By Allison Atkinson, ATC Racing
The Matrix Crit takes place in the streets of the quaint Wilson Historic District located in downtown Dallas. White picket fences surround the perfectly green, manicured lawns of the Victorian era homes that line the staging area. Amid this picturesque scene, you'll find the most technical crit course in Texas. With eight 90-degree turns on fairly flat terrain, it's a fast race where hesitation is not an option and crashes can be bone-crushing.
Day one I raced the 45-minute Women's cat 3 at 7:45am. It was chilly enough for arm and knee warmers. I agreed to work with Ash Duban (Comanche Racing), who is an amazing crit racer. It was also her birthday, and she wanted a win. On lap one I worked my way to third wheel, but not much happened until the straightaway after the sixth turn. The straightaway is a false flat about two blocks long, so it is one of the only places one can launch a big attack without worrying about an upcoming turn. I launched my first attack there to kick up the pace and hopefully stir things up. Think Finance, a team based out of Dallas, had a huge presence in this race. Once I was caught, they countered by sending one girl up. Andrea Thomas and Kelly Barrientes attacked the hardest and most often out of the Think women. Instead of being swallowed by the gruppo compacto, I fought my way to the front to stay on wheel one to three. My goal was to chase down as many attacks as possible and keep Ash from having to work too much.
Think Finance launched attack after attack and snatched almost every prime. Either Ash or I steadily bridged the group back to any girl up the road. I knew that this was not too smart for my personal results, but there were not many Austin girls willing to help us out. At two laps to go, the pace slowed a bit as everyone waited in anticipation for the next big move. A big breakaway never happened, as we were all pretty tired from attacking and chasing. Those who sat in continued to do so. It would come down to a pack sprint.
Basically the first three to get to turn seven would be in the best position going into the short sprint to the finish. I decided to get a jump on what I knew was going to be a sketchy situation by launching a huge attack coming out of turn four. I kept control through turns five and six, and then jumped again on the straightaway with the last of my energy. A few Think Finance girls, including Thomas, countered, and Ash followed their lead to that important seventh turn. Rounding the corner, I pulled out a half-hearted sprint just to stay in the top 10. I kept my head up to see how Ash did. It was too close to call! Ash thought she got second or third, but was not sure. It turned out that she won by basically a millisecond thanks to her heroic bike throw! We were so excited! I placed seventh.
After a good nap and some food, I lined up for the Women's Open with much less clothing and perfect spring sunshine. My goal was to hang on and help the chase group. I say that because women like Lauren Stephens (FCS/Cycling p/b Zngine + Mr. Restore) and Christina Gokey-Smith (Rouse/OOGIE Racing) are expected to break away.
From the beginning, I felt a difference compared to the cat 3's. It's not that it was harder for me. In fact, I worked less because of the larger field. The difference was the speed at which we took the turns, plus the extra 15 minutes. The mental focus alone that it took to execute each turn safely and efficiently wore me down. The Open race was also an hour compared to 45 minutes. This was the longest crit I'd ever raced. My hands became numb after 30 minutes from being in the drops. Every time I would jump out of the saddle or countersteer, they'd go completely numb. When it became impossible to shift, I sat up and shook out my hands. It's probably all in my mind, but I felt like my eyes were tired, too! I had to shake my head and tell myself, "Focus! Eyes forward! Stay on her wheel and don't give up your position!"
Four women were in the break that formed: Gokey-Smith, Stephens, Kathleen Hattaway (Jubilee), and Catherine Moore (Think Finance). Jubilee and Think had the biggest presence, and with teammates up the road, they were not going to chase. Ash, Allison Floyd (River City Market Racing), Kim Ciolli (River City Market Racing), a few other "single" ladies, and myself stayed steady to help keep the pace up. We each did our share of attacking and bridging when the group split or someone went off the front. We stayed together and before I knew it, I heard the bell for the final lap. This was where the crash went down.
I saw Andrea Thomas out of the corner of my right eye attack in the same place I made my move in the morning race: turn four. She was up toward the front coming out of turn five. This was an aggressive, smart place to attack, but it's risky because you're rattling everyone's cages right before two major turns. Thomas simply slid out of turn six, taking Michelle Montoya (Jubilee) out as well. This being the last lap, we were all coming into the corner hot, so it was hard to avoid the crash and make it out cleanly. Half the field took off with little hesitation, while Floyd, Ciolli, myself, and others picked up from a dead stop. As disappointing as it was to not make it into the top ten, I was glad to stay upright and live to race another day. I finished thirteenth. Stephens won, with Gokey-Smith second and Moore third.
Day two I only raced the W3 morning race, same course and same time. The difference was that there were less Think Finance women present. I decided to chill out mid-pack to scope out who to watch for. There were a few girls that stood out and did a lot of pulling. The pace was faster than the day before, whipping around the turns. For the majority of the race I stayed rear-pack (which is hard not to do when the field is small and everyone is strong), but I'd come out on occasion to attack after turn four and on the straightaway. Ash and I worked to chase down attacks by Rockwall Cycling. Tracy Christenson (Rockwall) managed to stay away for nearly two laps before I bridged up to her.
Here is where you may ask, "What were you thinking???" At two laps to go, I launched the same big attack I did the day before and kept a good position. The problem was that I had no clue how many laps we had left. The lap cards were not displayed, and a bell rang for almost every lap due to the abundance of awesome primes. I underestimated my effort, and what I thought was two to go was actually one to go! I was wondering why Allison Floyd and other riders kept looking back at me like, "Hello??? Are you going to attack or what?" I watched the sprint happen and cruised through the finish for tenth place. I was mentally tired and happy to be done, but very mad at myself.
Let it be known that I went into this weekend with fear and doubt in my mind. I had never been a fan of crits, but knew that if I wanted to race for real I'd have to overcome the fear. I learned that it's okay to feel the fear while bombing down a straightaway setting up for a hard turn. What matters is how you react. I accepted the fear by trusting that all the preparation that went into my cornering skills was legit and that the tires on my wheels would hold me up. I also accepted that I trusted the women I raced with. It's hard but necessary to trust the right people and know they will make it through the corner safe. With the acceptance of fear comes the acceptance that you could go down.
As I was walking to the car to head back to the hotel Saturday afternoon, I witnessed a bad crash in the men's cat 3 race as they took turn four. One rider broke his collarbone and the other broke his arm. Catherine Moore went down on day two of the Open race and was sent to the hospital, where she was slipping in and out of consciousness. There were more crashes than I can mention, but that is part of this brutal sport. On a positive note, the heroic bike throws, strong attacks, and well-deserved wins outnumbered crashes. So streets of the Wilson Historic District will remain like any other neighborhood until we come back next year for the fastest crit in the state! I cannot wait!
Results and pictures on the official Matrix Challenge Facebook page