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Road Cycling “It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them. Thus you remember them as they actually are, while in a motor car only a high hill impresses you, and you have no such accurate remembrance of country you have driven through as you gain by riding a bicycle.” -- Ernest Hemingway

Cycling events question

Old 12-09-10, 10:03 PM
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Cycling events question

I'm planning to do some upcoming crtis and road races in the southern California area but was wondering about competition levels. My only race experience is running 5-10K fun-runs (running races, not cycling). I usually finish somewhere near the middle of the pack. You see all kinds of people out there...some just walking, some running like it's the Olympics. Anyway, how intense are cycling races? I assume I'd have to register as a Cat V and at 42 I guess I'd be considered a "Master". I'm in decent shape but haven't been riding very long. I don't even have a proper kit.

I ask because I once did a 1 1/2 mile swim race across Pensacola Bay thinking "I'm a pretty good swimmer, I can do this." I came in second to last...they had to send a guy out in a boat to make sure I didn't drown. The guy I beat was 72 years old. I don't want to embarass myself again like that. What kind of skill does a middle of the pack Cat V guy have?
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Old 12-09-10, 10:26 PM
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Based on my experience, So Cal is one of the more competitive regions. Decent fitness is a bare minimum. If you don't have any experience riding in a fast and close-quarters pack, I suggest you get some before the season starts. Find out what the local hammer ride is in your area and do it. Hang out near the back until you feel comfortable enough (and strong enough) to move around. Start reading up on specific training routines. Joel Friel's Cyclist's Training Bible is a good start.

Finally, remember that many people get dropped on their first race. It's just something you can't prepare for without just jumping in for the experience. The biggest downer of bicycle racing is that once you're dropped from the pack, you're pretty much done.
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Old 12-09-10, 10:36 PM
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Originally Posted by urbanknight View Post
Based on my experience, So Cal is one of the more competitive regions. Decent fitness is a bare minimum. If you don't have any experience riding in a fast and close-quarters pack, I suggest you get some before the season starts. Find out what the local hammer ride is in your area and do it. Hang out near the back until you feel comfortable enough (and strong enough) to move around. Start reading up on specific training routines. Joel Friel's Cyclist's Training Bible is a good start.

Finally, remember that many people get dropped on their first race. It's just something you can't prepare for without just jumping in for the experience. The biggest downer of bicycle racing is that once you're dropped from the pack, you're pretty much done.
In a Cat V/IV race I kind of assumed there would be people spread out all over the place since they are all slow or noobs, more like a 5K fun-run.
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Old 12-09-10, 10:42 PM
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PG- Are you in? Pendleton is nice this time of year.

Anyway, your best bet is to hook up with one (or more) of the local cycling clubs. Try SDBC or Swami's or whatever. Go on their weekend rides. That is actually a pretty fair semblance of a IV/V race. At least it was last I was there.

At any rate, the club dudes will be able to gauge your fitness and get you some help.

-Z
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Old 12-09-10, 10:44 PM
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Spread out and disorganized noobs does not happen here in So Cal. The learning curve is pretty quick, and people stay Cat 5 longer than they really should (sandbagging). Leadout trains and other professional techniques aren't very common at that level (but they do happen), but pack rotation, rubbing elbows, and other factors are all too real.

One thing to remember is that if you go off the back, you might not see someone behind you, but that doesn't mean you're DFL. The last Cat 4 race I tried to do, I went off the back less than 1/4 of the way and rode solo without passing or being passed for the rest of the course. I was the last person to actually complete the race, but there were more than 20 people who had withdrawn.
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Old 12-09-10, 10:53 PM
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ride with other people (you should anyways since you plan on racing with other people) to gauge ur fitness level
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Old 12-09-10, 10:54 PM
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i cracked prett y hard from heat this year on a 80 mile RR, got shelled by the leaders with 20 miles to go after an ill advised solo for about 40 miles. lost 12 minutes on the lead group, never got passed or passed anyone else, never even SAW anyone else till the last mile when 2 guys closed on me, and still finished 12th out of like 70.
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Old 12-09-10, 10:55 PM
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Read the sticky on "New to racing? Read this" at the top of the Road Racing Forum.

