The Clovis Training Crits is a progressive beginner training program. Each Sunday clinic builds upon the previous week followed by a practice crit which is un-timed. Even though you can jump in and attend any clinic as a stand alone I suggest beginners plan to attend all four clinics.
Drills build to be progressively more difficult especially with proximity of riders. The clinic is about 1 hour with 45-50 minutes of riding then a 15 minute break before the women’s and junior’s race. The course is a rectangle, almost square, about 0.8 miles long. The first turn is the easiest progressing into the fourth being the most technical. For those unfamiliar a crit is a time based race typically on a very short course around 1 mile long. You can work in a team or individually but the strategy chances. My races have been 25-30 minutes long. At our race the official timed how long laps are taking and notified us when we had 6 laps to go.
Going into these clinics I did not have a road bike (no TT bikes allowed here). My local bike shop, Rubber Soul Bicycles, graciously let me demo a variety of road bikes for these clinics. Clinic #1 was primarily focused on adjusting to a road bike geometry and getting comfortable being close to other wheels. Thankfully the first part of the clinic was all done in a single pace lane and learned the line to take while cornering. For the last part of the clinic we started doing a double pace lane. This was a bit intimidating to try but they are so cool to do!
Time for race #1! Women and Juniors are combined for the first race but don’t let their youth fool you, the juniors are very experienced and are practicing executing strategies. I didn’t really know what to expect but was going to go have fun. There were five women racing. One was an experienced Cat 3 racer, one a cat 5 with some racing under her belt, and the road cyclists. The starting whistle shrilled and off we went….except me…I was fumbling around trying to clip in. Whoops. The pack was off in the blink of an eye around the first turn. I was able to catch up to the Cat 5 racer and we worked together until the juniors lapped us. We were able to catch the last wheel and stayed with them for 4-5 laps. At the point I wasn’t very confident having other cyclists next to me and allowed one of the other women to push me off the wheel I was following and got dropped from the pack. I fought my way back up to 3rd place in the last lap.
The big take away I had was to be more assertive. I needed to own my space and be assertive. This can extend to other areas of life too. I love when sports lessons permeate to other areas of life. One of the big themes for the clinics is don’t be an aggressive racer fighting through everyone, don’t be a passive racer falling back, but be an assertive racer. Find a good position and own your space.
New week, new bike. I guess that’s the theme this month. This week had more focus on riding two abreast and of course getting closer to the wheel in front of me. I also worked on being in my drops for a greater percentage of the clinic. There were far less women (only 3) racing today and at least half as many juniors too. The women and juniors race was combined with men’s 5 so would would have more people in the race. I was already fatigued and didn’t think this would go over well but this is about new experiences and pushing myself. This week was just me and the same Cat 3/Cat 5 women.
Even though I clipped in much better then last week, the pack started off WAY faster. I stayed with the Cat 5 woman for about a 1.5 laps and started drifting back. I tried catching on to the group when the lapped me but there was way too big of a speed difference. I was really struggling to maintain any speed this week. I ended up going around in circles by myself for almost 25 minutes.
This week my LBS owner surprised me with the bike I really had my eye on. He ordered and built it in time for the third clinic! Even though it’s not a racing frame, it’s and endurance road bike, it felt so smooth and cornered beautifully. You just KNOW when you ride the right bike!
This week’s clinic was focused on more finesse and being comfortable in the gutter. I wasn’t a fan of two out of four of the drills but I know they will make me grow as a cyclist. The two drills I wasn’t a fan of were thread the needle and gutter ball. Thread the needle had 2 mentors riding side by side with a gap and 1 more mentor riding behind them. We had to go around the back mentor and in between the other two. The hardest part was when some of the cyclists ahead weren’t going and we weren’t sure who should go next. For gutter ball we were supposed to ride in the gutter past the line. After the crit I found I had a slow leak and I’m pretty sure this is when I got it.
Thankfully we had way more women and juniors this week! We had a total of 4 women: A very strong Cat 3, a triathlete team mate of hers, and a friend of mine from my bike shop. The academy kids worked with here for the whole race which is a perfect example of why a team makes a big difference, or even just knowing and executing individual strategy. My only focus during these were to stay on the pack as long as possible and to execute turns safely.
My goal was to make the first sprint with the pack and then stay on for at least 10 mins of our 25 minute race. I stayed on for 12:20 before getting dropped! It was a totally different experience being in the pack. There were a handful of times I was more assertive about keeping the wheel I was on and was much more comfortable taking corners with other cyclists near me. I was pretty proud of myself. Once I got dropped I slowed down for a bit of recovery for a few minutes. Then I picked up my pace to an easy 17.5-18 until I saw the pack. I was able to sprint and catch on! I finished the rest of the race with the pack! I ended up finishing 3rd women since the other triathlete also got dropped and restarted. I was performing much better this week and had some pretty big improvements to both bike handling and confidence.
Remember last week’s bike? I had to keep her. This week’s clinic was focused on being comfortable with 3 deep and moving together. The very last drill we did we started bunched, went to 3 wide, then 2 wide, finally down to single file and a sprint on the last straight away. Numbers were down this week….I was the only girl this time plus a handful of Juniors so they combined the men Cat 5 with our race again. I think I figured out what the difference was between week 2 and 3. When there are separate races some of the Juniors also race in the Men’s Cat 5 so they only go about 80% to save themselves for the next race. Plus you through in Mark, who has been winning the Men’s 5, and it’s a completely different dynamic.
Truth be told I almost didn’t race at all but I lined up at the start line and would hang in with the pack as long as I could. I was able to stay with the initial sprint and get 4th position in the initial pack. We made it through about lap before Mark passed us with the rest of the group behind him. I stayed on as long as I could but got dropped 1.5 laps in at 24.8 mph. I stopped at the start line and tried restarting. I was the main group for 2 straight aways but just couldn’t stay with them. I decided to use my energy to try to pull the academy kid near by as hard as I could so he could catch up to someone else. I stopped at the start line again to wait and stay with another triathlete that was there but got dropped from the main group. I stayed with him for 3 lengths but then he started pulling away. I did all of 4 times around the course. It was a tough day but I still had fun. I feeling a little down on myself but I had a PR on the course that day. It wasn’t me having a bad race, the pack was just faster. That definitely made me feel a little better about the race.
During the Cat 1-3 race I chatted with the wife of one of the men racing who also does stage races. She’s a triathlon friend of mine I’ve known since first starting. She no longer does triathlons but is a beast on the road racing season. I expressed that I feel like I’m not cut out for road racing. I feel like I am a pretty good triathlete cyclist but not stand alone cyclist. She insists real crits with more women attendance is a competently different dynamic. This is my imposter syndrome sneaking in again. She talked me into trying out a stage race before I really decide one way or the other about this whole road racing thing, plus there will be a time trial and a warm up TT sounds like a great idea! This month I have learned a lot. I’ve become more confident, gained bike handling skills, learned about race strategy, and overall become a safer road cyclist. This series was about learning new skills and broadening my horizons. I think I’ve accomplished both and can’t wait for the next race!
My women’s placement for each week was #1: 3/5, #2: 3/3, #3: 3/4, #4: 1/1
Special thanks to Betty Designs for keeping me decked out in the best apparel, Rubber Soul Bicycles for providing wheels so I could come out, Balega for top performance socks, and Coola for keeping my skin protected with top quality sunscreen. Last but not least thank you Justin Morgan with Academy Racing for putting on a safe and fun clinic series. Photos graciously provided by Gary Brooks and Jim Hawe