Criterium racing isn’t the same as racing on the road. Depending on the race, the concentration levels have to be much more. It is more intense, thus the concentration needs to be that much more focused.
And this is easier said than done. You need to be super focused, but at the same time you need to have great observation skills. You need to be able to observe where the field ebbs and flows on a course. Where, when the time is right, you can use the openings that you’ve memorized, to your advantage.
When you’re at your limit, when everything seems to be coming too fast, or you sketched out, maybe at night with the shadows, your ability to observe dissipates. Then you are at the mercy of the field.
There is nothing wrong with being pack filler. Everyone is once and a while. I have no issue being pack filler when I am pretty sure that it is going to be a field sprint. I actually like races that I mistakenly think are going to be pretty tame and it ends up being a free-for-all. I learn something from it.
Anyway, what I know you need to be super successful criterium racing, especially at night, is almost a 6th sense of your surroundings. I’m not exactly sure how to explain it, but you really need to know who is around you at all times. And you need to know their abilities.
When I am “in the zone”, which hasn’t been recently, I can hear a crash behind me and know whether one of my teammates might be involved in it by knowing their place within the field. I know this sounds weird, knowing where guys are behind me, but it is the truth. I might not know exactly where they are, but I would be usually pretty close.
It is something like a superpower. This past weekend, in St. Louis, I only had this “superpower” a few laps out of all the races. And never at the end. At the end of the race is when you need it the most. The final race was the only one where the speeds were so high at the end that it was very easy moving around. And it obviously wasn’t that easy, since I lost a wheel, never to be seen again.
Your fitness or form allows this observation skill to occur. If you are redlined, then you would never have the ability to absorb everything needed. You are too over your head, concentrating, maybe just the wheel in front of you, to be able to do much else. But as you get fitter, thus more physically comfortable, then the other observations start occurring. And these observations, as long as you use them properly, are what allows super results. It takes a lot of time and concentration to have this ability. Some guys that have raced for years, never get it.
This also applies to cross and MTB racing. The concentration in these aspects of the sport is high. When you are over you limit, that is when things start to fall apart. You need to be under control, mentally and physically, to excel off-road.
I’m glad it came, if only for a little bit, last weekend. It gives me hope that it can be commonplace once I race on a more constant basis.