Race reports often seem to contain a lot of "rah rah, go team!" mentality and miss out on the nuances that make cycling the beautiful sport that it is. We sometime joke that to win a bike race you just need to push on the pedals harder than everyone else. There's an element of truth in that, but it captures only a tiny essence of the complex mixture of attributes needed to be a good criterium racer. We don't talk about it much, but a lot of crit racing is about overcoming fear and learning to trust the other riders.
Most of us are confident in our own abilities. I have a pretty good idea of how fast I can corner, how much space I need to move around, and that I won't crash arbitrarily. I'm similarly confident around my teammates and even the racers that I see on a regular basis. For most of them I've made conscious and unconscious mental notes of their tendencies, abilities and, above all, whether or not I can trust them to keep upright on the bike.
Superweek brings in a whole host of new riders that we only see once or twice a year. While I'm confident and comfortable moving through the pack in a BC race, the addition of 100 strong riders means that I need to be even more confident and fearless if I'm going to win a race at that level. For a lot of the races, the sheer speed rules out most of the nervousness. When the race is lined out like it often is in Gastown there are only a few other riders who could bump into you (or vice-versa) and the race feels fairly safe. The most difficult part of a race like that isn't trusting the other riders, it's simply pedalling your bike fast enough to stay in the race.
Yet, for other races during the week, UBC being the prime example, the nature of the course causes the bunch to cluster and spread apart like an accordion numerous times per lap. This not only makes for more nervous racing, but also rewards a different type of rider. It goes from rewarding someone who is just strong, to rewarding someone who is also confident and has learned to trust his or her own abilities and those of the riders around him or her. It goes from rewarding a rider who can only pedal hard to rewarding someone who is smart as well.
There has been quite a bit of criticism for this year's UBC course. People have been saying that it was dangerous; saying that it was too tight; and saying that too many crashes happened. While these comments have some merit, I also think that the UBC Grand Prix was one best learning opportunities for our team of the whole week. Because the races continuously bunches up, moving around the group become more important than pedalling. A course like the one in UBC gives us a front row seat to seeing how experienced crit rider like Dan Holloway, Shelly Olds, and Adam Myerson are able to move around the bunch and use the course to conserve energy rather than expend it. One of the best things about racing is that is just as much about using your head as it is about using your legs. Any dummy can go out there and push hard on the pedals but only a smart and experienced rider knows when those efforts are needed.
As a team we had a fairly successful UBC Grand Prix. Sara Bergen rode to an impressive 4th place while Jay and I were active throughout the Men's race. However, more important than any results, UBC provided a crash course (no-pun intended) in how to move about the bunch and how to conserve energy during a race. More so than any result, it's learning to race smarter, more confidently, and with more trust in our fellow riders that help us push our cycling to the next level.