The Junior Men’s Criterium, the event that I was looking forward to the most, besides the road race. Having won the title last year, I was so determined to defend it and go two for two. I hadn’t podiumed yet at Nationals so anything I had left had to go into this criterium. Criteriums had been going very well for me this year and I knew what I had to do to win this race. The most important part of the race was to stay near the front at all times. Crashes were bound to happen in the criterium and the last thing I wanted to do was go down due to poor positioning. I also had to race extremely smart because I was one of the few riders who didn’t have a team for support. If I burned unnecessary matches early on there was no one to back me up later on.
Warm up was crucial for the criterium, it was a guarantee that it would be hard right from the beginning. While warming up it started to drizzle, which made me nervous because if it was wet on top, of all us eager juniors there would for sure be in for crashes. I made my warm up the same as the other criterium races I had done in pro 1/2. Near the end as I was spinning my legs out before the start, the rain had let up and it was dry enough that the corners wouldn’t be slick. I pulled on my skinsuit and told myself that this is my race to win. I had some déjà vu as this was exactly how last years’ Nationals criterium felt, except I wasn’t defending the title.
The worst part of the race for me wasn’t the actual race itself but the start. At the start line they called up the road race champion, the time trial champion, and a couple others who got podium. Then they called me up, but no one was moving out of the way. I asked to get through but no one moved. So, I tried going around and just as I was over the barriers at the front, they called the rest of the field. I was the defending criterium champion and I was starting at the very back of the pack.
The commissaire counted us down and as soon as the race started my number one mission was to get to the front as quickly as possible. Within the first two or three laps I was right at the front which was quite a relief. Now the racing began, and so did the crashes.
There were two crashes that were right in front of me but I managed to wiggle my way by unscathed. A couple attacks went but nothing stuck because the race was short and so high powered that no one would let anything go, myself included. Eventually we got the signs telling us how many laps we had left, I started to watch them closely at eight to go. With eight laps to go staying at the front was a necessity as everyone was getting antsy with the finish quickly approaching. I was in full focus, and going into the second last lap a rider tried to go for an attack. He had a couple seconds but I knew he would come back on the last lap so I didn’t waste any energy. Last lap, and I had to be perfect, no mistakes, no crashes, and no teammates to lead me out. I took one last sip of water, prepared the legs for the onslaught of watts to the finish line.
Last corner, sixth wheel, not the best position. The front of the group swung to the inside, no one wanted to pull. Instinct kicked in, I had to go right now, I was too far back to wait. That was the longest 300+ meters of my life, I had never sprinted from that far out. I kicked, head down, and full tilt sprint as we hurtled toward the line. 200 meters, I looked between my legs and saw someone’s wheel. I knew they would try to come around me at the line. I would not give them the satisfaction. 100 meters, legs burning, the rider behind me pulled out and tried to come around me, but I dug deeper. Five meters, I won. I knew that I had it at this point and I had beat the other rider by a wheel. The rush of exhilaration was overwhelming and the feeling of relief was amazing. I had successfully defended my title of Junior National Criterium Champion.