2009 Watsonville Criterium

Warning: This report is no different than, say, the last ten race reports I’ve written. At some point, I may just go back, abstract a paragraph from each of my previous reports and paste them all together to make “Rand’s Generic Criterium Report,” which I will then post to the list ad nauseam. Alas, I’d probably catch some flak from the team management for that, so without further ado…

32nd Annual Watsonville Criterium
Watsonville, CA
Weather: Windy, temperate
Teammates: Rob MacDaddy, Graham Simpson, Peter Cazalet, Thomas Novikoff
Place: 2nd of ~20

You know that friend that’s always telling you “Oh, you HAVE to watch this TV show, it’s SO great,” and you’re always nodding and only half-listening because, frankly, you don’t want to watch his stupid TV show? Well, I’m gonna be that guy, right now.

Go to the Watsonville Criterium if you’ve never done it. Seriously. It’s fun.

There’s something magical about this race, which is run entirely on residential streets in the middle of Watsonville. It’s like Narnia, Neverland, and Atlantis all bundled into a 0.7 mile strip of asphalt. It’s certainly not a “figure-eight,” or an “L-shaped” course–mere letters and numbers cannot describe it’s dimensions.

Those of you that actually read my sprawling reports will know that the path to my heart traverses a sketchy hairpin corner with a drainage ditch in the apex. Incidentally, Watsonville contains TWO corners matching that description, one of which lies at the bottom of a short, fast descent. I <3 Watsonville Crit.

Each of the previous two years, I have attacked this race on the first lap (of 58). Old age is setting in, and this year I waited until lap two. I was joined immediately by Eric Balfus (SugarCRM), and we worked well together for a few laps. Ben Jacques-Maynes (Bissell) and James Mattis (CalGiant) hopped aboard the train and we all happily threw ourselves into the task of lapping the field.

I occupied myself by posing for photo-ops near Ben, and I tried to savor each trip through the fabled hairpins. Yes, that’s 116 hairpin corners in one race, for those who like multiplication. Watsonville is where crit racers go when they die.

After a while Balfus popped, and our group was reduced to three. Eric had put in some good work, and I was bummed to see him drop off. Nevertheless, cycling is ruthless, and we swiftly lapped the field without him.

We rolled around with the pack for a bit, where Cazalet, MacNeill and Novikoff were kickin’ it, riding tempo like it was their business. I instructed Cazalet to attack after a while, mostly because I was bored as hell and wanted something to watch. He complied with a blistering display of power, but was brought back after a couple of laps.

Eventually, Ben became fed up with the monotony and decided to flex his muscles a bit. He picked the pace up, and Mattis and I affixed ourselves to his wheel like barnacles to the hull of a small watercraft. However, all three of us quickly tired of the whole spectacle, and collectively decided to finish the race as soon as possible. We rotated smoothly at the front, and only Darren Basso (Arete) managed to stay with us, taking some strong pulls himself. Good riding by him.

The four of us proceeded to lap the field one more time, just for good measure, as we headed into two laps to go.

Heading into the final turn, I considered jumping before the corner, diving into the gap between James and the right-hand curb, and sprinting up the hill for a glorious and beautiful victory, accompanied by an equally glorious salute.

Then, I envisioned an alternate scenario in which I jumped into said gap, hooked Mattis on my way through, tackled both of us to the ground in front of a hapless Ben Jacques-Maynes, who was then thrown from his bike onto the cold, hard, hometown Watsonville pavement. In a fit of anger, he called “his people” and several days later my body was found, chopped into tiny bits, inside a Bissell Heavy Duty vacuum cleaner.

I chose to stay on Ben’s wheel through the corner.

Mattis started his sprint just after the turn, roughly 250 meters from the line, and headed up the right-hand side of the road. It was a wise choice, as the finishing stretch curved gently in that direction. I was forced to go the long way around, on the left of Ben.

Now, let’s take a step back, and agree on one thing: the fact that I was anywhere near Ben in the final 100 meters of a bike race is ridiculous. It’s somewhat like that movie Seabiscuit, where the undersized, undertrained, and genetically inferior horse tries to take on the best thoroughbreds in the nation.

Nevertheless, I came close. It’s the closest I’ll ever be to beating him, of that I am certain. I wrestled my bike all the way to the line, flailing and grunting and generally looking ridiculous.

In the end, I failed, coming up about a foot short of Ben at the line. Seabiscuit would have been very disappointed. Mattis came throuhg a bit behind me in third.

As always, thanks to the rest of the team for their help.


Finish: Ugh.
Tactics: F (I should have just dropped Ben Jacques-Maynes. Duh.)
Classicness: A++ (This race is 32 years old, ~1/3 the age of Mike Vella, so it’s pretty classic.)

Overall: C+ (2nd of 20 is barely inside the top 10%. Weak.)

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