The Tiger Lane training crit series is a Springtime staple of Memphis put on by local team 901 Racing. Historically, if you’re female and want to race, you slot in with the Cat 4 men. It’s not terrible- the course is pretty open, and the local guys (with the exception of a few that are easy to ID/avoid) aren’t sketchy to ride with. It does make it very much just a training effort, though, because being a solo woman in a men’s race that 99% of the time ends up in a sprint doesn’t give you a chance to be competitive unless you’re good at sprinting.
Side note- I’m not terrible at sprinting, but I’m not a sprinter… especially so now that I don’t really road race anymore. It’s a skill that definitely takes practice, and I have more important things to practice with my training time… Important info for the rest of my story.
This year, there was enough interest following the first two of four races that the promoter added a women’s race to the front end of the schedule of race days three and four. Sandwiched between a nutso hard training week and a 150 mile gravel grinder billed as being “harder than Dirty Kanza,” I wasn’t 100% sure that it was the best Wednesday activity, but it was kinda like…
I figured, at the least, it’d be a great mid-week wake-up call for my legs.
The turnout of 10 ladies- 5 from Marx-Bensdorf, 4 from Memphis Velo, and myself, was excellent for a local race-
My strategy for crits (actually, for any road racing) is to never be in a sprint finish. Road racing is all about playing to your own strengths and your opponents’ weaknesses. In that respect, my plan was to sit in until the planets aligned for the correct timing to attack and separate myself from the group. You always hope that such a separation can occur as late into the race as possible, but, as I’ve often found, planetary alignment is something you have no control over.
I knew my toughest competition would come from Pam Tate (the tiny M-B lady on the Cervelo w/Reynolds wheels). She’s won plenty of races, and she’s likely got a better sprint than me. Additionally, she was backed by four other strong teammates. I hadn’t raced with anyone on the Memphis Velo side, so I wasn’t sure what to expect from them. I knew that being the lone solo in between two good teams would be tough. One other thing that I had going against me was the wind… or lack thereof. It seemed to come from all directions, but always at less than 10 mph. I had been hoping for a gusty, 20 mph hairdryer from the South.
When the race started, the M-B ladies quickly took over. I was happy to sit on the wheel of whoever was in front. It seemed like the strategy was to take turns attacking off the front, but I was able to hear all of them coming and slot over to whichever wheel came by. Within two laps, it seemed to frustrate someone on M-B, because as we were rounding the final couple of corners, someone yelled something at Pam about “just pulling her around.” In the confusion, Pam launched some sort of attack as we came through the start/finish area.
Team confusion… strongest rider attacking… Planets align. Time to wind it up-
I’m not going to lie- going off the front exactly 6 minutes and 30 seconds in to a 25 minute criterium when you’ve got two teams that could organize and pull you back doesn’t exactly have the highest potential for success. I knew that, but I had to capitalize on the opportunity, because if I didn’t, it may not happen again.
So, I went all-in.
I was definitely checking over my shoulder. The gap to Pam was steady for a lap or two, then, suddenly, there was a similar gap back to this group…
Once I saw that they were together behind me, I knew that my chance of staying off the front had just been reduced. I was feeling all 20 hours of the previous week’s riding in my legs. I formulated Plan “B” in my head, but kept hammering away in hopes that they wouldn’t organize well enough to close the gap.
It wasn’t until around 3 laps to go that I started to feel like I had gained enough ground to stay away.
ERMAHGERD, A FINISH LINE!
I was feeling a little rough by then, but came around after a good cooldown, podium, a little beer, and easter candy. Major props to 901 Racing for putting on a great race for us and to the local ladies who all came out and pinned a number.
Now I’m switching gears to probably as far away as you could possibly get on the bike racing spectrum… the Ogre 150. For reasons I don’t totally understand, I’m not at all nervous of the thought of 150 miles of gravel grinding in the Ozarks. My bike is loaded, my legs feel good, and I’m approaching it with the mindset of “I’m gonna go ride my bike allllll day long.”