The Steel City Showdown is an absolutely incredible event, JR (the promoter) does an amazing job putting it on and I highly encourage everyone in the area to participate in the future. The course utilizing the bridges across the Allegheny River makes for a spectacular venue and the race could probably get itself on the NCC calendar in the next couple of years. I hope to do it again in the future, but I can say for sure that it will never be a day trip again.
The race is in Pittsburgh, 4 hours from Baltimore, so I first tried to make use of the MABRA and my team’s listserv to find someone who would go to the race with me, to no avail. I had work on Saturday morning and even though I was offered a night in a house near the race, I decided to make this trip alone in one day.
With my trusty iPod plugged into the Super-Ru’s dash, I headed west at 8a in the morning, arriving at the course at 12:15p after worrying about being pulled over for speeding for 4 hours. I had just spent a whole morning driving to do just an hour and 45 minutes of racing. With the big prize purse and a course that favors bulkier riders like myself, I thought it would be worth it. My favorite quote from this season so far comes courtesy of Ezra, my teammate: “road racing is a series of expensive and potentially painful lessons” (that’s not the real quote, I need to find that…).
In the middle of my warm-up, Matt from WVU rolled up and explained to me how many times he had driven around trying to figure out where to park. This had also puzzled me since the police seemed to be blocking the road into the parking lot but were really just standing there. Either way, I thought that I nailed my warm-up, felt fantastic and was ready to lap the field in a race. You see where this is going…
My warm-up protocol is great for just getting the blood flowing but it didn’t prepare me for the anaerobic efforts that the race demanded. I was signed up to do the 3/4s first and since a lot of guys are still relatively inexperienced in the race, there was a lot of surging due to poor cornering (myself included in that group). For example, after the second and fourth corners on this particular course, you are basically sprinting uphill into the wind to stick with the pack over the bridges, especially if you’re not that great at tight cornering (like me). So that race went terribly with me suffering at the back most of the time and leaving me unable to even contest for any primes.
I had to do some real soul searching to find the confidence to do the 1/2/3s after that but since I had come all that way to race, might as well get in a second. I lined up at the back and was actually feeling better than I had in the 3/4 race thanks to being warmed up to anaerobic efforts. I also figured out how to corner by backing off and accelerating into the corner rather than after it. I really thought I would be able to finish the race until a guy on my outside had his rear wheel slide out. I grabbed a handful of brake for no reason and really got on my horse to accelerate but I just couldn’t match the acceleration as the pack blasted over the Andy Warhol Bridge. 17 minutes in, I was off the back and pulled myself after another 2 laps.
So, the expensive lesson from this trip was that warming up the anaerobic systems of your body is really important to crits with less space. This wasn’t as big of a deal at Somerville since there was plenty of space to carry speed through the corners but it was much different in 2/4 of the corners at Steel City.