Race Report – Florida Criterium Championship – Kevin Shutt
Florida Criterium Championship
Downtown West Palm Beach, FL
Saturday, May 18, 2019, 5:20 p.m.
Criterium (40 minutes)
Cat 5 (23 of 31)
The West Palm Beach Crit course was a 9/10 mile out-and-back course along the downtown waterfront with two 180-degree right turns. It was mostly flat, of course. There was a quartering headwind along the Start-Finish straight so of course, there was a partial tailwind going back the other way. The boulevard wasn’t arrow straight; but the bends were barely enough to form a very soft “S.” The lack of turns got in my head, which I shouldn’t have let happen.
With yachts and the intercostal behind me, I set up my trainer under a pavilion on the multi-use path across the road from the Start-Finish. For the first time, I had a decent breeze AND shade for my warmup. Note to self: bring a popup for all future races. It’s worth the hassle. Nutrition and hydration felt on point coming into the race and neither proved to be an issue for me. Earlier in the week, I worked on my clipping-in issues, both physically by doing clip-in repeats and mentally with self-imposed pressure to be fully clipped in by the time I crossed an intersection or reached the next driveway/mailbox. I also worked on not letting the clip-in be my sole focus as we lined up.
I lined up on the front, staying left of center of the field to put myself on the outside for the first turn. On the whistle, I pushed forward with my right foot and then instead of fumbling to get clipped in with the left looking down to find the pedal all the while losing positions, I clipped-in within two pedal rotations, rolled off the front, up-shifted and led the field into the first turn. What I learned from my clip-in session: push easy gears at the start to keep the bike moving forward with ease and do NOT look down to find the pedals. I know where they are and just need to find it, clip in and race. This was a small, confidence-inspiring victory for me at the beginning of a what was my toughest race to date.
I rode well the first 8-10 minutes, for the most part staying in the top 10 and even top 5 as we rotated around the course. Gradually, the bursts coming out of the turnarounds caught up to me, especially because of the slow speeds with which we navigated the U-turns; the fatigue set in and I found myself having to fight to stay on the pack. Each lap, the work growing harder and harder. But before I slipped off the back around minute 17 or 18, I executed what I consider to be Part 2 of my plan (Part 1 being staying on at least 10 minutes) and I put in a tiny attack.
Mind you, this wasn’t a gap-creating, see-who-comes-with-me attack but just my mixing it up a bit just to prove to myself that I could and would do that. Up until my race in Ocala about three weekends ago, my strategy has been to just try to hang on. After successfully doing that in Ocala for ⅔ of the race, I was hungry for more. So going into WPB, I told myself to do some kind of attack if the situation presented itself, which it finally did and I went off the front into the headwind during a time the group was just sitting in resting.
Naturally, there were guys on my wheel immediately and after crossing the Start-Finish and close to the 180-degree turn, I drifted back into the peloton and continued to fight to stay with them until about minute 17/18.
From the field that lined up at the start to the mostly straight course, this was by far the toughest race I’ve done yet. I felt confident and strong going into it and though several things went right for me that usually haven’t my lack of fitness and finesse got the best of me. I started racing this year instead of waiting until “I’m ready” precisely to gain indispensable experience so that once I have the fitness needed I’d kind of know what I’m doing. I feel I am making gains in all areas, albeit slowly, but losing and falling off the group pace always sucks in the end, even if I am having so much fun with these races.
I finished the race with a strong TT effort and was lapped by the group with (about) three laps to go and finished about a half a lap down. My takeaway from the race is gear management.
Just as spinning an easier gear at the start contributed to my faster clip-in, I finally realized that paying attention to my gears going into the turns, downshifting a cog or two before we started the turn would put me in a gear that would burn fewer matches as we accelerated out of those turns. For the most part, I was happy with my cornering because I would slot up the outside 5-10 positions; by going wider I found myself in the draft as the surge began on the turns’ exits. Where I got myself into trouble was having to stand up to accelerate rather than staying seated and spinning: gear management.
Another takeaway is that when I am on the front and decide to stop working, I need to get back into the group within the top 10 or so to avoid the surges and sloppiness that naturally occur deeper into the field. All those little surges add up to wasted energy and added stress. My thought process up until now was that going to the back would provide the most protection from the wind. Instead, I find myself surging more, fatiguing faster and getting flicked off the back.