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Cat 5 RR at Tour de Ephrata or, “Postcards from the Back of the Peloton”

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Cat 5 RR at Tour de Ephrata or, “Postcards from the Back of the Peloton”

Old 04-29-07, 08:29 PM
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Cat 5 RR at Tour de Ephrata or, “Postcards from the Back of the Peloton”

Caution: The following contains profanity, adult situations, something called “being dropped”, and also a fair degree of melodrama and self-pity.


Well, I looked the part. Had on my new bibs and jersey from my new team. Sweeet.

I did a good warmup on the trainer in the parking lot, which was somewhat undermined by the fact that the race started about 20 minutes late. We Cat 5’s felt pretty edgy lining up for the start, as this delay was caused by a crash loudly proclaimed as “horrific” by the race announcer. Nothing soothes the nerves before your third race in your entire life like blood, ambulances and the sound of gnashing metal and carbon in the race immediately before yours.

So I am sitting there with plenty of time before the start and I decide to conduct the same pre-race analysis of the competition that I have done in my two prior races. I start with the number of total entries in the race (in this case 51). Then I subtract 1 for each guy: a) wearing a Dark Side of the Moon jersey; b) wearing jean shorts; or c) talking to another rider about home brewing beer. This calculation provides a somewhat effective estimate of my finishing place.

NOTE TO READER: I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking: some of those Dark Side of the Moon/Home Brew guys probably kicked his ass. Well, you’re wrong about that, but I certainly admit it could’ve happened and that you can’t judge a book by its cover.

And the other thing is this: for every rider with their number pinned on backwards to a t-shirt with a picture of Bob Marley smoking a huge spliff, there are like TWENTY quote-unquote “CAT 5s” with full team kit, Zipp 404’s, high zoot carbon bikes and power meters. So I am looking at one of these guys lining up, who has like 2 % body fat, calves like Emmitt Smith (the Dallas Cowboys Emmitt Smith, not the “Dancing with the Stars” Emmitt Smith), and he’s riding a Colnago Extreme Power or something with an SRM (what, a Powertap is not good enough for you Mr. “Beginner”?) and I am thinking to myself: “ON WHAT F*CK*NG PLANET IS THIS GUY A CAT 5?”.

OK, so the race starts and I am feeling pretty good. I got clipped in nice and quick. I did not immediately feel like I had to urinate or vomit. All bodily fluids were happy to remain in place for the time being.

Now it is about 2 miles in and I am comfortable in the pack. This feels the same as my nice, pleasant first race ever (at Quicksilver) did, in which I never really felt under pressure. After that race I had thought “what’s the big deal about bike racing, I can definitely do this. What is all this about people saying bike racing is so hard?”

Ah, what a happy idiot I was after that first race.

But back to Ephrata. Where did I leave off? Oh yes, I was comfortable in the pack.

And then the other shoe dropped. All of the sudden, we went from about 22-23 miles per hour to about 26-28. And it was windy boys and girls. Don’t forget that it was windy.

I had stupidly let myself drift toward the back half of the pack before this acceleration (although I don’t really think it would have mattered in the end) and then all of the sudden everyone up front is just killing it (at least it felt that way to me).

Over a 3-4 minute period I keep hanging on, being stunned, stupid by the pace. Shock and Awe.

I keep looking down at my Powertap and I am going up and down from about 280 watts to 600+ during this 3-4 minute period. I keep thinking: “WHO ARE THESE BASTARDS? WHO ARE THESE SO-CALLED, BEGINNER- F*CK*NG RACERS UP FRONT THAT CAN HOLD THIS PACE?”

I know I am good for about 4 minutes of this 300+ watts SH*T and then I need to get back into the 200-250 range or I am cooked.

But they don’t slow down. No. No. No. No. No. THEY ARE NOT SLOWING DOWN.

In fact, they are pulling away.

Someone is slowing down. But it is not them. It is me.

