I have to say this was a very fun race. The course was a figure 8 through downtown Lodi with all 90 degree turns that were, for the most part, wide open. The front stretch was on cobblestones! Turn one was wide open transitioning onto pavement with some white paint cross walk to mind. Turn two was wide open. Turn three had a pothole but it was out of any line I took all day. Turn 4 was a bugaboo transitioning back to cobblestones and some uneven surface that made my back wheel skip out pretty frequently. It constricted too - just to make it scarier. Turns 5 and 6 were wide open with only a little oil in the road and crosswalk paint that didn't seem slippery at all. Turn 7 was a constrictor and back onto cobblestones but at least it was smooth. Turn 8 was pretty much wide open but on cobblestones and narrow to narrow roads.
The great Michael Hernandez was on the microphone all day to amuse and entertain and, as the day grew, more and more people showed up on the course and there was actual cheering and clapping and that ALWAYS makes the legs a bit snappier and the heart a little stronger.
I signed up for both the regular Cat 5 race and the 35+ Cat 4/5 races with a nice three hour break between the two. When I was a young guy I used to be jealous of the masters racers who would double dip like that and this was my first time to see if I, indeed, had something to envy.
E5 race: Only 17 racers :-( We had a mentor take us through the course on the first lap and everyone was supposed to follow him single file. Maybe this helped some people but all I noticed was guys ignoring it. In my opinion, any mentor should tell the following before a crit (and he didn't).
1-DO NOT overlap wheels
2-DO NOT rubberneck, the only thing you have to worry about is in front of you.
3-NO FUCKING SWERVING - this isn't the champs d'elysee and you aren't leading out Tyler Farrar
4-Commit to your line in a corner. No brakes -if possible- and absolutely don't change lines unless it's an emergency.
Anyway, digress. The mentor was around during the race and I did see him correct a few things. He yelled at me for "unecessarily risking it" taking an extreme inside line into the gutter a few times but the real danger there was the guy who kept coming in too tight and not using the whole road that made that dangerous.
I tried to keep 5 to 7 guys ahead of me the whole race to try to stay up front while also staying out of the wind. This worked pretty well. One of the times I did drift back, however, I got to witness the only crash of the race. Of course it happened on the longest straight section right in front of the start finish. The guy on the front went clear across the road and everyone followed him like a snake! Of course someone was overlapping wheels and got his front wheel swept. His rear wheel shot up in the air and he was launched taking three or four guys out with him. After that the adreneline speed spike lasted about two laps.
With three laps to go I was thinking I should probably move up into the top three or four. A couple of corners later, there was a separation that I failed to see how it happened and there were four guys with a suddenly large gap off the front. They increased their lead pretty quickly but lost one guy so with two laps to go it was pretty apparent we were racing for fourth place since no one (me included!) was working well to catch them. So what was left of the pack safely came through the last two turns. I was fourth wheel on the last turn and came out sprinting. I was still coming on when the finish line came up but couldn't win the field sprint. Still, I was happy for a second there and a fifth overall. It would have been more gratifying if the race had been bigger but that's better than my usual dead-middle of the field result and I won a bottle of wine to bring home. I really wish I'd been more attentive when the podium places rode off the front. I think I may have had the gas to stick with them.
35+ 4/5 race: The only crash of this race came on the very first corner with one guy going down in the middle of the pack all by himself (nice of him to not take anyone out!). This race was much faster but I was having a real blast even though I couldn't seem to stop riding in the last five or six guys. I kept passing guys who were fading and getting gapped but couldn't seem to move up more than that. I did notice, though, that there were fewer and fewer guys ahead of me. Halfway through a guy went WAY off the front and the pack accelerated. As usual, the back was gapping and recovering and within a lap the accordian claimed my fitness. As a dangerously large gap opened in front of me I looked back and saw what you never want to see in a crit - a wide open course behind me with no other racers in sight. I sprinted as hard as I could, caught the back but soon enough that deadly two bike length gap reformed and that was that. I chased three others who got dropped for another lap and a half but then they pulled us all.
I was actually pretty satisfied with that. I lasted 25 minutes of the 40 minutes and was one of the last four guys to get pulled. Of the 32 starters, only 17 survived to the final so that would make me 21st-ish if you could get a placing after getting pulled.
In conclusion: A very fun day of racing. A satisfying result. A very fun atmosphere. The track riding is really paying off both in handling and confidence and fitness.