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  1. #1
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    How do you get into this sport?! I did my first road bike race today . . .

    . . . and it was pathetic, really. First, a little about me and my riding, then onto the absolutely insane competition . . .

    I ride a cheap (read Schwinn) 16 speed aluminum road frame, 42/52 x 11/28 that I have extensively cleaned up and slightly modified. I like to wrench and this thing (barring thousands of dollars of upgrades) is as good as it's going to get. I only paid $350 for it, and sold some old flipped vintage roadies to fund it. I have been having fun and success on 50k road rides, with shorter solo training rides and the occasional small group or wheel-suck when I caught a larger group out riding. I am reasonably fit, have been putting in some miles, and have had success in other sports, notably high alpine backcountry snowboarding including hiking and riding well above 10,000 ft for many miles in the remote wilderness.

    Suffice to say . . . I got smoked . . . BAD.

    I decided to do the race and originally signed up for the "citizen's race" which was supposed to be 25k or one lap on the course, assuming it was within my ability to go all out for 14ish miles. Turns out I was the only one signed up for the field, and when I showed on race day they told me I had two options 1) go out with the men's cat 5 or 2) go out with the women's/junior cat 5. Guess which one I chose? Yes I decided to line up with the men. This was to be 2 laps or 50k, with about 750ft of vertical climb over the first 7 miles of the lap, including one BIG climb right at the halfway, with a rolling downhill on the way back.

    In the parking lot, I noticed that basically everyone was on a full race frame carbon bike with aero wheels and the whole 9 yards, with 80% of the crowd, THE ENTIRE CROWD, in team kit. There was a guy next to me who looked like he was on steroids, tape on his nose and all, in full team kit, on a bike that weighed less than my shoe and cost more than my car, literally panting like a bull on his trainer like he was gonna kill someone. His helmet literally cost more than my bike. I thought to myself "this is what a cat 1 racer looks like." And boy was I wrong . . .

    Race time comes and I line up at the start. Cat 1/2/3 goes out, then the women, then the cat 4, then masters cat 4/5, then its down to us. And guess who's still at the lineup?! With his whole team of 5 guys in full coordinated kit?! JESUS! "This is Cat 5!" I say to myself . . . There were about 20 guys in my field and best I can tell it was 4 teams of 4 or 5 guys, me, and one other solo rider who at least looked like he had his $ish together.

    The start was pretty mellow, a few 50ish foot rollers over the first few miles, and I was keeping up, mingling with the pack, riding strong, and feeling like "ok if this is the rolling pace for a while maybe I can actually make it both laps and at least stick with the pack until the climb about 7 miles in." YEAH RIGHT! At 1.75 miles there was a quick 2 turn section followed by a short sharp hill. At that point the team riders obviously decided they were done warming up and within 500 ft I was off the back. By 3 miles in I was hopelessly dropped and by 4 miles I was totally alone with not another rider in sight ahead or behind me on the road. Good thing this race had decent marshals and road marking, because I had no idea where I was and was starting to be in the hurt.

    After a while I saw a corner marshal, which was right before the halfway climb and I thought "OK here comes the big effort." I turned the corner and saw what looked like the stairway to Oz 3/4 of the way up I popped, nuclear meltdown, if I had a HR monitor it would have been broken. My muscles weren't the problem, actually my legs felt good, I just felt like I literally couldn't breath any more air no matter how hard I tried. When I glanced at the speedo and it said 2.4mph I just unclipped and stepped off the bike. Yes, I will admit it publicly - in a sanctioned race, with a bib number and all, I unclipped and walked up a hill. So very sad.

    Before I crested the top, I had the pleasure of being passed by a handful of Cat 4 women who had caught me, and had to answer to the follow car when they inquired if I had a mechanical failure or if I was "feeling ok?" to which I could only muster "I'm in the hurt."

    The ride back towards the start was ok, it was a nice day, and being so very alone, it felt like I was out for a nice, fast training ride. There was one major downhill where, chasing some of the women that passed me, I eclipsed 45mph for the first time, which was a bit of a thrill in itself. At the start/finish, having completed what I actually set out to do, I decided to call it, which is a good thing because as I was putting my bike up in the parking lot minutes later, I WAS LAPPED BY THE ENTIRE CAT 1-4 MENS FIELD. So glad I was done, because if that had happened on the open road, I would have been so demoralized I would probably have just turned around.

