Sunday morning I had an 8am invitation to race with the local road teams in Accra. Actually it was just a practice race for the season starting in December. A race none the less. No entry fee or race numbers to pin on. My last criterium race was back in July in the US - a rainy day on a twisty course, and overall not much fun. Although I've been riding a fair bit in Accra, I was unsure just what to expect this morning.
Criterium per Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Criterium
Organizers in the US usually stage racers a few minutes before the start to restate any details about the event - distance, dangerous corners, special rules, sportsmanship reminders, etc... It can sound like a broken record after a while, but is necessary. Today there was none of that, or maybe there was, but I missed it due to the language barrier. So there was a 10 second countdown and we were off, without me knowing if this was a 10 or 15 lap race. There was a motorcycle escort for a lap or two, but otherwise the road was open to traffic, albeit light early Sunday morning traffic. Twenty or so starters settled into a good 23-24mph average speed for the first few laps. The pace was comfortable for a flat course, but I know that these crits generally pick up the speed after the half-way mark and again at the very end. On the final lap there might be only two or three guys that are real contenders for the win.
I rode at or near the front of the pack for five laps sharing the work of setting pace and breaking the wind. Just to see what would happen, I tried a one lap break away. Reality restored order and the pack caught me very quickly. About eight laps in I'm really curious how many laps we have to go. More conflicting information. Nine laps??? "To go, or completed" I ask. A small group that was resting in back for laps 1-8 has now moved to the front and is pulling away while I'm realizing I'm pretty tired. My group of six stragglers rotates through eventually dropping two riders. I'm completely out of water, when the consensus seems to be that we have another 4 laps to go. I'd really like to just pull over and stop, but the three other racers seem to want to race to the bitter end, so I keep going. Finally we get the bell lap - one to go. I take my pull early and settle in on the back stretch. The finish has a slight down hill to a 90 degree turn and 200m flat straight to the finish. I punch it into the corner in 2nd place, swing wide and grab another gear. The guy in first stays in front. We have a good sprint for spots 2-4, although I think I was nipped at the line. Not bad I guess.
Afterwards, the gentleman that was counting laps and keeping time introduced himself and a few riders that are on the Ghana National Cycling Team. We arranged another early Tuesday morning ride in our neighborhood.