One of my favorite race venues is Ninigret Park in Charlestown, RI. Even when I lived much further away, I would try and race here any time I could. The main races happen on three weekends in the spring and the Chris Hinds, Rick Newhouse, and Mystic Velo races have been second only to the Bethel race series as harbingers of the new season. Now that I live closer, I've even been able to make it to an occasional mid-week training race series held there in the summer.
It's a flat six corner crit, but what it lacks in elevation change, it makes up in windy conditions and always-on speed. Click here for a more detailed run-down.
I've done well here and there've been races here that I haven't even finished, but no matter the result I always enjoy racing Ninigret. So it was with some expectation of, if not greatness, at least a good race that I lined up early last Saturday morning. Since upgrading to Cat3, I've enjoyed racing later in the day but for this race - and even though we live less than an hour away - we had to get up before dawn to get to this race on time.
I lined up with teammate Lance (who, incidentally, had just won the previous race!) and 66 others. After the usual preliminaries, the whistle blew and we were off. Immediately, an attack went off the front and a few guys joined up. For a few laps, there was actually a split and I began wondering if this race would be yet another example of how fit folks got during the mild winter off-season. We were flying!
But I should know better by now - about five laps in, the race calmed down and while I couldn't move up quite as easily or as often as I thought I should, I could at least hang in fairly easily.
On the other hand, Lance actually made it look easy. Despite a stiff headwind on the finishing straight, he'd won the previous race in a 3-man break with teammate Aaron (who came in 3rd!) and was clearly warmed up. But his stamina was pretty impressive. He kept things together for much of the race, chasing attacks and keeping things stretched out when necessary.
One of Mrs SOC's favorite angles at this race - a huge S curve that she always loves to shoot. Unless otherwise indicated, race pics on this blog are hers (usually with an inferior camera and, this time, with just her phone). As you can see, we were pretty stretched out at this point. But despite the elastic stretching, it seldom broke and we all stayed together.
As is typical with crits, primes were offered throughout the race and - given the vagaries of a field sprint - I thought I'd try to win something. So when the bell rang with about 10 laps to go, I used most of the lap to try and get up front. By the time we hit the final corner, I was still about 15 guys back but somebody in front of me started moving up fast on the left side, and I got on his wheel. Unfortunately, he started to fade after about 50 meters and I came around and hit the headwind sprint as hard as I could.
I'd started my sprint pretty far back, but I had the front 5 guys in my sights and was gaining. I passed four of them and just nipped the front guy at the line. I'd won what I thought was a big money cash prime, but I'd actually sprinted for a hat. It's a nice hat though!
But I'd won a sprint. And while the final sprint matters most, winning an intermediate sprint feels pretty awesome too. Now I just had to try and recover and hope I had something left for the end.
With about 5 laps to go, I noticed that Lance had pulled out. But being the great teammate he is, he took up a position at the sidelines to cheer me on. If you've had anybody do that for you, you know how great that feels. And how much you don't want to let them down.
photo by Meg Dineen McMahon
So I started moving up. Predictably, rest of the pack had the same idea and things got faster. But I was feeling good - so good in fact that I apparently thought nothing of being on the wrong end of the eventual winner. In the pic above, I should be on BillYs wheel, not in front of him.
By the bell lap, I was in decent position, but the speed kept going up and when a group of us hit the second-to-last corner too hot, a bunch went right off the track. But the Ninigret track has no curbs and is surrounded by hard-pack dirt & grass so while we all stayed upright - and I'd narrowly avoided going off the track myself - the necessary correction caused me to lose a bunch of spots. I regained most of those by the time we hit the final corner and I was suddenly glad that the last corner is so far from the finish - I still had time.
Or so I thought. From my position, I didn't see that three guys had gotten off the front sometime during the bell lap and I sprinted in the gutter up the right side thinking I could at least get in the top ten. As I crossed the line, I thought I'd made it.
Here's the finshline video. If you know right where to look, you can see me coming up the left side of the screen during the field sprint. I'm going pretty fast and nobody's passing me, but I was too far back. And - given the three guys I didn't see - I didn't make it into the top ten after all. I had to settle for 12th.
All in all, not a bad result considering the (relatively) large and strong field. It was a safe, fun race & I got to race with a great teammate. It was only later, after the results were posted, that I realized that they paid ten deep. Ah well - 2 places out of the money isn't bad. And I did win a cool hat.
The final race of the Bethel series is this coming Sunday. The leaderboard is wide open, so we still have a chance to win the overall. It's a little bit of a long shot, but that'll just make winning more dramatic and brag-worthy. The forecast is great, many of our friends will be there, and we have plans with friends afterwards. So no matter what the result is, it's going to be a fun day.