There are those weeks when you are going ok, but your average is not as good as your effort the previous week. Those are the troughs.
Then there are those weeks when you have really been pushing hard, but you are not seeing any improvement, and at those times you wonder what is going on. Those are the plateaus.
Then there are those weeks when you really feel you've made upwards progress on your cycling graph of life. You finish riding a regular route and the first thing you do is check your computer for the average speed.a Leyton Hewitt arm pump and "oh yea.another personal best". Those are the peaks. We just love the peaks don't we?
Well here I am at week five of my criterium adventure/career. A lot has been learned over the previous four weeks. A lot of do's to do, and a lot of don'ts to not do too. Along the way there have been a few troughs, plateaus and minor peaks.
So, armed with 5 months and 3000km of building strength, 4 weeks of racing knowledge, the invaluable advice of those more experienced and the supercharging gel and electrolytic juice, I confront my limitations once again. This week I am more prepared than in any week previous. As usual I am psyched to do my best, but without any unrealistic dreams or hopes of success, lest they become shattered by a poor result. A little emotional bubble wrap can't be a bad thing.
Once more I find myself queued on the now familiar white line across the track. I am aware of how much more relaxed I am this week, excited, but relaxed, as we all casually get under way. We jostle into a line, and this week I am using the brakes to keep behind the rider in front, and not lose my place in the line by drifting past. I am holding my line well and being more assertive in demanding my position. The new attitude is working because the other riders don't attempt to push me out, or if they do, I am not submitting, and I refuse to relinquish my ground.
The laps roll on with me always in the first handful of positions, my front wheel within a few centimetres of the rear wheel of the bike in front. I am feeling ok, and on each lap I am able to maintain my position up the rise. The strongest rider is doing a lot of work on the front and as he moves aside, I find myself with the wind in my face. Still feeling good, I put in a reasonably hard lap and stretch the field a little. I know, I know, don't lead unless you can get away or hurt the others, but I feel ok so what the hell. I am puffing by the end of that lap, but am pleased at how quickly I recover when I get in the draft, and soon I am feeling comfortable once again.
We are only five minutes from the bell and I am still with the leaders, still sucking wheel as they say, and still feeling good.
Once again the leading rider moves aside and I am in the lead. This is a bad time to lead but I do it anyway, and burn quite a bit of energy in the process. At the end of my lap, one rider does a solo breakaway and no-one has enough left to chase him down. The rest of the lead bunch also pass me and I struggle to latch on, but with head down and a hard push I find a rear wheel and like a leech, I suck it. I get only a few minutes to recover as we cruise around on the last lap before the bell. As predicted, the bell sounds and the bunch start playing cat and mouse, as each rider positions themselves to be in the ideal place for the inevitable final sprint.
The bunch trundles along to the last corner before the uphill finishing straight, with me at the back. At this point the bunch think I am all used up, but a rush of blood to the head (pity it wasn't to the legs) makes me sprint past them all as we round the corner.
The numerous exclamations of surprise, along the lines of "what the..!!!", from the bunch gives me a smile and extra impetus, as my bike rocks madly from side to side with me pounding on the pedals for all I am worth. I see the shadows of my competitors slip behind me.
As we approach the finish line I am still a bike length or more in front and can sense the others pushing as hard as they are able.
Out of the corner of my eye, I see a shadow appear on the track beside me as I start to fade with the effort of the climb up the rise. I keep pushing with what little strength I have left, as three riders close on me and then pass me, just before the finish line. I am feeling absolutely wasted, but also elated by the unexpected sprint for second place.
I coast around the track on the cool down lap barely able to stay upright. Just enough energy left to check the average.34.5kph. At this point I want to do the Leyton arm pump but there's no arm pumps left in me, just an attempt at a smile.. I feel a little nauseous as I suck in as much air as I can, but it isn't really enough. I hope I don't collapse. Gradually I recover and slowly make my way back to the marshalling area in granny gear. I can't get off the bike and just stand with my head on the handlebars and pant.
One of my co competitors says "She's not going to be sick is she?" At that, I start to chuckle between pants and puffs, causing my body to shake and shudder in a no doubt amusing way. I feel a pat on the back and receive a "well done" from someone. Eventually I am able to be upright and can manage a big smile of satisfaction. I receive positive comments on my performance such as "you were strong today" and "you gave us a surprise".
I was very pleased with the result of the race and the 34.5kph new pb, and even though it wasn't a win, it was a competitive ride. I feel I have now reached one of those peaks I mentioned. It hopefully won't be the last or the highest peak I will have the opportunity to test myself against.
This is the final report in the 'Emma goes critting' series. This won't be the end of my criterium racing however, and you are bound to hear news of any major successes if, or I should say when, they occur. Of course the road season isn't too far off either. Hmmmm, 'Emma on the road' has a ring to it doesn't it.