away. I should have known that, with a group of only seven, no one would chase him down. After about 4 laps, the eventual second place racer got a small gap over the top of the climb inadvertently, looked back, figured it was better to be off the front than on the front and held his gap to the finish line. By that time, there were only 4 others left and the next time up the climb, it was just me and one other racer.
I’d like to tell a story about how we went back and forth, tossing attacks at each other, each time clawing back the time advantage to the chaser. But alas, it wasn’t to be. I pretty much sat on his wheel while he led the remaining 5 laps. He tried to accelerate a few times, on the 4% or the 11% grades, but he didn’t have a lot of pop and I was able to stay with him. Also, it was hot, hard, and humid, so that probably contributed to it to. Last lap, I tried to attack at the bottom of the climb and was giving it everything, but when I looked back, he was only a few seconds off my wheel and I knew he would catch on the descent, so I sat up.
Here’s when the race was won (for third): On the descent, he came around me. I don’t know why. Maybe I had conditioned him to be in front. Regardless, I immediately got on his wheel and stayed there until about 180m to the finish. He started the sprint and I came around him and took third by about 2/3 a bike.
I’m really happy that I finally got a good result. Like I said on Strava, I’ve felt like I’ve had the fitness to grab a good result, but I just… haven’t. Getting on the podium also gives me confidence for my 4 upgrade. I’m excited to race Glencoe Cat 5s with my teammate, Tommy Will, next week and also excited to see real power numbers the week after that.
As always, thanks for reading my race report/blog. The best way to keep up is to follow me on Strava. Second best would be to follow this blog (in the sidebar).