CRCA Grant’s Tomb Criterium 03/08/2014 – By Dave Casale

Grant's Tomb is located right on Columbia University's campus in West Harlem on the island of Manhattan. West is a pretty loose term when you're describing a section of an island that's about 2 miles wide in total, but it is definitely a unique portion of the city being right on the Hudson River (more details on that later). If you have an opportunity to do this race, you should. It's a quintessential NYC bike race. Very close quarters criterium racing, and, just like NASCAR, plenty of rubbing to go with the racing.

The course itself has two long straights that parallel the Hudson with a 1 block, 4 corner, jaunt on the south end and a super sweeping banked 180° turn on the north end. The north end sweeper get's attacked at full bore; if you get a run at it and time turn-in correctly you come flying out of the corner. Don't wait long enough to turn in, and you find yourself in this odd position where you're moving slower than the people next to you, while also feeling like you are running out of grip, slowly drifting to the outside of the curve. And when I say ‘slower' I really mean like 27 mph.

I started without much ambition going into the race. I've done this race every year since 2009, know it very well, and know that riding the break is a really difficult proposition. In order to make and stick the break you have to absolutely bury yourself in the process. With the Hudson paralleling a large majority of the course, you have to be willing to suffer in a lot of crosswinds, attack the crosswinds, and keep working with a relatively small group of ~5 riders where you really aren't getting much shelter. I've attempted it in the past knowing it's not my strong suit and on all previous occasions I've been unable to get in the break and worthless at the end of the race. With a slow start to the season (winter blues) I decided to just float along.

That floating turned into some of the hardest minutes I've ever had on a bike. I've only had such bad sensations on a bike a few times that are in any way similar to the feeling during the first 45 minutes of this race. I never touched the front, and was rarely even near it, and I felt particularly awful ‘floating' along. A few thoughts of quitting crept in, and left, my mind as I watched the front of the field attacking while I felt miserable at the back. Nothing is worse than coming out of a corner and sprinting hard to stay on, while watching the riders 60 people ahead at the front of the race attacking like crazy; that just means life is going to be painful for a little while longer. Eventually I started to actually feel OK. About 55 minutes into the 70 minute race it finally dawned on me that the field did thin down quite a bit, with a lot of riders feeling the fatigue doubling up from the early race. A 4 person break was away but I really had no stock in how many were away. I knew at least a couple riders were off the front but hadn't seen specifically who, though I did notice a few strong riders missing from the field. A late crash just in front of me split the field with just a few laps to go, and I was actually thinking about attempting the sprint. I got a little boxed in before the sprint (before the 180 really), got a good lane to go at the end, and was starting to pull back a couple riders when someone put their front wheel into my rear skewer, slamming my rear wheel against my chainstay and brake. I tried to sprint through after it felt like someone dropped anchor, and came home with 10th. My best result at Grant's Tomb, and considering my sensations during the race, not a bad result. Sometimes it's better to just worry about survival, rather than turning the screws in a race, so maybe it was a good omen to have bad legs in the beginning of the race?