Race Web Site: San Rafael Sunset Criterium
Course Description: This is a rectangular course. The front and back straights are three blocks long and the second and fourth are one block long. Coming out of turn 1 onto D Street it is uphill to turn 2 and gains about 20 vertical feet. Not a climb by any means, but a good, hard and short jam. Out of turn 2 onto 5th Ave, the back straight is slightly down hill into turn 3 on to A Street and downhill again to the final corner where you turn onto the finish stretch, 4th Street. What that means is you can carry a ton of speed into that final corner and out for the sprint. Or… You can carry that speed into the fencing coming out of the corner. A quick search on YouTube will show you man examples of people doing it wrong. It is not a dangerous corner, but it does not tolerate mistakes or stupidity well. Keep that in mind.
To make it extra fun, the pro race is held under the lights. If you’ve never done a night criterium it is a freaky experience. The darkness really accentuates the speed. It makes you feel like you’re going even faster than you think you are. Also, the lighting can play tricks. They used to have a night criterium on Broadway Plaza in Walnut Creek back in the day. It took me a while to not freak out and think I was getting swarmed every time I saw the shadows rushing up around me from behind. I was just passing under one of the lights!
Road Surface: The road is in good shape. There is a hole or two on the short D Street uphill. They are of course on the left hand side of the road where you’ll generally be going, but easily avoidable as long as you pay attention. And even if you hit them it’s not that big of a deal.
Gearing: Flat criterium gears.
Facilities: This race is a big deal. Pretty much anything you might need can be had within a block or two of the race. Over the years I forgot gloves once and a water bottle another time. In both cases I was able to purchase what I needed at one of the expo tents. One of the best places to park is the big lot on 3rd and C Street.
SRAM provides neutral support for all categories.
Weather: The weather is generally very nice for this race. Maybe kind of hot or maybe kind of cool, but in either case pretty temperate. BTW, in general the wind will be in your face on the start/finish stretch.
Equipment advice: Aero crit wheels.
Race Advice: This is a reasonable break away course. The D Street uphill isn’t much, but after 45 minutes or an hour or so it will wear on people. Not that somebody will rip everybody’s legs off with a savage attack that nobody can follow, but more likely somebody (or a few somebody’s) will go and a rider behind will decide not to chase/follow because they are tired and they will look at each other and off you go.
For the finish a lot of it comes down into how you position into the final two corners. Realistically it’s almost impossible to pass between turns 3 and 4. And stay upright at least. So that means the sprint really kind of starts out of turn 2 and by extension turn 1. Not that somebody will sprint full gas out of turn 1, but you need to expend some energy to hold your position on the hill, then hit the gas to follow and not get passed (or pass if you’re too far back) leading into turn 3. You can float a bit between 3 and 4. The two key points I think are of course good position out of turn 4. You aren’t going to win this race coming out of turn 4 in 4th place. Too fast, too far back, and too little time to pass. Not to mention that for each rider back from the leader you exit that corner, you’re that much later in starting your sprint. The quicker you can finish turning and start sprinting the better. But not too soon or you’ll meet the fencing and haybales and get on YouTube. I’m not a sprinter, but I’d think ideally you’d want to make your move and come into turn 3 is 2nd place and hopefully have enough pop to get around the leader between turn 4 and the finish. Or conversely if you’ve got a long sprint, make your move and take the lead coming into turn 3. Float, rail the turn and hang on for dear life to hold the thundering herd off.