Pete Varley’s close call

Pete Varley’s close call

Pete Varley’s close call.

Recently I was asked about my passion for racing road criteriums (crits) & why I’d drive regularly to Melbourne over the Summer to race them.

For those that don’t know, road crits are closed-circuit road races usually around 800m to 1,400m in distance per lap. They are an extremely intense style of racing with up to 70 riders and can average 50k/h. The length of the race is determined by time plus 3 laps and the time is set at the start; eg: 50mins and 3 laps to give the exact lap to finish on.

I recently raced a crit with the Carnegie Caufield Cycling Club in Melbourne, and I’d like to share my insiders report on what goes on in that 50mins of pain.

I’m always nervous warming up for a race, particularly for crits, you know in this close-knit and hard style of racing there will be moments where falls can happen, and if you don’t fall in the race its definitely a WIN!

In the first 5-10 minutes of racing, I made a judgement that a breakaway wouldn’t stay away. (a breakaway is where riders ride off the front of the bunch and stay away to steal the race) for that reason, I needed to hide within the bunch but not allow myself to drop back too far in the group. The theory is closer to the front the less trouble, less falls, fewer gaps develop that you have to chase down…. just less risk.

I rode midfield for the first half of the race watching all the attacks (riders riding off the front) not getting very far & being reigned back into the bunch.

My goal to have any chance in the finish sprint was to be in the top 5 riders going into the last corner, really hard to win from any further back, but very hard to achieve when everyone has the same goal.

With 10 mins (plus 3 laps) to go, I moved up to about 10th, so far so good but now the hard part… staying there until the last 3 laps where I needed to move forward again.

The bunch is very dynamic if you’re not moving forward in the group you’re falling back through the group as riders are constantly moving up around the outside of the group to move closer to the front. Fortunately, I managed to hold my position, as one of my strengths is moving forward through the group without riding around the group in the wind and wasting energy.

3 laps to go is given to the bunch by the officials. I needed to move closer to the front because the race is now going so fast the bunch is single file for the first 15 or so riders. I had to step out in the wind & drive up the inside of the riders going into a corner and force my way back into the line of riders. This is where experience helps and a little luck! If you pick the wrong rider to take on they can hold their ground and you’re stuck out the wind wasting bucket loads of energy. I was lucky I moved up to 5th wheel going into the last couple of corners.

Perfect, couldn’t be much closer to the front and out of trouble!

Well, there are exceptions…

The rider in 2nd position about 40meters from the last corner lost control of his bike and fell to the ground taking the rider behind him out as well. all at around 50km/h. My life flashed before my eyes. A big tip when racing crits – look well ahead. I saw the rider fall so I had maximum time to react and avoid the bikes & riders… only just!

Then just behind me was carnage. the sound of bikes crashing and sliding along the ground is terrible. As I rounded the last corner the 2 riders left still riding ahead of me were yelling out “no sprint, not sprint!” This was unusual as normally what happens behind you doesn’t matter, you just ride on!

I rolled over the finish line in 3rd, I so wanted to sprint for the first but didn’t think it would be the appropriate etiquette, nor would I earn any respect if I’d sprinted.

Unfortunately, around 12 riders fell with 3 taken to hospital luckily no one was seriously hurt.

I was disappointed I couldn’t sprint for 1st but was very relieved I managed to avoid the fall! and live to fight another day!

Thanks for reading

Peter Varley