Well, the season is winding down. I haven’t been time trialing much this year, but on 9/16 (a Saturday) is the last time trial in the local MATTS time trial series. That gives me enough time to do some work dialing in my TT form for one more shot and that should do it for the year on the racing scene. Then the grind for the next season starts, but that start is a little easy. With this last weekend, finally my form (that is biker speak for fitness) is coming round to where it should have been absent trips to the other side of the globe over the last 14 months. You may find a brief “race report” below the fold describing two evenings racing in Winfield.
Saturday evening “twilight criterium” I entered in the Category 2/3 event. I had signed up for it last weekend “online” pre-registering, which may have been a mistake because a lot of riders instead rode in a inner city/South-side Sherman Park criterium (lots of glass on the path but … no corners). As I haven’t been riding so well, earlier in the year and this was the first race this year I didn’t enter in masters events and was racing with the young “guns” (you know those 20-somethings, kids who have no sense of their own mortality) and didn’t know how strong the field was. The field was kind of small, but school has started for a lot of the “3’s” so that may have accounted for that. As it was, there were only about 30 riders in the field. The race was pretty uneventful and even a little too easy … which meant I should have been not just tagging along but trying to make something happen up front. As it was, I had no teammates and I”m a poor sprinter … so wheras I can do work to tag a break back or give a great leadout, I’m not so good at fending for myself and getting to the front of the race and duking it out for a bunch sprint. At the start of the race, my cornering was poor. In the last few races, I’ve been getting skittish in corners. That is something I”m going to have to work on. Some of the races (Superweek for example) have been very fast, with Masters category 1/2/3 fields (see below for a short category description). Skill at cornering means being able to ride a 90-110 degree turn at speeds of about 30 mph either in single file or 2 wide through corners. This May I have a new bike I’m riding (more on that in a later post). One thing about that bike, is that my BB (bottom bracket or crank axle) is about 1cm lower than my previous bike, which means I have to coast the apex. Turns at speed are taken by putting your weight on the inside arm/handlebar and outside pedal (down). Countersteering means by applying more pressure and turning the handlebar the wrong direction causes the bike to dip in the right way and bank you hard in the direction you want to go. That I can do without much problem … but when the road has bumps, manholes, and patches in the corner, lately I’ve been getting skittish. That is what needs work. Anyhow, the race was not so fast, fun and a good workout opening up the “pipes” for the next day’s race without wiping me out.
Sunday night at about 5pm was the “main event” for me. A Masters 30+/40+ race for which it seemed a dozen riders (almost all 30+) from the previous Pro/Am 1/2 race lined up for a second race. In short, I finished morally but not actually with with pack. There was a midfield crash on the 2nd to last lap (a Team MACK rider touched wheels and two or three guys went down). The race was “paying” 7 deep with “medals” 3 deep for 30+ and 40+ seperately. A break of 7 was up the road and about 15 guys were in front of the crash. I can count, so that was the end of the race for me. On the plus side, I don’t think I”ve been in a faster race for a long time. I’d bet (I don’t race with a cycle computer/speedometer so I”m estimating) that the average speed was in excess of 28 mph and there was a 80 foot hill each 1 mile lap. The race started fast and stayed that way. Only once, did the pack balloon out across the road with nobody willing to put their nose in the wind and hammer. I was close to my limit the entire race, only going over it for a bit in the middle when ‘druber had a mechanical and two other riders at the same time called it a day and I had to work very hard to not get gapped at the back. I managed that and then just hung on until the finish. Given the speeds, even though (as per usual) I had not results, it was fun and showed some semblence of fitness is coming back. Now, to hang onto it and build on it for next spring and things will be (finally) looking up (God willing).
In the main governing body of cycling there are 6 categories of bike racers. Categories 1-5 and Pro. Riders begin as category 5 also sometimes knowns as the “citizens” category. After you’ve entered in 10 mass start races you may request an upgrade to 4. For some unknown reason their are racers who’ve been in the racing ciricut for almost a decade remaining as category 5. Normally riders want to get out of category 5 as quickly as possible because that’s where the stupid crashes are more likely to occur. If by chance, you win too many races in the category 5 you may get an involuntary upgrade to category 4. Category 4 are where you find mostly, again, beginning riders working to get better, stronger, and fitter. Category 4 races are thought (by me and I think many others) as not much safer in their pack riding than category 5. After you get enough points in races by finishing in the top 5-7 you can request an upgrade. If you get too many points, someone (and official) will notice and you will be upgraded anyhow. Riders sometimes like to not get upgraded, because there are cash prizes for winning and an upgrade means you are riding with faster guys and presumably it will be harder to win (and get that cash). In category 4 and 5 team riding is rare and tactics are normally limited to “don’t chase down a teammate”. Category 3 riders are finally where the uneven skills and fitness of riders starts evening out, with the really strong guys (usually young) moving up quickly but the fields are big, everybody knows how to corner (mostly) and the pace is fairly high and tactics start actually being used as teams are large and cohesive. Give and go, and other tactics start being seen at the front of races. If you win enough as a 3 you move up to 2. Category 2 is sort of an orphan category. 98% of races are either 1/2 or Pro-1/2 races. Which means to win and get points, a category 2 rider has to beat category 1 riders. However this works out because national championships are offered for the “Elite” riders and how it works out is the Category 2 riders who upgrade are the regional riders who can beat the local regional category 1 riders … so they are elite. From what I understand the only real difference between Pro and 1 is that to be a Pro you have to be on a Professionally licensed team and pay the money for a pro-license. Actually, I don’t think you have to be Cat 1 to get a Pro license, just a Professional team needs to hire you.
Masters and Junior categories are offered for age group riding. Normally these races are not categorized, but lately (in the last one or two years) a lot of races are starting to offer races for Masters 40+ cat 1/2/3 and Masters 40+ 4/5 races seperately. This is good for the sport in my opinion. I’ve seen guys lining up for National races (like Superweek) in a Masters 40+ race mentioning at the start line that this is “my first race”. Well, guess what, with a half dozen former and current National champions and 20 some category 1 riders in the field you can imagine what happens to that “my first race” fellow. I’d bet he can’t even see the field after the first lap is done. With a seperate race for the less experienced age group riders two things happens. That rider gets to ride more than 1 lap before getting pulled, and doesn’t get his confidence shredded before getting into racing at all and the field is safer especially in the corners for the upper category riders on those first laps before those guys get shredded off the back by the fitness required to stay with a fast field.