Inside the race: Allar talks crit nationals crash, missed championship

It was setting up to be one of the most epic sprint battles in women’s crit racing. In the final lap of the USA Cycling National Criterium Championship this month, Tucson’s Erica Allar (Colavita/Bianchi p/b Fine Cooking) had infiltrated Coryn Rivera’s (United Healthcare) unstoppable blue train.

Rivera, 22, already has several national titles under her belt, including collegiate national championships and a U23 national crit championship. She competed in La Course by Tour de France last year, finishing sixth overall. Allar, 29, took USA Cycling’s National Criterium Calendar overall series title every year for the past three years. Rivera, 5’1″, and Allar, 5’9″, physically couldn’t look more different on a bike, but both rely on their sprinting talent to carry them to victory.

As the two entered the final turn on the final lap, the last UHC leadout rider was about to drop away and let Rivera and Allar duke it out head-to-head toward a national championship. But the UHC leadout rider sild out on the turn, taking Rivera and Allar with her, and as they all went down, so did their dreams of a national title. 

Allar takes us inside the race and what it’s like going from being meters away from a national championship to DNFing in a less than a second:

The truth is that not a day has gone by that I haven’t replayed the series of events during that race in my mind.

Regardless of how much I try not to, I have to face the truth: crit nationals was one of the most devastating race days of my career, and the truth hurts. But the truth is that I have been avoiding writing this because the reality of my crit nationals crash pains me just as much today as it did eight days ago, and it’s not because I have road rash that is still healing.

When a person commits their entire life to a sport, there are decisions, choices and sacrifices that are made to achieve the goals that we lay out on paper.

This year one of my major goals was to win crit nationals. Everything I did up to race day was to try to give myself the best chance to do well – my travel plan, my housing plan, my training plan. Everything revolved around this 90-minute race.

I felt good. I was healthy and from the gun the race went well. I went fast off the line and ended up solo from the beginning for about six laps. The field let me ride away, and while I know the crit was an extra 30 minutes long, I wasn’t afraid. I have a great coach who makes sure my training preps me properly for racing!

After I got caught by the field I followed key moves and made sure I was in any important splits that happened in the field. I did get involved in a mid-race pile up, but I was mostly unscathed.

The 90 minutes dwindled down, and before I knew it there were fewer than 10 laps to go. With a national title on the line and the United Healthcare blue train in tact, I knew everyone would be gunning for it. But this was everything I’d been working for. I’d won plenty of races but never the national crit title.

I wanted to win, so on the last lap in turn one I dove the corner and infiltrated the blue train. I was able to move Coryn out of position and was sitting fourth wheel going down the back straight. UHC was on the front going hard to string out the field, which made it difficult for anyone to move up.

One by one, UHC riders pulled off the front after doing their job. Going into turn three I was third wheel, a UHC rider pulled off and I was second wheel entering the final turn. Coryn was too far back, jumped the inside line and was now second wheel. I knew the first UHC rider would pull off and leave Coryn to sprint. The distance to the finish line and the direction the wind was blowing made this OK – I was ready.

Then it happened. Coming out of the final turn, the first UHC rider crashed taking her teammate and me with her. In a (broken) heartbeat I went from preparing to sprint to kissing the pavement. It was over before it began, and I was devastated.

I am still a little devastated, but I am certainly not defeated, and I’ll be honest that my eyes got a little watery as I wrote this.

But the reality is that as difficult as it may seem in the moment, moving past these experiences is crucial for success down the road. It’s healthy to deconstruct the event to learn from it. But I realize that it is just as important to make sure I allow myself to move past the experience.

So just like the cuts and bruises, with time this will go away, and as they always say… “that’s bike racing.”


VIDEO: Watch from 2 laps to go at 1:47:45

Erica Allar