Preparing for & Racing My First Crit

(by Brianna Goral - @grannygeargoral)

Photo by Evan Marsh

Before ya beat me to it, yes, GRITS is primarily an off road team. We stay away from skinny tires as often as possible, but sometimes the urge to go real fast in a circle takes us over! (and it's great training for cross so I'm told)

Photo by Scott Shire

When I first got my Focus Izalco, I had no real intentions of ever racing it. I bought it primarily for group rides and getting in shape for MTB and CX season. But then the thought of "well, I DO have a bike for it" kept floating around my head with the nearing of the Grant Park Criterium.

I'd been a spectator the year before (if you could call switching between throwing up behind a tree and whining from the gnarliest hangover I've ever had "spectating") and knew that it was a great event with a great turn out! As our team's shop, Loose Nuts Cycles, is located in the heart of Grant Park, it was also an area that I knew well.

My preparation leading up to the crit itself wasn't much out of the ordinary. I've been riding decently high mileage weeks pretty consistently throughout the summer & had a very good understanding of my threshold. What I was most worried about what the tactics that I've seen and heard others use in the race. I was going to be the only GRITS member in the field. With the horror stories of hearing newbies crash out other racers and severely injure themselves or others, I set two goals for myself -

1) Don't crash

2) Don't cause anyone else to crash

The night before race day, I took a quiet evening to myself and was in bed by 9pm. If nothing else, this would be the most well rested I'd ever been for a race.

Photo by Andy Bailie

Race day morning, I arrived at the course, set up base camp, and went to mingle with some of the L5 Flyer ladies (another badass local team!) who I knew would be racing in my field for some last minute pointers. Talking with them, my nerves subsided upon hearing that if any course was going to be my first, this one was a good first. Turns 1,3, and 4 were all coming out of / going into a climb. Turn 2 was the only fast descent into a turn and there was plenty of room in the corner to keep from scrunching together too much. I lucked out!

At lineup, I positioned myself carefully behind a rider who I knew was a really strong competitor and focused on heckling my friends in the crowd. I was somehow so relaxed at the start line, that I sincerely almost missed the "RIDERS READY" and the whistle. Whoops! Good way to get your heart rate skyrocketing from the get go.

Photo by Evan Marsh

Laps 1 & 2 were chill. I was holding onto the wheel of the lady I was hoping to and somehow was blending into the pack pretty well. That was, until I wasn't.... My nerves ended up getting the best of me when a stupid line choice coming into Turn 3 cost me my spot in the pack. And that's pretty much when it was all up to me. I had been pushed out of the pack & had nooooo idea how to get back into it. All of the pictures from my race are hilariously just the pack and then me weirdly hovering on the outside. Case in point:

Photo by Grant Park Crit

Every person in the crowd kept yelling at me to "get back in the pack" which, trust me, if I knew how to, I would have. I was holding on to the front fine but knew that these ladies had far more power up their sleeves that they were just waiting to unleash. With each lap, my legs grew more and more tired as I tried to not become "that guy" who gets too cocky on their first few laps & then immediately dropped.

In my fear of being dropped, I managed to score a beer prime! (so yeah, I basically won the race).

The rest of the race was pretty much a blur. My teammates and husband were on the sidelines all in one spot at Turn 1. It was truly such a refreshing feeling to come by and know that all of my favorite people were there to cheer me on! So I kept going.

On the last lap (I think lap 9??), we came around Turn 3 into the final climb and sprint finish. Still getting used to a two-by derailleur, I attempted to anticipate the attack going into the climb....and totally shifted the wrong direction.

By the time I remembered how shifting works, the lead group was gone. I put my head down and sprinted up the rest of the climb into Turn 4. It was enough to pass a couple of folks and landed me a top 10 spot out of 15 competitors.

Most importantly, my two goals had been met! I rushed over to meet my friends and hand my bike off to the first person who offerred to take it. Seriously, if you ever want to steal my bike...just come find me at the finish line of a race and I'll gladly hand it to you and not remember who you were. ((please don't steal my bike))

In summary, STAY IN THE PACK! The first half of the race is often going to be slower than you were anticipating and slower than you are capable of, but it's with purpose. Choose your lines well. Know your competitors. Always sprint for the beer prime.

I never thought I'd say it, but I am actually very excited for my next crit. Some teammates and I are planning to do a full road series next year. But, for now, cross is here.