Don't focus on average speed. Train for your top speed and max effort (interval above LT or sub-LT). If you fail to bridge the gap after cresting over a hill because you can't hold at your max speed at max effort, your race is pretty much over. It gets worst if you are at the back of the pack.
For training alone, I'll pull a number out of a bodily orifice and say, if you can motor along with a 20-21mph average for an hour ride, you're in good enough shape to do it if you want. There are really too many variables to come up with a real number.
But R600 nailed it. Riding along in a pack at 27mph is probably easier than 21 mph solo. You have to be able to hang on, or even bridge up, when they drop the hammer.
Based on my extensive experience (1 whole race), I'd say if you want to, try it! It'll cost ya entrance fee and 1 day license, probably about $30, total. Find out what you can about it from racer friends. (Do you ever ride with a club?) If you're nervous, hang out near the middle or back and plan on trying to learn. If you don't burn up the road, at least try to get with a group and do your best. It's a gas! Only 3 guys are going to end up on the podium. Fugetaboutit. The fun is in the doing. And if you really don't like the way things are going, you can bail. Even the strong guys do it if they blow or are having a bad day... I didn't see anybody dishing out ridicule over that.
I'm on a team of masters and cat 4's, some of whom race Cat 1 ann win. Good group of guys. They've been really helpful. I've been on two rides with them, the first was fine except they dropped me on the hills and then waited for me at the top. In the second one the guys were putting the hammer down in an echelon and after about 25 miles I peeled off to do some interval/recovery (their ride was like a 1 hour straight 185BPM blister). I've done one race so far, a 20 mile deal on a 2.5mi lap with one 300M long hill. I hung out about 2/3 of the way back and was fine there except for on the hill. On the hill I was 100% max output and then some and then worked my tush off for 50 yards each time afterwards not to get dropped when my legs were like jello. I finished somewhere in the main peloton - there were no major breakaways in that race. I had been training hard for this season for about 4 weeks. I'm now 7 weeks into my training.
So then I went to the hills for training. Making sure to take good recovery days, I did some long 40-80 mile hill rides. When doing lots of hills, I manage to average in the high 18s on my own. When I ride flatter courses, I can do 19s and maybe even a low 20s average if I put the hammer down. I do intervals of 5 minutes where I just go like hell in 175-190BPM range, then take it back down to 150s. My speeds have improved drastically in the past three weeks, as well as my hill-climbing. I also recover faster. My concern is that everyone else will get a lot better all season and every race for me will be like the last one where I was hanging on for dear life on the hills. I am registered for one race this weekend and another next weekend. Both are considered fairly hilly.
Doh! I assumed you were asking because you were considering racing!
Sounds to me like you're on the right track. The racing and group training rides will definitely drive you to work harder than you can alone. You're allowing for recovery... that's the hard one. Aside from that, you can't force it... development takes time. 7 weeks isn't long, in the great scheme of things. All that's left is consistancy and patience. I'd say by the end of the summer you'll see significant improvements.
Interestingly enough, I just did my second race today. This one was very hilly. In fact, it started on a massive hill that was followed in short order by two others. 3 8-mile laps of this.
Big lesson learned, and it has 1/2 to do with what fubar and roadbuzz were saying. The other half was knowing when to pick my battles: you have to have the power when you need it and it doesn't matter how fast you can cruise. There were 50 guys up the hill, so I took it easy since I felt strong. Then I find myself leading on the flat a chase group. What! So now I'm doing all work. I figure this chase group will surely catch so instead of bridging the 50 ft gap I settle in to the chase. I was afraid the bridging would doom me on the hill 300M away. Well, turns out my whole chase group just got more and more doomed. About 5 peeled behind, 2 I think dropped out and so I was lift with like 4 other guys. I tried to get a couple of them together to work, but one was weak and one was determined to be a hot shot. So the rest of the race I was pretty much on my own. I only finished a minute or two behind the main peloton, and didnt' get caught by the women 4s and men5 over 30s that were 5 minutes behind. I rode 21.1MPM average, which is blistering for me solo, but, hey, that's not all that matters. I talked to a couple of upper team mates after the ride and got better advice on sprint/hill training. I've got to hit the hills harder with interval/recovery sessions. I preregistered for an even hillier ride next week. Let's hope I don't get dropped, but I think that one has a 100 rider field vs. today's 50. Racing is great training if nothing else. I think the 50 that did show up were good riders because it is known as a pretty hill course.
I was there today doing the PRO,1,2. As some of you may remember, I fractured my hand two and a half weeks ago, and didn't get a bike untill thursday, so I'm severly undertrained, and that race today was a shock to my system. Plus there were 2 Prime Aliance riders, 2 7-UP riders, 3 West Virginia Riders, 1 Navigators, and 5 Sportsbook.com riders. Plus all the elite-amateur teams. A LOT OF STRONG GUYS! Anyway, I got kicked around pretty badly... oh well. We had to do ten laps.
Flyfisher: To put some things in perspective, the hills today were not that big, but that start finish climb WAS unusually steep. You won't encounter many climbs that are that sharp, most stuff is more gradual like the seccond climb on the course. Next week at SUNAPEE (which is what you're talking about right?) there isn't anything nearly as steep as that start finish climb, but there are climbs which are significantly longer than anything that was on the course today. Plus, at Sunapee, the finish is at the top of a reasonable sized climb -- longer than anything you saw today. I don't mean to be discouraging, Sunapee is a great race that's a lot of fun, just letting you know. Anyway, it's going to take a lot of practice climbing hard to get better at climbing. Most of the roads in the Sunapee race are pretty major -- it's not as technical a race as today's, and climbs, although longer and more frequent, are not too steep. I'll see you there!
The race I'm at next week will actually be North Stonington, CT. Do you know it?
The steep climbs are the ones that usually get lactic levels up there. The longer climbs you speak of I can probably do ok on since I don't get so jelloed. Most of my hill training recently has been on more gradual hills.
Anyway, today is back to training with hill intervals and sprints. Hope you get back into it soon. I did a feed during your race for my teammates. Some of those guys were flying up that steep hill on the big chainring. Friggin amazing.
96' DeRose SLX, '04 Cervelo P2K, ~'80 Schwin converted to fixie, '04 Jamis Nova
I have race reports and datalogs of my races (Cat 5) this year on my site. Saturday was Cat's Hill and that has a 23% climb in it. That was a ton of fun to race up.
Training for only 7 weeks, boy that is tough. I have only been riding since late last year and started racing this year. Most people say you need to ride for a few years before you start racing. Oh well, I have fun on my cyclocross bike.
I rode a lot last year. And I did ride over the winter, but not much. I started serious training 8 weeks ago. The two races I did have taught me a lot. I know where my weaknesses are now and I have a taste for the psychological and physical demands of racing.