It was a year ago that I tried the Killarney Criterium. At Mike’s insistence I went to the Wednesday session which is frequented by the more competitive cyclists as opposed to the Tuesday PPA sessions. On that occasion I was hopelessly out of my depth and 40 minutes after starting I was all packed up back in the car, tail between my legs, and leaving while the cyclists were still going round the track for the remainder of the hour.
So it was with a fair amount of trepidation that I pitched up there yesterday. It was not made any better by Shaheen and Munier who were beforehand saying that the session is hardcore and frequented by Elite cyclists etc. At least Munier was there too (his first time), as we had planned to give each other morale support.
There was a hive of activity at the sign on, and it was rather intimidating amongst all the noticeably younger, very lean, strong looking cyclists, with their bikes and kit to match the profile. It was cool to meet Shahied and Gamiet there from Star Interiors Cycle Club, and others from Mohammediyah and Giants Cycling Clubs. There is morale support to be gained from people you know, with similar backgrounds and cycling proficiency.
At 6pm we were allowed to go onto the race track for a warmup lap, and all was going well. Temperature was high 32deg, but wind was manageable (can get windy this time of year). At the end of the warmup lap we were addressed by the marshal. There are basically 2 starts, first group is +1 group, second group that starts slighter after are the Elites, and the Elites have to chase the +1 group. Winners are the first ones to cross the line after 60 min, without having been lapped.
I started off in the + 1 Group. Immediately we started hitting speeds + 40kph, my heart rate had climbed to 85% in no time, and power was hitting the 330 mark (would average out to 250W for 20min max). On the first lap I started feeling where the wind was, and started finding the draft lines on the track. By lap 3 I had this all mapped out.
In the bends it was better to sweep into the outside line, get more speed into the corner, for easier closing of the gap coming off of the bend. Everyone knew this so the congestion made such maneuvering, testing. Speed was fast. There were sections of the track where we were hitting 52kph lap after lap and it was thrilling.
Leaning the bike over in the corners was truelly awesome. I don’t think I had ever leaned my bike over so much before and it was THRILLING !!! There were times that I just watched the butt of the guy in front of me, and kept his line and gap and went sweeping through the corner, too nervous to look at other indicators of lean angle.
There was one particular left hander where by going wide, you pick up speed because of your faster trajectory, and because of the draft of cyclists on the inside, which meant that you just went flyin past riders. The danger of that tactic was to bring it all in at the end of the corner, and a few times I went onto the red and white shoulder of the road, and on one occasion I was pushed into the dirt off the track, luckily not damaging tyres when coming back on.
When the Elites eventually caught us there was a huge amount of adrenalin pumping through. Suddenly I had fast cyclists come through on my left and right, and I was focused on holding the wheel in front of me. It was HECTIC !!! YEEHAAA!!!!!!
When the bunches merged the pace quickened. By the next lap people were starting to drop off and I found myself isolated from the bunch. Note to self, next week when the bunches merge move to the front so as to hold on for longer.
I nearly got taken out as well. On one right hand bend the guy on my left connected with my handlebar, luckily I managed to keep it together. Phew….
This kind of racing will make me stronger because it works at LT, and will improve my bike handling skills tenfold.
I managed to hang with the bunch for 50min this week, that was a huge motivator. Next week I will aim to complete the full 60 min with the bunch.