    Some takeaways - I am lightyears from fit enough to do this on the regular and even though my gear is not up to par, I'm not even close to riding at the limit of my kit, which means I have A LOT more training to do. Also, now for my griping, the entry level of this sport is goddamn ridiculous. The entrants to my field don't even come close to doing justice to the term "sandbaggers."

    When the "entry" level category is 20 guys, 18 of whom are in full team kit on carbon racing bikes, they are NOT IN ANY WAY ENTRY LEVEL. When, at the lineup, the other 19 guys in your field talk about how they raced the night before, and 3 times last week, and so on and so forth, ALL SUMMER, how the hell are they cat 5?! I looked into the "upgrades" on USAC and it only takes 10 race finishes to be upgraded to Cat 4, so why are ANY of these guys still in cat 5?! Because they sandbag to get "team" wins on the board, that's why. Why are teams like this even allowed to race at this level when they clearly belong at cat 4 or even cat 3 or above?! Why is there literally NOBODY in the citizen's category? I bet I can answer that question myself after today.

    Not gonna lie - this was an extremely bad experience, bordering on not fun. No wonder nobody signs up for this stuff.

    Most important to me . . . how the hell do you get into this sport?!

  2. #2
    Senior Member furiousferret's Avatar
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    How do you get into this sport? You just did it. Congratulations.

    Bike racing is a tough sport. Fitness is a huge barrier to entry and its not a sport where the novice level is easy. Ride with the local fast guys, and find group rides that are challenging. Get advice from them (or here) learning a bit will be able to help you cheat fitness (via drafting and smarter choices) but mostly ride fast a lot.

  3. #3
    Theodore Roosevelt's idol TheKillerPenguin's Avatar
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    Welcome to the suck. At all levels bike racing is a thankless and ruthless endeavor. Believe it or not, that actually is entry level, and it only gets faster and more aggro from there.

    You have no experience so you can't really say who should and should not be at a certain level, you just know that there were a bunch of guys wearing the same gear that looked fast. If you are looking at getting into racing I would caution you to concentrate less on whether or not others are sandbagging and more on getting fit enough to hang on and then learning as much as possible in the field. You have to understand that the amount of time it takes to be even sort of mediocre is kind of ridiculous, and entry level bike racing requires a fairly high level of fitness relative to a normal person's idea of fitness.

    The first race I ever did was like 18 miles on a 1 mile circuit and I was lapped. It's just how it goes, and it's best to take it as an indicator that you've got work to do (which you have) and it's best not to blame the pace on people who should upgrade, because again, you lack the experience to make that call.

    Before doing another race you may enjoy doing some group rides, which are good places to get a handle on the fitness this sport requires. The right group ride will also cater to newer riders and show them the ropes (some of these actually do exist).

    How did I get into this sport - no idea. I just knew I wanted a bike and wanted to race, so I bought a bike, and I started training, and started racing. I keep coming back because I hate myself.
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  4. #4
    powered by Racer Ex gsteinb's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by furiousferret View Post
    How do you get into this sport? You just did it. My condolences.
    Fixed it for you.

  5. #5
    RacingBear UmneyDurak's Avatar
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    You register for the race, pin the number on, realize you are not as fast/fit as you thought you were (there are rare exceptions), train harder ride more, come back and realize you suck a bit less now, etc.


    Just because they were wearing the same kit doesn't really tell a whole lot. Most teams can be joined by paying yearly fee and buying a kit. The last race I was in there were bunch of people from the same team. They started great keeping the pace up, I think there was one person left form that team that was in that last 10 or so people who were there for final sprint.

    Others might disagree but to do this sport competitively you need to have some kind of weird mix of masochistic and competitive personality.

    So don't get discourage use this experience as a motivator to come back again and kick everyone's ass. You can't change other people, all you can do is just improve yourself.
    Last edited by UmneyDurak; 06-13-15 at 04:33 PM.
    I see hills.... Bring them on!!!
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    stay in it.. I enjoy your writing style.

  7. #7
    \_(ツ)_/ Ygduf's Avatar
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    the entry level to bike racing is local group rides. Find them, make friends, work on your legs and stick with it.

    I got into racing from riding double centuries. I was good at those. Friends told me I should try racing. If I had shown up to a cat 5 race in my first few months of riding I would have similarly felt like the barrier to entry is impossible. It's not, it's just taking the time to get reasonably fit and then accepting losing 95% of the time.