Botto's simple steps are like comparing pictures to words. Each picture is worth 1000 words. The very simple and straightforward text captures exactly what many racers do in order to become "successful" (definition varies) racers.

I would start off by doing as recommended, finding some group rides and doing them. Start as soon as you can.

Do early season races. The racers aren't quite as fit, they aren't "race speed honed", and typically don't "peak" for what are normally considered leg-opening rides. In your area I'd do Red Trolley (Feb 5th) and other events like it.

Don't be afraid of being embarrassed. In crits you get lapped, you drop out, and if you go cool down elsewhere, change, and come back, no one will think anything of it.

Although I was extremely afraid of embarrassing myself at Red Trolley last year, it was okay. I live in CT, we normally don't start racing until March, and we stop worrying about races being snowed out in mid April. So for me, at the end of an extremely intense training period where I basically rode myself into the ground, I figured I'd get shelled by the Cat 3s in SoCal. This wasn't the case, and although I couldn't get into a good position for the finish, I only lacked that last lap punch. I figure my training fatigue, lack of local knowledge (who to follow etc although I seemed to call it pretty well on my own), and lack of racing earlier (there are other events before Red Trolley) handicapped me.

The one exception are the Masters. They absolutely fly, with some of the best riders in the US from the 80s living in your area. Thurlow Rogers is incredibly strong, an all rounder that I'd compare to (relative to their respective peers) maybe a Stuart O'Grady. Not the best sprinter, not the best time trialer, and not the best climber, but 80% of the best in all of them. And that's relative to the best in the world. If he was 28 he'd be either a short stage-race leader or a super domestique like, well, O'Grady. Or even Voigt.

I wouldn't worry too much about your fitness. That'll be fine. I'm sure your cardio system is fine. You need to get in some high speed and high effort training, and the best way to both learn and do it is by racing. Just race. You'll be fine. Give yourself 5-10 races before thinking about giving up. 10-20 group rides.

Good luck and hope to see you at Red Trolley (you can watch me get absolutely annihilated in whatever race I do),
cdr

Oh, gratuitous helmet cam clip from Red Trolley I took. The guy that I point out for good riding got 4th and apparently upgraded to Cat 2 shortly after this race. I didn't know him but I knew he could ride. Also make note of some of my criticisms. Common errors. My other helmet cam clips show other common errors (focus on the 2010 ones).


Last edited by carpediemracing; 12-09-10 at 10:57 PM. Reason: forgot helmet cam link
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Old 12-09-10, 11:02 PM
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So what I'm reading is that in races everyone is going for it balls-out. No slackers in the back just having a good time like in a 5K run.

Once my knee heals (just had arthroscopc knee surgery on Monday) I'll look in to doing some group rides.
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Old 12-09-10, 11:03 PM
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Oh yeah, what Carpe said about SoCal Masters is 100% true. Stick with regular category racing much easier.

I remember vividly as a young III getting completely shelled by a Master's racer going out Del Dios. I mean absolutely ripped my legs off. Of course it turned out he was THE Master's track champion, but that didn't matter. Those dudes rip!


Also, pay attention. Not kidding here.

If you want GREAT racing and don't want to worry about getting spit out/embarassed/whatever, go buy yourself a cyclocross bike. C-X racing is the absolute bomb. Lots of fun and VERY beginner friendly. Much more so than road could ever be.

