Originally Posted by lostnumber
I am a first season racer/transfer from 3 years in triathlons. I was told by a friend that competitive cycling even at CAT 5 is a different world than triathlons. He was not kidding! So far 2 road races under my belt and both are DNF. The typical ride for an hour in pack (super fun!) then eventually getting chewed up and spit out the back on the hills. I am disappointed and expected too much for my first season. So far, not a stellar season and I am incredibly discouraged but as I see it I love biking too much to drop it. So it'll mean train harder, drop what weight I can, and *cough* find a team to join*cough*.
Anyway enough of my diatribe. I'd like to hear about your early days in racing. What were they like? What hurdles did you overcome? What kept you motivated?
Congrats on dipping your toes into the mass start racing world.
When I started racing I was super skinny, super light, 15 years old. At 17 I was 103 lbs. My friend in high school who advised me on cycling nicknamed me "Van Impe", after one of the few pure climbers that won the Tour. Of course I couldn't climb, I couldn't TT, and he could out sprint me, so I wasn't sure what my future held. I enjoyed trying though and with the local club (Cat 3s, 4s, equal to maybe a 3-4-5 group now), I was good enough to partake in some of the moves. That encouraged me to keep at it.
My first race I was 4th through the first turn. I'd read about the importance of clipping in so I practiced it. I didn't really understand just how fast races went so I was in a low gear (for "good acceleration") and accelerated off the line like a scalded cat. After the first turn, about 50 meters into the race, I stayed in my low gear for "the hill". Every other Junior slammed it into their Junior gear limit, the 53x15, and sprinted up the thing. I was in a 42x21 and was dead last at the second turn and only because everyone couldn't pass me until then (short hill, maybe 100m, and about 50-80 riders). I never tagged onto the field and they rode away from me. I think I got pulled in 5 laps.
The other big factor was the competition. Junior races are open fields so all categories. George Hincapie was the local Junior hotshot. As much as a Cat 5 race might hurt, Junior races are absolutely merciless because they are open to all categories. Hincapie was already a stellar Cat 2 or 1. He could go at any time and there were a good half dozen others who would try to mark him, "good" meaning they were national level racers themselves. For almost three years my races consisted of wondering if Hincapie would be there (or all the other really strong 2s/1s) and wondering if I could hang in. I rarely hung in. I never finished a RR in the group (ever), and in one race one of the other hotshots (Pat Morrissey) lapped us solo on a 5 km circuit. I was close to last in the TTs. I was getting schooled every time I lined up for a race, but I was getting schooled by some really good riders.
Then, at the end of my third season of racing (last race of the year?), I entered a Cat 4 race. It was night and day difference because there were no Cat 1s, 2s, or 3s, no Hincapies, no Frank McCormack (future Saturn pro but the current Junior hotshot at the time). I won every prime and I won the race. I entered the collegiate B races. I won one in the fall, got second in another in the fall. I entered the B (Cat 3-4) training race next spring. Led out my teammate to a decisive victory in the first one. In the second it was a points race. I won all but one sprint (got 3rd in the halfway because a 2 man break went immediately after the prior sprint; I caught them just after the line). I got upgraded to Cat 3 that day.
Since then my results have been more normal. I can place if the race suits me. I typically can't finish if it doesn't.
My approach to racing is to do the best I can on whatever race day, given my fitness/preparation/etc. In some years I have more training/time/energy for racing. Single or with a gf that went to all the races with me. Or later, with the Missus who enjoys going to races. In other years, not so much. Work, family, etc. Sometimes my goal is to be the first across the line on the first lap (those are the races where I realistically can't make more than 5-10 laps). In others I'm trying to win. Yet others it's just doing the best field sprint I can. Or work on bridging gaps. Etc.
I usually have some long term goal for the year. In some years I purposely don't set any goals when I think other things are more important (like when we expected to have a child or when my mom was sick). I have vague long term goals, meaning 5 or 10 years in the future.
I started racing in 1983. I had my best years from about 1986-1997, and at best I was an outside threat to place in a flat Cat 3 race. From 2000-2003 my mom was really sick, eventually succumbing to cancer in fall 2003. By then I was 215 lbs. Incredibly, with one day of riding in about 20 days, I won the Cat 3 Crit gold medal in 2002. In 2003 I promised my mom (who only had a few weeks left) to win it again for her, "after", and I did, in 2006
(not a great clip due to non-wide angle lens), by placing 3rd but being the first CT rider across the line. I also won the Bethel Spring Series, which I also promised her I'd do, in 2005
. Although active after that my best year was in 2010, when I finally managed to upgrade to a Cat 2. I downgraded the next year as we wanted to start a family (Junior arrived in March 2012). I've been marginally competitive since 2011.
I never won a summer race, only fall or spring ones. They are usually easier for me since I'm closer to the others' fitness levels. In the summer I'm usually pretty far off since most of the other riders are much more talented than me. I understand this after trying to get better for all those years.
No two races are the same. You can enter a race the same course, racing most of the same racers, and things will end up completely differently. For me that's the Bethel Spring Series, a race I promote. 6-7 weeks of racing, many of the same racers, on the same course, and my results vary wildly.
Races are extremely tactical, at least for me. I am thinking all the time, sometimes while I'm at my limit physically. It's that which appeals to me, to be in a tactical situation requiring immediate decisions while under duress. Maybe it's like playing a tactical video game? Or doing paintball? I've done the former, not the latter.
Racing for me also allows me to express myself, through videos, the blog, here at BF. I'm definitely in the second half of my racing life and I don't know how much longer I'll be racing. 10 years? 15 years? To me that's not very long.