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  8. #8
    Senior Member grolby's Avatar
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    First off, welcome to bike racing! Congrats and condolences.

    Quote Originally Posted by ypsetihw View Post
    .Also, now for my griping, the entry level of this sport is goddamn ridiculous. The entrants to my field don't even come close to doing justice to the term "sandbaggers."

    When the "entry" level category is 20 guys, 18 of whom are in full team kit on carbon racing bikes, they are NOT IN ANY WAY ENTRY LEVEL. When, at the lineup, the other 19 guys in your field talk about how they raced the night before, and 3 times last week, and so on and so forth, ALL SUMMER, how the hell are they cat 5?! I looked into the "upgrades" on USAC and it only takes 10 race finishes to be upgraded to Cat 4, so why are ANY of these guys still in cat 5?! Because they sandbag to get "team" wins on the board, that's why. Why are teams like this even allowed to race at this level when they clearly belong at cat 4 or even cat 3 or above?! Why is there literally NOBODY in the citizen's category? I bet I can answer that question myself after today.

    Not gonna lie - this was an extremely bad experience, bordering on not fun. No wonder nobody signs up for this stuff.

    Most important to me . . . how the hell do you get into this sport?!
    As previously pointed out, you don't really have the experience to make an accurate determination of whether these riders are sandbagging or not. Based on all of my experience - probably not. Bike racing is very difficult. The level of fitness required to even be pack fodder is much, much higher than that of a typical person. A lot of people who take up racing have already been club riders, even fast club riders, for a while. In general it is a good idea to get some experience with fast group riding before jumping into a first race. When I first started road riding, I was a reasonably fit 22 year-old - or so I thought - and I had been riding regularly for commuting and touring for over two years. The first group ride I went on (NOT a race), I was out the back door as soon as we reached the end of the warm-up portion of the ride. The only thing to do was keep at it and keep riding. By fall I could hang with a group ride, I did a bunch of training (basically just riding) over the winter, and the next spring I started racing and did okay. But it took some work. And improving means still more work. It's not like a second job or anything, you can do great training in 8-12 hours a week. But you need to be consistent about it over a long enough period of time to adapt. Good luck, and try not to be too discouraged. Maybe do some more riding with groups before you try again, or try a less-challenging course like a crit or flat road race.
    The Workingman's Honest Bicycle Program - Heady talk about bikes, bike racing, bike racers and bike riding. standarddouble.com/whbp

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by spdntrxi View Post
    stay in it.. I enjoy your writing style.
    heh thanks, at least I succeeded at one thing today

  10. #10
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    thanks for all the support everyone - I was beginning to think there was no hope for me lol. you can read all you want about how heinous your first race is going to be, but nothing prepares you for the lonesome road after you get mercilessly dropped at mile marker 2 . . .

  11. #11
    \_(ツ)_/ Ygduf's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ypsetihw View Post
    heh thanks, at least I succeeded at one thing today
    though you may want to care a lot less about the bikes and clothes other people are riding/wearing. it's one thing to be intimidated or feel like you're out of place in your first race, it's another to write about those guys as if they are doing something wrong. Maybe they are club riders that decided to try out racing. Not their fault the system puts them in the 5s.

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  12. #12
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    I got into racing via what is probably the most common path: rode my bike a lot, rode with the local group rides, rode with the fast group rides, people started saying "dude you should totally race" (note: people who say that are almost never bike racers themselves), did a cat 5 race, was completely intimidated by all the guys at the start with the awesome bikes and trainers in the parking lot and bib straps hanging out, felt like a shave tail louie, finished the race wishing I had done better, kept at it trying to figure out what worked and what didn't.

    What's funny is that a lot of those exact same guys who seemed intimidating when I was a cat 5, all of 3 years ago, are now sort of embarrassing. At the entry level, there are a lot of loudmouth weekend warrior types with all the gear, who get off on playing bike racer, and the fact that it seems exclusive and intimidating is part of the appeal. As you move up through the categories, ironically people tend to become humbler and friendlier, at least in my experience.