-Z
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Old 12-09-10, 11:07 PM
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Originally Posted by pgjackson View Post
So what I'm reading is that in races everyone is going for it balls-out.
It will feel like it for you the first time out. Later, you will be accustomed to when the pace lets up and when it heats up, and where is the best place in the pack to conserve energy. Still, you will rarely find more than a couple of miles (if any) of relaxed pace in a pack race.
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Old 12-09-10, 11:10 PM
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Originally Posted by DinoShepherd View Post
If you want GREAT racing and don't want to worry about getting spit out/embarassed/whatever, go buy yourself a cyclocross bike. C-X racing is the absolute bomb. Lots of fun and VERY beginner friendly. Much more so than road could ever be.
I was actually thinking of trying cross until the baby arrived. I just couldn't get fit enough to do anything more than maybe finish with the pack still in sight for road races, but getting dirty while hopping over logs in a race that doesn't have much of a pack? That sounds like fun whether I finish first or last.
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Old 12-09-10, 11:16 PM
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Originally Posted by carpediemracing View Post
Read the sticky on "New to racing? Read this" at the top of the Road Racing Forum.

Botto's simple steps are like comparing pictures to words. Each picture is worth 1000 words. The very simple and straightforward text captures exactly what many racers do in order to become "successful" (definition varies) racers.

I would start off by doing as recommended, finding some group rides and doing them. Start as soon as you can.

Do early season races. The racers aren't quite as fit, they aren't "race speed honed", and typically don't "peak" for what are normally considered leg-opening rides. In your area I'd do Red Trolley (Feb 5th) and other events like it.

Don't be afraid of being embarrassed. In crits you get lapped, you drop out, and if you go cool down elsewhere, change, and come back, no one will think anything of it.

Although I was extremely afraid of embarrassing myself at Red Trolley last year, it was okay. I live in CT, we normally don't start racing until March, and we stop worrying about races being snowed out in mid April. So for me, at the end of an extremely intense training period where I basically rode myself into the ground, I figured I'd get shelled by the Cat 3s in SoCal. This wasn't the case, and although I couldn't get into a good position for the finish, I only lacked that last lap punch. I figure my training fatigue, lack of local knowledge (who to follow etc although I seemed to call it pretty well on my own), and lack of racing earlier (there are other events before Red Trolley) handicapped me.

The one exception are the Masters. They absolutely fly, with some of the best riders in the US from the 80s living in your area. Thurlow Rogers is incredibly strong, an all rounder that I'd compare to (relative to their respective peers) maybe a Stuart O'Grady. Not the best sprinter, not the best time trialer, and not the best climber, but 80% of the best in all of them. And that's relative to the best in the world. If he was 28 he'd be either a short stage-race leader or a super domestique like, well, O'Grady. Or even Voigt.

I wouldn't worry too much about your fitness. That'll be fine. I'm sure your cardio system is fine. You need to get in some high speed and high effort training, and the best way to both learn and do it is by racing. Just race. You'll be fine. Give yourself 5-10 races before thinking about giving up. 10-20 group rides.

Good luck and hope to see you at Red Trolley (you can watch me get absolutely annihilated in whatever race I do),
cdr

Oh, gratuitous helmet cam clip from Red Trolley I took. The guy that I point out for good riding got 4th and apparently upgraded to Cat 2 shortly after this race. I didn't know him but I knew he could ride. Also make note of some of my criticisms. Common errors. My other helmet cam clips show other common errors (focus on the 2010 ones).

