Events: Kitchen Road Criterium
(2017) There was a strange sense of excitement as I lined up for Sunday’s Kitchen Road Criterium at Rodale Fitness Park in Breinigsville, PA. I feel right at home in cold weather. This strange fall-like pattern that has parked over the mid-Atlantic has left us feeling like the leaves will be changing, not filling out further. But there were other reasons, too.
Normally at the Rodale Fitness Park the Thursday Night Crit series will cancel the training races if it is raining. Until today I had never raced this course in the wet. It was cold. The temperature was in the high forties with rain falling from start to finish. To finish off the Belgian feeling there were gusts of crosswind as the race snaked around the complex. I felt I had the chance to hang in there while some of the skinnier guys got colder each lap.
Rodale Fitness Park is a course many towns should emulate. I would go so far as to register it in the top ten most recognizable cycling courses in the United States. Thursday Night crits fly around this one-mile loop that features four left turns and two right turns. It is a constantly good time.
I chose to remain smart in the first portions of the race, with a trade-off: I considered the risk of riding in the back a fair trade for being there at the finish. I knew what I was getting into, but it was the only way to remain protected from the crosswinds.
The first few laps of the Cat 2/3/4 race sped around the course with light rain. With two white lines down the middle of the entire circuit riders altered their approach to the fast turns. Naturally the fast turns were the wettest. Despite the conditions, riders were extremely attentive as to who was around whom.
There were moments of pause, too. I counted no fewer than four scenarios of reprieve throughout the twenty-five mile race. The group would stretch across the course only to resume the hard pace. The spray from the wheels got more intense. I got to feel that oddly enjoyable impact of raindrops on the teeth. Several times I looked back only to realize I was the caboose. These moments of pause allowed me to move up to mid pack to calm the concern of getting dropped.
The legs felt great. The cold, wet weather possibly distracted my thoughts from the stinging attacks. I latched on to a few wheels and got carried around the course. Sometimes I would move up considerably. Sometimes the hole would close and I would cycle to the rear again. I felt like my tactic was paying off. The rain picked up in intensity, but I was feeling comfortable. I was getting excited to try something. Within the final laps I would dive down to the inside line of the final corner to see if I could hold the line. If I could, I felt I would have a clear chance at sprinting. I wasn't considering a win, just an attempt to maximize my points.
The laps kept coming down, and I was ready to move to the inside of the final two corners. The speed had also raised over the final few laps. Taking the final turn even faster would be something of a risk, but I felt it was worth the payoff. The group was altogether as we set up for the final two left-handers on the course. They are wide-open affairs but just out of reach for a sustained sprint. I found myself on the outside of the turn and at the back.
It was at this moment I saw a dreadful scene to my chances: Flanked by two lines of riders was a racer on the ground after his front tire came out from under him in the turn. And all I could think was, “Well. This is happening.” I had nowhere to go despite squeezing the brakes. I even aimed for him thinking he would slide off the course. He didn't. He stayed right in front of me the whole time. A later check of Strava revealed we were doing around 28 mph before I ran out of time and space and hit the fallen cyclist. I went over the bars thinking the collarbone was toast. Perhaps it was the wet pavement or perhaps it was some last minute maneuver, but I was spared the common cycling breakage.
Both of us were relatively all right. I had the regular road rash, but my chain had dropped and I was at the bottom of an incline. The rider who went down was able to pop up and carry on. I tried to resume but had to hoof it up the incline to get the chain on. In the meantime the race came back around. One of the race directors was on his way to me asking if I was ok. I went around for another lap to be greeted by the race director with the medical box as well as the race proper. I was now two laps down. I confirmed I was ok and made it back to the finish line after the race finished. I was that guy. I was the one rider who crashed out of a rainy race.
Frustrated, I rode over to my car but not before I asked the officials if I needed to go around for another lap. I didn’t want a DNF after sticking with the group for nearly the whole race. The most I could have hoped for was a P&P. I rode to my car with numerous riders asking if I was ok. One of the reasons I love the cycling community. I thought about going over to the scoring table but turned around and started driving home.
Despite the result I still enjoyed racing in the messy conditions. As for the crash all I could come up with is, “That’s racing.” Perhaps the trade-off of racing in the back reared its head to encourage me to stay at the front in the future. Lesson learned.