The New Britain Crit is raced at Walnut Hill Park in New Britain, CT. It's one of - if not the only - purpose built bicycle racing tracks in Connecticut. Designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, the park is almost 150 years old and on the National Registry of Historic Places. There's a lot of history here, but - unfortunately - I didn't make any history in Sunday's race.
It's been six years since I last raced at New Britain. The first time I raced there was my first season racing and my 5th race ever. I just missed the podium, coming in 4th. But I was certainly close . . .
I'd planned on racing it again the following year, but moving got in the way. In 2008, I showed up at the race - in a sling. I'd broken my collarbone at the Hartford Crit and was still recovering. 2009-2011? Lack of interest, I guess. And the reports of crashes those years certainly didn't encourage me.
This year, a lot of races seem to be dying out. The Hartford Crit hasn't run since 2009 and even Attleboro was canceled this year. Since I'd been planning on Attleboro this past weekend anyway, and there are no races this coming weekend (and the next weekend we'll be on vacation instead of racing Naugatuck), New Britain suddenly took top position on my calendar. The fact that SDC, Joel, Lance and many of my other teammates would be there too in various races, cinched the plan. We headed to New Britain with the top down and the end of the day's Tour stage playing on the phone (what an age we live in).
There were only two of us EXPO guys in the Cat 3 race - me and SDC - so our plan was simple: Tailgun & sit in as long as possible and - to avoid the likely craziness of the sprint - get in any break that goes during the final few laps. I was the designee - SDC would try and launch me when the time came.
So that's what we did, and the pic above shows how (relatively) easy it was to hang at the back and surf wheels. I'm not even breathing hard. (it looks like I'm leading, but most of the field is actually in front of me)
The race played out in the often-usual fashion: attacks would go, they'd be reeled in; a split or a break would get up the road, it'd come back together. Thankfully though, despite an inexplicable braking/slowing on the back stretch, the race seemed pretty safe overall. At the back, we were a bit more susceptible to the accordion effect, but at least we could keep an eye on things. Though, that far back, we certainly weren't ready to react to anything early.
It was a 20 lap race and with 10 laps to go I checked in with SDC to see how he was doing. "I'm starting to cramp" - uh oh, though not too surprising. SDC had raced hard in one of the Masters races earlier in the day, and the day's Masters races were State Championship races. I figured I'd better not wait to move up, so spent the next bunch of laps inch-worming my to the front.
I finally made it within 8 or so guys of the front with 4 laps to go. Shortly thereafter, a guy in a dark (black?) kit attacked and got about a 1/3 of a lap on us pretty quickly. It used to be unheard of that I would do anything but sit in and hope for a field sprint, but lately I've noticed that I'm more willing to take my chances on my own by going early rather than taking my chances with a tightly-knit bunch sprinting through corners.
So, with 2 1/2 laps to go, I launched on the backstretch, taking advantage of the now-common (and still unexplainable) slowing in that spot. I flew up the hill and by the time I hit the final corner, I had a pretty huge gap on the field. I hoped they'd be content to sprint for 3rd. The way I was starting to feel at that point, I'd be ecstatic if I could hold on for 2nd. I wasn't gaining on the front guy quickly enough.
I was in No Man's Land for a lap and a half, my only consolation? - having my name, team & town announced by the guy on the PA system. When I crested the hill for the 2nd time, I looked back - and to my amazement - I didn't see the field! That euphoria was short-lived though - when I looked again, I realized they'd been hidden by the curve, the trees and the hill and were actually only about 75 meters off my wheel.
They caught me as we went through the final corner going into the bell lap and by the time I passed the bell, I was OTB.
Ah well, nothing ventured, nothing gained. At least I got "face time" with the announcer, but - sadly - I don't even show up on the Mrs.' finishline video:
I gamely passed a few other racers on my way to the line (though not too fast - that would be obnoxious) so I wouldn't come in dead last. But it's not really all that satisfying passing guys that have totally sat up. But all in all, it was a good race. I tried something different - sure, it didn't pay off this time but it could have. And, most importantly, I finished the race - unscathed and ready to go out for dinner.
The fact that I'd worked so hard - at least during the final laps - made me feel just a little bit less guilty when I ordered the bacon cheeseburger and peanut butter fudge brownie sundae at Friendly's on the way home. I think though that I'm going to have to work a bit harder at tonight's Rent' Crit. There's no announcer, but it'd be a shame if all I gained from anything I venture was a few added pounds.
Garmin data here for those interested in how little coasting you do off the front (avg speed includes 1/2 lap cooldown).