I have a confession to make. Last fall in late September I jumped into a criterium race held by our local bike club and was totally unprepared for the outcome. I got pushed toward the curve on the first major turn, crashed into the grass and lay there wondering what possessed me to enter the race with zero practice all fall. I was fit. Just not ready.
In the past I’ve raced plenty of criterium bike races. But bike racing is ironically not like “riding a bike.” You do forget how to do it right when it’s been a while since you lined up and gunned it from the get-go.
It pays to practice going really fast if you plan on going four to six miles faster per hour than you typically ride your bike day-to-day. The sensations of actually racing your bike are completely different from daily riding. For one thing, there is the presence of multiple other riders going fast or faster than you to consider. One must ride in tandem and not get rattled. I’ve done that plenty. Just not lately.
It doesn’t take much effort to crash a bike. Just a rut in the road and down you go. I was lucky. I know how to land. Found some grass and just laid ‘er down. My body was none the worse even though my arm sleeves were greasy with grass and mud.
Racing my bike in triathlons is completely different. For one thing, there is no big group start. Typically you ride out on the course all alone, find your rhythm and then get down into a tuck and give it all you’ve got. Once in a while you have to swerve to avoid slower riders. You’re also left to fight the wind all on your own. Unlike bike criteriums where drafting and staying with the pack is critical to success, there is no drafting allowed in a typical local triathlon.
Not unless it is “draft legal.” Someday my bike racing skills may come in handy if I ride in a tri where drafting is allowed. But for now, it’s just me and my body parts trying to make the bike go fast. But not so fast that I can’t run when the ride is over.
Experience is a helpful guide in that process. Every tri we race is different. Some courses are hilly while others are flat. Weather conditions can completely alter the circumstances from year to year.
Still, I’m choosing triathlons more because there’s less chance of crashing than those frenetic bike criterium races. If that means I’m chicken, well so be it. I may still do a crit now and then, but the randomness of it all has me second-guessing it’s value versus finding a groove and getting it done in aero on my own.
In either case it’s tuck and go. That’s all I know.