Monday’s initial men’s heat was a rough one for the Tatitos. We brought a half dozen riders, including a few first timers. I really wasn’t sure what to expect, and simply instructed the crew to ride conservatively and try not to get dropped. Our Cat 4s, Davis and Andrew, rode respectably – in the first ten wheels for much of the race. Unfortunately, they were pinched coming into the final corner and missed out on the bunch sprint. Sasha, in his crit debut, was crashed out mid-race… but borrowed a teammates bike and sprinted into the top ten.

The women’s race was surprisingly smaller than last year (16 vs about 25). Of our four riders, two had raced one crit, and another zero, so our game plan was to be defense, but this was scuttled when it became clear that the race was destined to be a casual group ride unless someone took the initiative. We spent most of the race launching distressingly weak attacks, all of which were easily countered by the stronger competitors. Coming into the final corner, Liz found a good wheel, and barely outsprinted a competitor for the win.

Tuesday’s stormy weather never materialized, but the threat kept the fields tiny. Again, we brought a half dozen Tatitos to the first men’s heat. Andrew had informed me that he intended to (a) sprint for the win and in doing so, post up Cavendish style and (b) initiate a break with A. Toftoy – something of a local TT phenom. I was shocked to see the boys compose themselves very well in this race. It wasn’t nearly as chaotic as Monday’s (due to the smaller size) but even so, they communicated well and were able to navigate the pack at will. On the second lap, Andrew attacked, dragging Toftoy with him, who would eventually go on to solo, nearly lapping the field in the process. In the end, we got organized and even executed something that looked like a leadout train, with Gigantors Kyle and Aaron on the front. Andrew won the sprint by three bikes lengths (with Sasha two places back), and sure enough, invisibly phoned home as he crossed the line. The official, laughing and shaking his head, looked over at me. “Well, that was a nice sprint,” he said, “but tell him to keep his hands on the bars next time.”

Women’s road racing in Chicagoland can get a bum rap. The fields are small. You rarely see teamwork. The competition isn’t great. And most importantly, there tends to be a lot of “negative racing” going on, making the spectacle just plain boring. This year, we’re trying to change all of that. Our little road crew is composed of a couple of reformed mountain bikers, a reformed runner, an anthropologist recently returned from two years in the field, and two complete newbies. On paper, to be honest, we don’t have much of a chance.

So for Gaper’s, we’ve decided to attempt every trick in the book when it comes to team tactics: blocking, guttering, round robin attacks, false breaks, etc. It’s clear that we still have a lot to do before summer, but last night anyway, it worked.

Tuesday afternoon I wrote up a race plan on the chalkboard and posted it publicly, so the competition would be ready. I figured this might help convince those riders without teammates to create ad hoc alliances… because its just not as fun when there’s only one active team. On this day, we only brought three riders, two of whom shared a grand total of three crit starts between them. But the field only totaled nine riders, so we stuck to the plan.

Liz kicked things off with her usual cyclocross start, and this time her teammates didn’t chase her down (this is a perennial problem here in Tativille). She dragged two riders around for a lap before the break began in earnest, and the trio gapped the field by fifteen seconds. Sensing an opportunity, I instructed Katie and Lindsay to initiate a chase, while Liz sat up. What happened next was simply dumb luck. When Liz sat up, so did her break mates, allowing Katie and Lindsay to bridge very rapidly. Meanwhile, the pack had given up, meaning the new break was 3 on 2.

Immediately upon the catch, Katie attacked the break. I think everyone was surprised with her strength! The second smallest women in the field gapped the break by nearly twenty seconds after one lap. She settled into a rhythm, and I wondered to myself… are we really going to have a complete newbie racing a steel cross bike with Kelly Take Off friction shifters win this race? We were now at the mid-point, and it was pretty clear that there would be no chase. Katie had the race in the bag. I was torn. On the one hand, Katie had fully earned an impressive win. But on the other hand, we’d not yet fully executed our race plan, and, you know, it was written in chalk, so I figured we had to keep going. So I regrettably lowered the boom and shut it down. “Sit up.” I said. “OK, sounds good!” chirped the perpetually upbeat Katie.

Upon the catch, Lindsay attacked. This time, the competitors were ready, and the duo worked a bit at the front, trading pulls and making it a race… at least for a while. I knew Lindsay was pretty tired, and her face (and, well, cadence) showed it, but she carried on for another lap before the chase ceased. We still had eight minutes to race, and now we had a second rider who could take the win. Although we hadn’t really gone through all of the evening’s intended tactics, I decided to let it ride. Lindsay solos for the win.

With one to go, Katie and Liz got to the front and hastened the pace for single file. Coming into the tailwind section, Katie pulled off and Liz came around for the final corner. In an unfortunate (and harrowing) episode, both of her cleats unclipped on the jump, and she found both of her feet on the top tube, as the bike skidded across the road. Both competitors came around her for second and third. Fortunately, she saved it, and chased, but it was too late. So… two days, two different TATI women riders win.

Then we all ate cookies.