A Cat. 4 road racer is nothing more than a Cat. 5 who has done at least 10 events. You don’t have to place or even finish for that matter—it’s an automatic upgrade once you get the starts.
Yet if I were a betting man and had to choose whether an equally-fit Cat. 4 or a Cat. 5 would place higher when racing together, my money would be on the Cat. 4. While certain race tactics may sound good to the uninitiated, how they turn out in practice may be another matter entirely. What actually works is something you can only figure out through experience.
Take last night’s criterium at Rocky Mountain Raceway. Steve, Pat, Sam, and I were all racing the C flight, which is for Cat. 5s who self select not to race the D flight, but who haven’t upgraded yet.
It was a fairly large field, and we knew we couldn’t make a move and hold them off for very long. So we decided to wait until 23 minutes into the 30 minute race, and then go.
We were racing on the oval, and with the banked turns, the corners were every bit as fast as the straightaways. In fact, due to wind, the back stretch was the slowest section of track.
This meant that we couldn’t just all accelerate out of a turn and expect a gap to open. So I volunteered to let the other guys make a move in front of me, and I would slow up and force the pack around to delay the chase.
Before the appointed time, however, Steve got stuck on the front after chasing another break, and no matter how much he slowed, nobody would go around. When we were finally ready to make our move, I made my way to the front, with the other three on my wheel. After a lap or two, they went, and I slowed. A gap opened just like we planned.
Unfortunately, Steve was too smoked from being on the front to stay with the break, so it was just Pat and Sam. They did an admirable job and got the gap to as much as a quarter lap. But the pack was hungry, and they were reeled in with just a few laps to go.
When the bell rang for the last lap, it was mayhem. I had the legs to go harder, but was stuck on the inside with nowhere to make a move. On the final turn, I made my way just enough to the outside to get up towards the front of the field, but there was no way I was getting ahead of anyone at that point. Everyone who hadn’t been dropped finished within a few seconds of one another.
Having to both think and ride is what I love about racing on the road and must be why Eric loves crits so much. Our average speed for the race was 27 mph, and we were often over 30. Unless you’ve got a big enough motor to open a gap and keep it open on that bunch, you have to use good tactics to be successful. And learning tactics only comes with experience.
About the time we start getting this figured out, it will be time to upgrade, we’ll be forced into the B flight, and once again, we’ll be the dumb ones in the bunch. I’m just hoping we’re lucky enough to find a nut or two between now and then.