After spending Friday and Saturday at Devil’s Den State Park attending the Northwest Arkansas Mountain Bike Championships we decided to head up to watch a more civilized style of bike racing on Sunday, the Arkansas State Championship Criterium at Memorial Park in Bentonville. Several of the guys racing at Devil’s Den had brought their road bikes along to participate in the street laps. The race and course are best described by our technical consultant, Chad Cragle of team Arkansas Cycling & Fitness, who shares his first-hand experience.
I raced the CAT4 crit and it was a lot harder than I expected. On the second lap one guy said, between gasps, “this sucks”. I wheezed back “its going to get worse”.
The map of the course made it look like it was going to be pretty technical, but there was really only one tough turn. It was narrow and at the top of a slight rise which was right after the fast downhill of the finish stretch. The downhill allowed the peloton to gain lots of speed, but then the little rise slowed it down. This caused a bunching effect right before the narrow turn. Another interesting course feature was a small climb about 3/4 through a lap. The final significant course feature was a fairly constant wind which was typically blowing down the small climb.
The official kicked a hornet’s nest and the pace went to max almost immediately. We would end up holding an average speed over 25 mph. It was also an extremely aggressive race. There were dozens of attacks (people particularly liked the wind torn climb). The most dominant team was BMC (Boston Mountain Cyclists). They tried several attacks, and tried to do some blocking. However, the peloton would allow a single guy to get a bit off the front, but a two+ man attack or someone bridging would trigger a chase. I typically like to attack during crits, but this time I sucked wheels. There isn’t much you can do when the entire peloton is willing to cover everything and waiting for their opportunity to launch a counterattack. Also, the course was hard, but it wasn’t hard enough to split the pack.
When the final three laps came, there was a brief surge in the pace during the third lap followed by what felt like the slowest pace of the day during the second lap. I used the second lap to get myself into a good position for the final lap. Once on the final lap, the pace went back to blistering. Several attacks were launched and failed miserably. I held my spot about 7 or 8 from the front. When we got to the climb, I jumped up to fill a gap that opened in 5th. I was positioned perfectly, and everything was falling into place better than I could have hoped. Unfortunately, when we came out of the final turn onto the finishing stretch, it became clear by the 5ish foot gap that I had gone through the turn too slowly. I ended up finishing 5th.I have to say though, I’m still pretty damned happy with 5th.
Besides the all out speed of the faster groups, a junior group attacked the course earlier in the day. They were fun to watch as riders of all levels did there best for 20 minutes of racing.