Just to finish the picture: those next few minutes in this situation are dark moments for the soul. I have an unusually vivid and critical inner voice at times like this. Here is a little sample of my internal happy-talk for the next few minutes:
- “You’re a poseur”
- “You should be riding Potomac Pedalers “CC” rides.”
- “What is the point of doing this?”
- “How much can I get for my team kits on e-Bay”

But my worst thought, the one that keeps repeating in my head, is this: How can I have ridden 1600 miles so far this year, 5-6 days a week, done lots of base miles and structured intervals, suffered for hours on end, and still not be able to keep up with the pack in this Cat 5 race? How can I try so hard at a sport and still suck? If I played basketball 10 hours a week (my sport during my 20s and 30s), I would freakin’ DOMINATE. But this is really a whole different kettle of fish.

One of the things that I think is really, really cool about bike riding is that in these kinds of situations when you get dropped, the question is: Was it a failure of WILL or a failure of the body?

At the time when I am going through it, I think it is clearly a failure of the body, of physical fitness. In retrospect, I always end up thinking it was a failure of WILL—that I could have stayed on if I had just had the WILL.

Awwwlright so now the OK part. The happy ending so to speak. I hooked up with two other dropped riders, both of whom were a little bit stronger than me but not much. I promised myself that if I could stick with these guys for the next 20 miles and ride hard, that I would feel at least OK about the race. And the three of us never cruised or dropped anchor. We rode hard and we caught and passed about 4 or 5 other people that had been dropped by the pack. We averaged about 20.5 miles per hour for the remaining hour, with my wattage at about 225 normalized.

Yeah so 20.5 mph is not that great. Did I mention it was windy?

Lots of guys who got dropped just quit. In the end, I finished 33rd of 51. 38 guys finished.

For you power geeks:

Race:
Duration: 1:12:27
Work: 907 kJ
TSS: 115 (intensity factor 0.976)
Norm Power: 231
Distance: 25.289 mi

Min Max Avg
Power: 0 738 209 watts
Cadence: 31 118 95 rpm
Speed: 9.2 32.8 20.9 mph


Lessons learned:

1. I have to figure out a way across the fitness gap between me and actual racers.
2. I’m not as strong as I thought I would be based on the amount of training I have done. This is a depressing thought.
2. If I was 10 pounds lighter, maybe I could’ve stayed on.
3. Don’t be fooled by a slow pace for the first mile or two and don’t carelessly drift back through the pack. If I had been closer to the front when the hammer dropped, maybe I would’ve had a better chance of hanging on.
4. In the end, I was actually pretty happy about the race, and the work I did with my little grupetto. If I had pulled in after the first or second lap I would have been really mad at myself.
5. I had a smile on my face the entire rest of the day. Happy Idiot….
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Old 04-29-07, 09:05 PM
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first of all you had me laughing out loud several times while reading this post.

I really think you just need to do more race pace group rides. Start going to hains points during lunch if you can like you alluded too earlier. You can do all the solo training you want but there are some things you just cant prepare for on your own.

Youve only raced THREE times so dont be soo damn hard on yourself.

This was obviously a tough race seeing were our one really strong friend ended up finishing. I dont think you have anything to be ashamed of.

thanks for the report.
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Old 04-29-07, 09:27 PM
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Nice race report - hang in there, it will get easier.

And, you might want to refrain from making fun of people in Cat 5 races with nice bikes and an SRM when you have a power tap and got dropped by a bunch of Cat 5's. I'm just sayin'.
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Old 04-29-07, 09:33 PM
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Originally Posted by cmh

And, you might want to refrain from making fun of people in Cat 5 races with nice bikes and an SRM when you have a power tap and got dropped by a bunch of Cat 5's. I'm just sayin'.
Yeah I hear ya'. It was purely for comedy.
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Old 04-30-07, 04:17 AM
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Keep at it, don't get discouraged. I raced a few races with those same guys you were racing with. I just moved up to the 4's. There are a lot of strong cat5's this year. I train with a lot of 3's,2's and some elites so I thought I would be able to smoke all the cat5's this year. Not so, I did fairly well before moving up but I didn't smoke everyone. Like you said, you can't judge a book by it's cover. A lot of guys have high $$ bikes with carbon wheels and can't race for $hit, some have mismatch kits and race unattached and will smoke you.

The BBC guys and the racers from Guy's and pretty strong, they weren't there at ephrata but there is a handful of Shirk's guys who race the cat5 races in lancaster/SE PA and they are good. If you race with them, stick on their wheel also the human zoom guys as well.

