I can get talked into trying just about anything, but that doesn't mean I'll be good at it.  My first crit was basically a 45 minute solo high tempo effort, with a few sprinklings of working together and completely blowing the "crit etiquette" thrown in.

It's quite handy to have racing just 3 mi from our house, kudos to the promoter for a great location!  Left work after 5pm, so I got to the venue just as the loudspeaker blared, "10 minutes till women's races!"  Crap.  I had time to ride the teeny loop twice, paying close attention to what I thought were the best lines through the corners - tight, fast, graceful.  I lined up in the second row of just 9 riders, warned everyone that it was my first time, and we were off.

Or, sort of.  I'm used to trail-race-style hit-it-hard race starts and jockeying for place before the singletrack.  The women just sort of clipped in and sauntered off the line, and I found myself in the front.  For three turns, I took my choice lines and held in.  At turn four, I got schooled.  The field swung way wide - what are you riding, a school bus? - and as they dove into the turn, there was no room for me on the inside.  I looked and they weren't making space.  I hit the brakes, trapped.  "You have to ~garbled~," someone shouted at me.  1/2 lap in, I was off the back.

I chased hard and got back on.  I found myself just freewheeling through the corners, surprised at the wide, conservative lines the field took.  For two or three laps, I got dropped on the straights but picked it back up in the corners.  But soloing down the straights to get back on was tiring, and it was sort of getting old.  By the end of lap 3, I was off the back.

The rest of the story is kind of dull.  I was wishing for a log to go over, or a tree not to run into, or at least a cute little bridge that makes a cool hollow woody noise as you roll over it.  Instead, it was just push-push-push.  High tempo.  Tight corners.  Shifting once a lap, then back.  Shouting at people who shout at me.  Making the metal sign at the announcer.  Goofy fun.

I ended up passing one woman, but she was in the 1/2/3 field, so it didn't count.  I had the woman in front of me, a 4, in my sights for a while, but she latched on to the leaders as they came by and was soon out of sight.  I had forgotten that you could do that.  (I even shouted at the official's stand to double check, but got no response... something about being 20 min into a zone 5 effort makes me forget things.)

And so it goes, 8th of 9, or 6th of 6 in the 4's field.  My first crit.  Would I do it again?  Well, it beats a long tempo workout on the path.  But I'll stick with my dirt. 

-Julie Popper