This was my first time racing the Watermelon crit, which is one of the oldest races held in New Jersey on the Rutgers Livingston Campus in Piscataway, NJ. It's called the Watermelon crit because one year the organizers ran out of money for prizes so they bought some fruit instead and handed them out. Seems the melons were a hit so the idea has stuck since.
I have to admit, a nice melon instead of another pair of arm warmers that are two sizes too big is a much better prize so I like this idea. If you happen to win one of the races, you get a very large melon. Carrying this thing back to your car is almost as much as a challenge as winning a race here. Luckily, there were no casualties and dead melons on the ground this year. Although I suspect that someone has probably dropped one on the way back to their car in years past.
I did two races today; the CAT 4/5 and the Masters 35+. The day started early for me. 5:45am wake-up, 1 hour drive, and just enough time for me to warm-up, switch which side I put my number on, and jump into the first race at 9am. The temperature gauge on the car read 72F but the air felt like swimming through a thick, creamy soup. Drink fluids, lots of fluids I said to myself.
The 4/5 race almost ran without an incident until someone decided to force an inside line in a bad corner on the 2nd to last lap and managed to take himself and maybe a couple of other races out. Watch that here. Video credit: Israel Arroyo.
Update: 2nd video. Credit: Miles Whitford.
I took advantage of that confusion and charged up the road, ensuring my position in the captains chair leading the bunch. I keep that great position for the last lap and stayed vigilant for the final sprint. On the final corner, a rider attempted to charge around me on the outside of the turn. He kept his momentum going and allowed me to easily slip in behind him for the final sprint. I patiently waited another second or two and then pounced on the pedals and sprinted to victory! Ah, why couldn't all races unfold this way.
Photo credit: Ron Short
The Masters 35+ was a different beast altogether. We lined up with only 21 starters and there was "no place to hide" as a fellow teammate and mentor to me said of such races. Attacks came left and right, one after another. Luckily, I was in the company of an experienced bunch of racers, so chasing down these attempts to get away wasn't something that solely fell onto my shoulders or any one other person. We all chipped in.
I knew I was in the league of guys who know how to win bike races, so I tried to absorb and learn as much as I could from them. I assumed that there was going to be a winning break. I figured maybe 3 to 5 guys could get away. I knew I had to get in with them if I wanted a great result. My assumptions turn out to be correct and I found myself off the front with 5 guys halfway through the race.
I worked hard in the small group to make sure that this break worked. Perhaps too hard as I started to notice at least one or two other guys were not doing their fair share of work to make this a successful break. With a few laps to go, we were lapping the field. With 2 laps to go, an attack was made, we lost one rider and I fell off the pace by a couple of seconds. I pushed hard to catch back onto the group of 3. Then, another attack came and this time there was no gas left in the tank for me. I sprinted to the line for 4th.
I wish I had enough left in me to sprint it out for a podium spot. Maybe next time. What's really satisfying is that I rode a strong race and worked with the big boys in the winning break. Big boys meaning all CAT 1 and CAT 2 racers. Yea, me a little half-Korean, 10 stone, CAT 4.
Photo credit: Ron Short