Intro: Held on March 15th, this was my first race of 2015. Last year I raced this as a cat 5 and got dropped on the first lap. Over the winter I upgraded to cat 4, and spent a decent amount of time training on the indoor trainer. So I hoped to do better, and was cautiously optimistic I could do so. As I said, last year I got dropped immediately, but ended up racing very successfully in the second half of the year. So while I wanted to do well, I also knew that my result in this race does not “make or break” my season.

Kent Park VV

Course/Conditions: As can be seen above, the course really has three defining features. We would start at the bottom-left of this picture and go counter-clockwise around 6 times. Each lap is about 4 miles, making for about 24 miles of racing. It’s a little hard to see in the above picture, but there is one very short but steep hill not long after the start. Then the back section (right-hand side) is pretty flat. Then we hit two big hills coming in relative succession. These were fairly long and stop. They were long enough that you couldn’t just use momentum to carry you up, and steep enough that you had to get out of the saddle.

As for conditions, things were pretty calm, with only a light wind from the south (see “north” on the top-left of the map).

Field: There were 24 guys registered for category 4. Since I had just upgraded I didn’t know very many people. However, the ones I did know are quite strong, so I expected a very fast race.

Strategy: As you can read in my pre-report, this race is very much about survival (at least for me), and so I wasn’t really going into it with strategy in mind. My goal was to stay with the peloton for the first lap. I knew that if I could do that, then I would be able to hang on for several more, if not until the end. Thus I wanted to hit the big hills relatively near the front to allow for some time to drift back if needed. This race has a lot of downhills, and thus I wanted to move up “for free” whenever possible. Beyond that I just knew I needed to push myself harder than ever before.

Racing: I expected the race to start fast, and I was not dissapointed! Our first lap was done in 9 minutes 45 seconds. For reference, in the cat 4 race last year, their fastest lap was 11 minutes! If we filter according to this years race, but for all categories, then our fastest lap was only beaten by the Pro/1/2 category. Needless to say, it was brutal! I expected to have a hard time hanging on once we got to those two big climbs, but in fact I was having a hard time just hanging on in the flat section! Thankfully I did, as I think did pretty much everyone else.

Things slowed down quite a bit after that initial lap, and we settled into times around 11 minutes. It was still hard going, but I was able to hang on, and was feeling pretty good about myself. The climbs were still difficult, but I was climbing them at least as fast as everyone else. After that first lap I was no longer worried about those two big climbs. The short and steep climb near the start was a little more difficult, because I didn’t have the power of some of the other guys. But I still didn’t lose too much ground there either.

One of the things I really enjoy about bike racing is the close-quarters cornering, and the skill needed to navigate a bike successfully through a pack. In the 5’s there are very few people who feel comfortable doing this, so gaps were generally pretty big, and I was able to move up at will. Thus it’s great after upgrading to be in a more challenging situation. I had some success squeezing through small spaces, and also had a couple times where people shut the door on me and I had to hit the brakes. In all I would say that the “pack dynamics” were my favorite part of the race.

Near the start of the third lap I started to feel lightheaded and nauseous. I thought it might pass once the flatter sections, but it only got worse. I didn’t feel super tired, just very “out of it” and wanting to vomit. Once we got towards the big climbs I just sort of “dropped myself” because I didn’t feel safe riding like that. I slowly rolled back to the start and abandoned, having done 4 of 6 laps.

What I Learned: This is a little tricky, because this race was largely about “survival.” Because I spent so much time just trying to hang on, I didn’t get much of a chance to notice what was happening. Rather than trying to force some lessons out of it, I will just count this race as a subconscious learning experience.

Analysis: This race taught me that strength-wise I’m on track. I was able to keep up on the climbs, even though I’ve done minimal short interval (< 8 minute) training. This is really encouraging, since a lot of guys are coming from racing in cat 4 for a year or more, and so have built up more strength. I think that my “blowing up” was the result of pushing myself so hard. Last season my max heart rate was 185 bpm. In Kent Park it was 209! In fact, I was above 185bpm for eight minutes throughout the race! This shows that I pushed myself extremely hard, which I am very proud of.

When I first started racing (in cat 5) I thought that everyone was so damn fast! Then after a few races things “slowed down” (in my mind, not in reality), and then finally near the end of the season I was the one making the race fast. The same thing happened when I started doing group rides. One thing that these all have in common is that they showed me that my previous definition of “fast” needed to be raised. This race did exactly the same thing. That will help me to train harder and thus get better results. I’ve decided that I’m going to start doing the faster group ride each week. I expect to get dropped for a while, but I believe that after a month or two I’ll be able to comfortably hang with the group. I think this will be a good season!