  13. #13
    Senior Member hack's Avatar
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    I got into if about 2 years ago as follows:

    I did a lot of running a long time ago and transitioned into a pure gym guy. Wanting to tap into the endurance stuff that I was missing, I went to the local shop, himmed and hawed over bikes, bought one, and went out to the local ride. I was in "good shape" and would be totally fine. We rolled out and I hung near the back since it was my first group ride and I didn't know what was what and being near another riders wheel freaked me out. I literally knew nothing about riding other than I could ride my bike a few miles to the gym and back and feel ok. Back to the ride ... after a few miles all was well and I was hanging around and feeling good about myself. Well...that was the easy roll out to the start of the ride. Once the ride started I was off the back in less than 100m and shocked. Rode a couple miles solo then u-turned back to the car defeated.

    Sought out a couple of lesser intense group rides to get a feel for group riding and signed up for a cat 5 crit a week later. Finished near the back, kind of defeated, but content knowing that if I had raced smarter I could have done better. That was it ... hooked by the competition. Have stuck with it for the past two years and have moved up as needed.

    Moral of the story is that it gets better as your fitness improves and your comfort level improves. Stick with it, heck JOIN one of the teams you saw on the line and they'd likely expose you to some better riding options and help you feel a bit more comfortable on the line. Also, if you're on a team and you get blown out the back, no one cares.

  14. #14
    Senior Member Sailor73's Avatar
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    You should continue racing just so we can read your race reports.

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    Senior Member Looigi's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by spdntrxi View Post
    stay in it.. I enjoy your writing style.
    tl;dr
    Eschew simplistic dogma.

  16. #16
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    'Fit' and 'Race fit' are two completely different things, and you've learned the difference. There are 50km group rides, and then there are 'competitive' training rides. It sounds to me like you're doing the former. Fast training rides mimic race conditions for periods of time, but will have re-group spots before starting another hammer session. Try to find some of those if you can. You *will* be dropped at first. But hopefully each time you last longer before being dropped, until you stopped being dropped. Then start working towards actually doing work during the ride, bridging gaps, contesting sprints etc.

    ETA: And you don't need a $11,000 bike to race Cat 4/5. People can buy into the sport: you're not seeing quality, you're seeing people with deep pockets. They didn't 'earn' those bikes, they bought them. Don't read into someone being on a fancy bike with a team kit. I've seen people like that who get dropped every time. Being on a team in Cat 4/5 means nothing. It's great, don't get me wrong, but don't think they're super fit and know what they're doing. They're NOT sandbagging. You're just not race fit. They are (or are more fit).

    Racing for the first time shows you who you are. It's up to you to see who you can be.
    Last edited by canuckbelle; 06-14-15 at 07:15 AM.

  17. #17
    Blast from the Past Voodoo76's Avatar
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    And it never gets any easier, just faster. (Most of the dudes in the 1/2 field that lapped you probably felt just as bad up the climb).

    Interesting points regarding Cat 5. When some of us started that did not exist. There were Citizen races, and if you licensed you were a 4. So the wanna be's moved on quickly. Clubs shouldered responsibility for getting riders started, rather than existing just to field Professional Cat 5 Masters teams.

    Opportunities to "Race" in mid week events are invaluable if there are local clubs running any. Usually a little easier at the lower levels depending on how they split things up.
    Last edited by Voodoo76; 06-14-15 at 07:53 AM.

  18. #18
    Packfodding 3 caloso's Avatar
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    I got into bike racing because I was doing triathlons and I started working out with a guy who was a long time bike racer who had taken time off but was getting back into masters racing. He suggested that I go on the local Saturday group ride. I did, and got dropped like a hot rock. Again, the difference between fit and race fit.

    I kept doing the Saturday ride and after I could hang on more or less consistently, I signed up for a a race.
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    I guess sandbagging was a little overzealous of me, I was just frustrated at the time. Now that 24 hours have gone by I'm actually pretty happy about the outcome. It was a really cool experience and I guess I just haven't been humbled like that in a long time. Deep pockets around here for sure, but that's no excuse I guess. No real reason to be intimidated by how someone looks for sure, I know with snowboarding every tourist out there had $1000 setup and I could ride circles around them on rental equipment.

    How do the old sayings go? "If you want to ride fast, ride fast" or "you don't need to ride upgrades, you need to ride up grades."

    I did actually sign up for the citizen's race, but nobody else showed up, and I knew it would be a stretch riding out with the cat 5s. I just didn't think I would have my world blow that far open lol The bar seems incredibly high for entry, and I like the suggestion of trying an easier course next time, or finding a citizen's race that actually has some entrants.