Your report was entertaining and I enjoyed it but keep at it and you will get better.
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Old 04-30-07, 05:02 AM
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Nice report, Ghostman... Stick with it, and it'll get better. Don't give up on your training or anything just yet.

And yeah, there's some serious sandbaggin' going on in Cat 5 around here. I'm always impressed at how many "regulars" there are in the 5's who have been doing it for multiple seasons. I guess there are plenty of sandbaggers in the 4's too, but for some reason that's more tolerable.

That was really entertaining to read, Ghostman... keep your chin up!
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Old 04-30-07, 05:16 AM
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Don't postcards always have pictures?

Where are the pictures?
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Old 04-30-07, 07:09 AM
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Great report Ghostman! It's a hard, cruel sport. Keep at it, set incremental goals for yourself, and you'll improve.

I note - this is the 2nd report I've read this a.m. where the racer wrote about riding in the back 1/3 of the pack (Guitar Wizard, I believe wrote that), and yours stating you allowed yourself to drift toward the back of the pack. Both finished OTB, think there's a correlation?
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Old 04-30-07, 07:11 AM
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Originally Posted by MDcatV
Great report Ghostman! It's a hard, cruel sport. Keep at it, set incremental goals for yourself, and you'll improve.

I note - this is the 2nd report I've read this a.m. where the racer wrote about riding in the back 1/3 of the pack (Guitar Wizard, I believe wrote that), and yours stating you allowed yourself to drift toward the back of the pack. Both finished OTB, think there's a correlation?
One of the wise old BF racers once gave the advice that if you see one person move ahead of you in the pack you should move ahead of 3 more because you probably just didn't see the other guys. This seems to ring true... Sorry I forgot who to credit with that advice.
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Old 04-30-07, 07:44 AM
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Originally Posted by Ghostman
But my worst thought, the one that keeps repeating in my head, is this: How can I have ridden 1600 miles so far this year, 5-6 days a week, done lots of base miles and structured intervals, suffered for hours on end, and still not be able to keep up with the pack in this Cat 5 race? How can I try so hard at a sport and still suck?
Nice report. I hear ya. That's the exact feeling I got but mine was in a training race ! After getting dropped, I thought how can this happen as I put in a lot of those base miles and intervals over the off season. Same thing happened in the second training race, got dropped. Crashed out in my third race and was out for six weeks. I will be starting to ride again sometime this week and hopefully start racing again this weekend.
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Old 04-30-07, 07:54 AM
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Originally Posted by snhrider
Nice report. I hear ya. That's the exact feeling I got but mine was in a training race ! After getting dropped, I thought how can this happen as I put in a lot of those base miles and intervals over the off season. Same thing happened in the second training race, got dropped. Crashed out in my third race and was out for six weeks. I will be starting to ride again sometime this week and hopefully start racing again this weekend.
Keep me posted on how it goes. I am glad to know I am not the only one....
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Old 04-30-07, 06:15 PM
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Seriously man, I am right there with you. Especially the part about thinking you are physically dying during the race, then afterwards realizing you could have continued and indeed survived.
Had that happen last week myself. I am most happy with my race, regardless of results, if I honestly tell myself I gave it what I physicaly had.
I am in my first real season as well, and have come to realize that MANY of the fast 5's pushing the pace are far from their first season. Returning racers, tri-athletes and just plain sand-baggers litter the damn race. I have been told, and try to remind myself, that the fiirst season is mainly about building a base of fitness and experience for the next seasons.
Some conclusions I seem to be reaching:

-dont drift to the back any time by choice. If you can hang with the pace, stay in the front half. That way, the guy in front of you getting gapped wont kill the race for you.

-Hold on as much as possible the first few attacks/laps. Other people are suffering as well, and the attacks will calm down at some point, unless they are cat2 ringers.

-I am coming to realize the tolerance of pain and baing comfortable with it, is equal importance as fitness (maybe more). This is one place the more experienced guys seem to have an edge.

-In general, your fitness is probably less a factor in any regards, than is readily apparent in a race.