Awesome video! Thanks. What kind of speeds were you hitting? I'd be happy to just not get lapped in that race. I will definately do the Red Trolley.
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Old 12-09-10, 11:18 PM
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Don't think too much about speeds. Even the Cat 5's can hold 25 mph average for a race, but many of them wouldn't hold 20 mph solo for the same time. Even if you get dropped halfway through the race, you will be amazed at your average speed when you think to look at your computer after pulling off.
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Old 12-09-10, 11:18 PM
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Originally Posted by urbanknight View Post
I was actually thinking of trying cross until the baby arrived. I just couldn't get fit enough to do anything more than maybe finish with the pack still in sight for road races, but getting dirty while hopping over logs in a race that doesn't have much of a pack? That sounds like fun whether I finish first or last.
I would love to do a C-X race...but it would have to be on my mountain bike. No way my wife lets me get another bike.
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Old 12-09-10, 11:21 PM
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Originally Posted by urbanknight View Post
Don't think too much about speeds. Even the Cat 5's can hold 25 mph average for a race, but many of them wouldn't hold 20 mph solo for the same time. Even if you get dropped halfway through the race, you will be amazed at your average speed when you think to look at your computer after pulling off.
That is good to know. I've been holding at around 19-20mph on flats for distance (there's a 5 mile straight on my normal ride that I can maintain over 19) on the road solo.
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Old 12-09-10, 11:28 PM
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Originally Posted by urbanknight View Post
If you don't have any experience riding in a fast and close-quarters pack, I suggest you get some before the season starts. Find out what the local hammer ride is in your area and do it. Hang out near the back until you feel comfortable enough (and strong enough) to move around. Start reading up on specific training routines. Joel Friel's Cyclist's Training Bible is a good start.

Finally, remember that many people get dropped on their first race. It's just something you can't prepare for without just jumping in for the experience. The biggest downer of bicycle racing is that once you're dropped from the pack, you're pretty much done.
This
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Old 12-09-10, 11:33 PM
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Well what about road races? I assume they are not as congested and has less turns.
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Old 12-09-10, 11:33 PM
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Originally Posted by urbanknight View Post
Don't think too much about speeds. Even the Cat 5's can hold 25 mph average for a race, but many of them wouldn't hold 20 mph solo for the same time. Even if you get dropped halfway through the race, you will be amazed at your average speed when you think to look at your computer after pulling off.
I second this. When I did my first criterium, my Average Speed was about 20 mph, (The Course had a small slope). Needless to say, I was in denial because the place I ride is very hilly, and I'm used to Average Speeds around the 14-16 neighborhood. I did the Juniors Race, and right after was the CAT5 race, where I got dropped.

A few weeks later I signed up to do a CAT5 race. I was hesitant because I wasn't sure If I could keep it. Well I did keep up, and it was the best feeling ever, knowing that "you don't suck" because 80%-90% of your competition in one race will be at another race (because of the cycling association). It may have also been because of the fact that I didn't do a race prior to this particular CAT5 race, but it still boosted my confidence!
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Old 12-09-10, 11:39 PM
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Originally Posted by pgjackson View Post
Well what about road races? I assume they are not as congested and has less turns.
It would be nice to ride in a group ride, then ride aggressively in a group, do a criterium, and then a road race. Unlike Criteriums, some road races do not have complete closed roads, and there are times when you must only stay within the same lane, and sometimes you can get caught in a wide sweeping turn because you are restricted to only one lane of the road. Criteriums give a good feel to the "pack riding" at racing speed. Road races CAN be a tad calmer because of the hills, but that doesn't mean you can ease up on your line.
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Old 12-10-10, 01:08 AM
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I prefer crits to road races. I think they tend to be safer except for the insane "top" crits (Somerville for example - I have clip of that too in YouTube). Road races are scariest when you're in a pack going 55-60 mph down some descent and you have no idea what's gonna happen next. In crits you don't go much faster than 45 on a short steep descent and 25-35 mph.

For speeds in that race it wasn't that bad. Avg speed 25 mph, max was only 37 (I never went hard down the hill, sometimes as slow as 32 mph), 25-28 on the flats. It's the fast bits that get you, the attacks and such. Figure you need to be able to follow at 30-32 mph minimum, 35 mph would be good, higher than that best. This is for flat out speeds. This is what racing does that training really doesn't do - the multiple 30-35 mph efforts, recovery under pressure, repeat 20 times.

Watch some of the other clips that I put up. In particular I'd recommend 2010 Nutmeg State Games (illustrates what riding at the back can do for you in a Cat 3 race), and the Aug 31 2010 race (where I absolutely suffer - that race was 27 mph and we were crawling towards the end). The July 30 2010 Rent race is good too - I start my leadout at 35 mph and slow to about 30-ish. I'm not as good as my teammate Cliff at those things.