    Yeah so far the "training" I thought I was doing was clearly equivalent to a quick weekend recreational ride. My local club buffalobicycling.com actually does a bunch of mid-week rides and race training days, and they even offer mock racing with mentoring on the fly, which is probably a great place to start. Also I found out one of the shops that had several teams out yesterday does a group ride on Tuesday nights that has 3 levels, with the top tier being essentially race pace, and the middle group riding around what sounds like my ability level. Definitely gonna check it out.

  20. #20
    Packfodding 3 caloso's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ypsetihw View Post
    I guess sandbagging was a little overzealous of me, I was just frustrated at the time. Now that 24 hours have gone by I'm actually pretty happy about the outcome. It was a really cool experience and I guess I just haven't been humbled like that in a long time. Deep pockets around here for sure, but that's no excuse I guess. No real reason to be intimidated by how someone looks for sure, I know with snowboarding every tourist out there had $1000 setup and I could ride circles around them on rental equipment.

    How do the old sayings go? "If you want to ride fast, ride fast" or "you don't need to ride upgrades, you need to ride up grades."

    I did actually sign up for the citizen's race, but nobody else showed up, and I knew it would be a stretch riding out with the cat 5s. I just didn't think I would have my world blow that far open lol The bar seems incredibly high for entry, and I like the suggestion of trying an easier course next time, or finding a citizen's race that actually has some entrants.

    Yeah so far the "training" I thought I was doing was clearly equivalent to a quick weekend recreational ride. My local club buffalobicycling.com actually does a bunch of mid-week rides and race training days, and they even offer mock racing with mentoring on the fly, which is probably a great place to start. Also I found out one of the shops that had several teams out yesterday does a group ride on Tuesday nights that has 3 levels, with the top tier being essentially race pace, and the middle group riding around what sounds like my ability level. Definitely gonna check it out.
    Doing these rides sounds like a great idea. And I will just repeat, don't worry about the equipment. It's true that you see some ridiculously expensive bikes in Cat 5 races, but I have a feeling that a lot of those guys buy super bikes out of insecurity and, frankly, ignorance. Ignorance of the fact that the most important thing is the engine. If your wheels spin, your brakes stop, and your gears shift, your bike is fine.

    As for teams, if you're already on a club you should see if there are other cat 5 racers in your club and start working out and racing with them. That's the fun part.
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    I find that mindset gets people pretty far in just about any area of expertise. Approaching things with curiosity, humility, reflection, and the angle of continuous improvement (eg. there is something to learn on just about every ride) facilitates rapid gains and enjoyment in everything from fitness to tactics to social aspects.

  22. #22
    Senior Member wens's Avatar
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    Was this hamburg road race? Cool course, I did it last year, but that thing is pretty much up and down a hill, so...not the gentlest introduction to racing you could have gotten.
    Do you think we're gonna make it? / I don't know unless we try \ you could sit here scared to move / or we could take them by surprise

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    Quote Originally Posted by wens View Post
    Was this hamburg road race? Cool course, I did it last year, but that thing is pretty much up and down a hill, so...not the gentlest introduction to racing you could have gotten.
    Yeah it was Hamburg! I don't ride a lot of hills but I figured I'd be fine when I looked at the topo . . . I did "fine" for as far as I was concerned (kept my cadence up, kept moving, wasn't totally gasping) on the rolling climbs in the first few miles, even though I had been dropped by then, but that big slope in the middle basically slapped me in the face haha. Humbling and definitely not an "easy" race course.

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    Quote Originally Posted by ypsetihw View Post
    Yeah it was Hamburg! I don't ride a lot of hills but I figured I'd be fine when I looked at the topo . . . I did "fine" for as far as I was concerned (kept my cadence up, kept moving, wasn't totally gasping) on the rolling climbs in the first few miles, even though I had been dropped by then, but that big slope in the middle basically slapped me in the face haha. Humbling and definitely not an "easy" race course.
    I still remember my first college crit at Cal Poly SLO... damn little kickers behind the red brick dorms.. after 5-6 laps I was cooked and OTB. Got pulled soon after and I thought I was in pretty good shape...riding and training with team pretty often....as long a being a mediocre engineering student would allow that is.

  25. #25
    Senior Member Edonis13's Avatar
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    Subscribe to the YouTube channel "SprinterDellaCasa" and watch his videos. He does an outstanding job of explaining what he's doing and why he's doing it.

    He also posts on here and has a blog with lots of information for new racers.

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