I try to set incremental goals for myself. Mainly, just to at least as good as before, not necessarily as far as results, but just as far as putting together what I am learning.
Mainly, just have fun and remember "this too shall pass" (when feeling on the verge of passing out).
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Old 04-30-07, 10:49 PM
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Originally Posted by cacatfish
-dont drift to the back any time by choice. If you can hang with the pace, stay in the front half. That way, the guy in front of you getting gapped wont kill the race for you.
this is huge. you have to really want it though. it can be so easy to settle on a wheel and then realize that guy is fading too. you have to want to stay in it enough to find through that pain and keep advancing.
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Old 05-01-07, 09:05 AM
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Love this post! My sentiments exactly...

First of all, please keep in mind there are TONS of Cat 5 sandbaggers (myself included.. hey at least I admit it). heh

My one observance... is your mileage to date. 1,600 miles isn't very much. That's approximately 100 miles a week on average.

Last year I was pumping out 800-1,200 miles a MONTH... or 200-250 miles a week. The mileage isn't really all that important, but the "time" spent on the bike is.

I still got dropped pretty often in my Cat 5 races...

I would suggest doing some weekly *FAST* club rides with your local LBS... the one I frequent has mostly Cat 2s and 3s and I get dropped almost every ride (because these types of rides simulate racing with LOTS of accelerations well into the low to mid 30 mph range). I got alot faster riding with these guys and as a result, I did much better in my races late last year.

Train with other riders who are clearly faster/more experienced than you and you will definately improve quicker...

Good luck with the rest of your season!
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Old 05-01-07, 09:15 AM
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1) don't look at the PT until after the race. Odds are you'll have to do more watts, and for longer than you think you can. Thinking about it just makes it worse, and too easy to give in.

2) realize everyone else is suffering, and there's a point you have to get past where it lets up and gets easier. It sounds like you're very close to hanging, and if you can just survive that initial acceleration, it does get easier.

3) little more practice and you'll get more efficient in the pack and hanging will be easier.

4) concentrate on some short extremely intense intervals to train to deal with the surges.

A little perseverence and you'll be fine.
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Old 05-01-07, 11:35 AM
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Originally Posted by DrPete
One of the wise old BF racers once gave the advice that if you see one person move ahead of you in the pack you should move ahead of 3 more because you probably just didn't see the other guys. This seems to ring true... Sorry I forgot who to credit with that advice.
Sounds like Cleave....
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Old 05-01-07, 11:40 AM
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Vino got dropped his first two races.
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Old 05-01-07, 12:02 PM
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Originally Posted by Vinokurtov
Vino got dropped his first two races.
Since I have been dropped twice now, I guess the pressure is on me for the next race!!!!
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Old 05-01-07, 03:05 PM
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Originally Posted by Ghostman
Since I have been dropped twice now, I guess the pressure is on me for the next race!!!!
By the third race you should be figuring out positioning. Couple of things I found helpful to keep from getting dropped:

Try to keep in that front 1/2 or 1/3. Sometimes it's better to be in the wind a bit to make that happen then deal with gaps.

Keep your focus up the road on the front group. It'll let you anticipate the surges when they come and not get gapped.

If you know who some of the stronger guys are, try to grab their wheel. One of the things I'm constantly doing in a race is checking what the strong guys are doing and where they are at.
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Old 05-01-07, 03:14 PM
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Nice report. Your sentaments ring loud and clear with me.
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Old 05-01-07, 03:20 PM
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Originally Posted by Ghostman
Just to finish the picture: those next few minutes in this situation are dark moments for the soul. I have an unusually vivid and critical inner voice at times like this. Here is a little sample of my internal happy-talk for the next few minutes:
- “You’re a poseur”
- “You should be riding Potomac Pedalers “CC” rides.”
- “What is the point of doing this?”
- “How much can I get for my team kits on e-Bay”
Make no mistake - we've all been there! Heck, I've been there on tough training rides! BTW, your post had me laughing aloud - several times.

I did the TdE last year. What a great 2-day 3 stage event. I'm sure you're still smiling.

... Brad
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Old 05-01-07, 03:49 PM
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The three races youve done so far have each been so much different then the other too so its hard to compare your results to each one. As you do more, similiar, and closer together races they will get easier.
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Old 05-02-07, 03:43 PM
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Hey sounds like me with road races. Actually, my race last weekend was almost the same as yours. I babied a cramp and lost the pack figuring I could catch back on. Whoops.
I'm much better at positioning with crits (even though I usually mess up the sprint).
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