Drafting is CRITICAL. The Francis J Clarke race (2010) shows a leadout from my point of view as the sprinter. Leadout went at just a touch over 35 mph and sustained close to that speed until Cliff exploded. My heartrate dropped 4 bpm during the leadout, from semi-critical to not bad at all. Therefore I had a huge jump built up when I jumped.

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Old 12-10-10, 06:48 AM
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Originally Posted by urbanknight View Post
I was actually thinking of trying cross until the baby arrived. I just couldn't get fit enough to do anything more than maybe finish with the pack still in sight for road races, but getting dirty while hopping over logs in a race that doesn't have much of a pack? That sounds like fun whether I finish first or last.
Most C-X races are pretty family friendly. Wait a few years. We have kiddie-cross up here where some of them are showing up on push bikes. Very fun.

So the cool thing about C-X is that even if you are seemingly WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY of the back, there is always a little group that you are duking it out with. Even if you are duking it for 50th place.

Good times.

-Z
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Old 12-10-10, 08:09 AM
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Originally Posted by pgjackson View Post
That is good to know. I've been holding at around 19-20mph on flats for distance (there's a 5 mile straight on my normal ride that I can maintain over 19) on the road solo.
This may not have been mentioned yet, but races (crits especially) also require the ability to surge and recover, which is far different animal that a high average speed. If you're not trained for and used to these kinds of efforts, you may find yourself losing the pack quickly, even if you are in good shape.
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Old 12-10-10, 09:55 AM
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I have to admit, I was laughing pretty good at the OP: I remember those questions! Good stuff.

Originally Posted by hurley.girl View Post
This may not have been mentioned yet, but races (crits especially) also require the ability to surge and recover, which is far different animal that a high average speed. If you're not trained for and used to these kinds of efforts, you may find yourself losing the pack quickly, even if you are in good shape.
This is the truth right here. Sustained speed by yourself means nothing. In racing (especially crits), there's a surge as someone attacks or makes a move. Everybody (especially at the Cat 5 level) follows. Catch the mover. Relax for a minute or two. Mix, and repeat when somebody else goes. Then, in crits, they have corners. Say hello to Mr. Accordion Effect, worse at the lower levels (especially at the cat 5 level!). That's 4-corners per lap at about 15-20 laps per race. My first crit out here I learned quickly that you have to be able to corner or the races hurt. Alot.

Also, as was mentioned: the master's races are almost always harder than the cat races. But then, they're also easier. Here's how: there's far fewer surges as riders attack. They maintain their pace, which is admittedly, high. But this also makes it easier. I did a 35+/1-3 race last year: we averaged 28mph for an hour. My average heart rate was lower than the cat 3 race that same day where we averaged 26.4mph. Just because they hold their pace steadier
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Old 12-10-10, 10:37 AM
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Originally Posted by pgjackson View Post
So what I'm reading is that in races everyone is going for it balls-out. No slackers in the back just having a good time like in a 5K run.
It really is nothing like a 5k run. In a 5k run, if you're not competing to win, you're pretty much just running your own pace, tryin to get your best time. Everybody participates across wide fitness levels, most everybody has fun, and you get applauded for just finishing.

The nature of a bike race ( particularly crits) is completely different; you either have the fitness, skills, and smarts, to hang with the pack or you don't. And it takes a fair amount of all 3 just to stay with even a Cat 5 pack, particularly in an area such as So Cal where there are lots of strong riders.

There will be a handful of people coming out to do Cat 5 races that aren't terribly serious about it, and have little experience. These guys are typically gone in a couple of laps.

Another major difference from running is that if you're not competitive, you get pulled from the race in most cases.

All that said, expect to get dropped your first race, most people do, but follow Botto's approach in the Sticky thread, and keep coming back, and it's likey you'll be doing fine after a bit.
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