Monday, April 27, 2009

My First Catagory 4 Race, Dana Point Grand Prix, A Race Of Dodging Crashes

I was under the impression a move up from the entry racing level Cat 5 to Cat 4 would mean things would get a little faster, but would also be a little safer with less rookie mistakes like poor cornering and unintentional wheel clipping. Well at the Dana Point Grand Prix on Sunday, with a monstrous field size of 130, (Cat 4 is usually a max field size of 75 or 100 for criteriums), and a course with several tight corners, the Cat 4 race turned into a carnage fest. For comparison, the Cat 5 racing at Dana Point was broken into 2 fields of 50.

There were 5! crashes in my race, several of which took down an entire pile of riders. Most of them I witnessed in front of me and had to avoid. One rider rolled the tire off his rim directly in front of me through a corner and wobbled before going down hard. I slammed my brakes and skidded my rear tire briefly, pulling a sharp corner and than accelerating out of the way with my knees poised to hop over the sliding bike on the ground if I had to. Meghan and my friend Eric (who took 5th in Cat 5 field A) were spectating from this corner, and I could sense Meghan's horror at the prospect that I could have gone down too, and the relief that she must have felt as I sped off unscathed. Not long after this I saw a rider take a turn too wide and plow into haystacks at the course edge and riders behind tripped over him creating a big pile up.

(An OC sheriff course marshell clocking speeding riders with radar gun, Photo By flickr User twowheelthuc)

Moving up through the pack was extremely difficult with the huge field riding wide and fast, and I took a lot of caution through the turns that were proving to be life threatening. The average pace of the race was humming over 25 mph, and speeds over 30 in some of the longer straights. Most of my field advancement came not through speed or power, but bike handling skills and caution as I managed to avoid every crash and speed up to take advantage of the break ups in the field. In the end, I avoided one last serious crash pile up on the final lap, as a rider careened into the haystacks on the last corner on the outside, while I took the turn on the inside. I pushed on to the finish for 26th place in a field of 130, a field which must surely have been nearly cut in half by the end from riders crashed out or dropped out.

(Pro Mens Race, Photo By flickr User twowheelthuc)

Apart from the disaster of more near crash experiences in a single race than all my 10 previous races combined, it was a fun day, and we hung around to see the full day of racing. This included a Pro NRC (National Race Calender) race of Womans 1/2 and Mens Pro 1. Full details of these races, won by Rahsaan Bahati of Rock Racing for the men in an explosive drag race field sprint, and Nikki Butterfield of Webcor Builders for the women, can be read over at Velonews. Other note worthy details; Floyd Landis raced in the main event with his Team OUCH, champion mountain bike downhill rider Brian Lopes had a fairly anticlimactic display of daring as he jumped off a cliff (more like a grassy knoll in the adjacent park), there was an In-N-Out truck (sadly no fries), and lots of booths and general activity including a half pipe with some young skate boarders, bmx riders, in-line skaters, and most awkwardly, some razor scooterers.

I'm just glad I am feeling fine today instead of treating flesh wounds. Future note to self, and any other new racers, perhaps it is best to steer clear of Cat 4 crits on short courses with tight streets if the field size is in excess of 100, it's bad news. Broken bones and mangled bicycle components are not worth the rewards at this level.


KevinD said...

Glad you stayed safe, I saw the crash and was saying the same thing to my friends about the 4 field needing to be split in two.

Taylor T. said...

I was in the same field as you, luckily I stayed upright like you! I didn't see any of the crashes as they happened, but they must have been very bad. Bad enough that the race directors decided to go from 4 laps to go to 1 haha.