Bloomington Criterium: 2016 State Criterium Championship Race
By Annie Byrne
The Bloomington Criterium was the 2016 IL State Criterium Championship race and so I was pretty excited to head down and give it my all to see if I could win my first championship jersey. The day and night before were super hectic so I didn’t have much time to really think about the race, which I actually like. I’m really happy I’ve found a rhythm and pre-race routine that I can rely on; it takes away a lot of the guesswork and nerves I’d get around feeling prepared, fit, fed, rested, and ready to go. Now I know what to pack, the time I need before the race, and most importantly I know I put in the work so I have faith in my body and mental game. The rest will fall into place. That peace is priceless.
I knew I would have some serious competition but I also felt like I had a real shot so I was feeling the fire. I would be racing in the Women's Open race but they had a jersey for the top category 1 and category 2 racer, and I really wanted it. After looking at the course map the night before I had an idea of what I wanted to do and where I wanted to make my move. I drove down with Kelsey bright and early and rode the course a few times before her race. It’s a fun course, shaped kind of like a figure eight with the bottom half consisting of a couple blocks of a slight downhill, two left turns and a two-block moderate climb. The top half of the “8” was smaller with several turns in close succession.
There were A LOT of potholes and bumps marked with neon spray paint, which got me a little nervous. I went down hard in the spring after hitting some uneven cobblestones and I still get wary of bumps. But Kelsey reassured me it’s not really that bad, I’d be fine, and that helped (even though the officials made an exception in this race that allowed racers to visit support if their handlebars or seat posts needed adjustment in the race because of the bumpy course).
After Kelsey’s race, I had a lot of time to hang out, wait and wait and wait for the podium of the women 3s and 4s and all the juniors (sigh), eat lunch, and search for shade. It was very hot so I decided to get some panty hose to fill with ice and stick down my back. It makes such a difference! Eventually it was time to get ready, warm up, and line up.
Off we go and the pace was pretty steady from the get-go. There were a couple attacks in the first few laps but they were quickly chased down. And I was NOT chasing. I had a goal for this race and knew I needed to conserve so I fought the urge to go after attacks. Instead I followed others as they accelerated to close the gap and trusted the gap would be closed and I did not need to do it.
My plan was to get comfortable with the corners and bumps, then attack at the top of the hill before the series of turns that made up the top half of the figure eight. The course was short, just about a half mile, and it was taking us about a minute and a half to do one lap. After about 6 laps I was the 2nd wheel in the front as we went up the hill and I got the “now” message as we approached the corner. I went hard but I felt like it was kind of a half-assy attack. I don’t know if it was the bumps in the road or the fact it was so early in the race, but I was holding back a little.
I got a gap, not huge, but I was committed to this so I kept pushing. After about three or four laps three people bridged up to me. We kept the pace up pretty consistently. My fear of being caught by the pack was strong so I made sure to take nice long pulls and keep us moving. But I also made sure not to do all the work and enjoyed drafting.
After a while we lapped the field. I knew two of the people in our group, Daphne and Jeannie, are category 1 racers, but I did not know the other person. So I ever so casually asked her, “so, ah, what category are you?” She responded “one” and then I smiled big. I was the only 2 in this breakaway, so pretty sure the jersey was mine. But then I started wondering “what if someone was close behind us we did not lap?” I did not really look to see who all was in the pack we passed. Much of the field grabbed on to us when we lapped them and then I started to question everything. I had to ask Daphne, “did we lap the whole field? Is it just the four of us?” She confirmed, yes, so again I smiled.
I had not been checking the lap counter every lap, but when I did and I saw it said 2, I got myself thinking about what to do and to mentally prepare. But next thing I knew Daphne was attacking up the hill and got a gap. It caught me off guard and I had to chase hard. The four of us were spaced out a bit, and a couple of the others in the field passed me as we crossed the finish line. People were sprinting and I did not know why. Then I saw Janette sit up so knew there was some confusion. I closed the gap between me and the three in front of me and charged down hill one last time. I came in 4th overall, 1st of the category two racers. YESSSSSSSSSS.
Then I learned the lap counter was on 2 for 2 laps, so people thought we were on our final lap when I thought we had two to go. There was understandable frustration and disappointment about this, and it’s really too bad since it was the state championship race. While there were other missteps and frustrating moments in the day, everyone made the best of it and it was a great day. AND I got my first state championship jersey!!