Wednesday, April 8, 2009

C flight

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.


  1. Great report. Sounds like you're catching the "bug" to me. :) Wish we had as many race options as you SLC folks do. Luckily a regular Tues night crit is scheduled up here at the fairgrounds for May & June. Can't wait.

    All that backcountry skiing must keep you in great shape! I remember my only goal for nearly the whole first season was to finish with the pack. It's quite a shock for somebody that "thinks" they ride a lot to jump in with people who actually do. Unlike mountain bike racing where the beginner class are actually beginners... cat5's are often pretty darn fast.

  2. It seems to this armchair racer the plan was blown when Steve chased the break. Not trying to be a jerk, but that's essentially it, right?

    Hard to know when to stick with the plan and when to adapt. If the break had failed your plan may have worked as-is.

    Last year I tried to stay in the pack until 2 minutes to go then make a move. It may have worked if the organizer hadn't announced "3 laps to go" at 2 minutes left. (I assumed the only warning would be the bell lap.)

    You're tempting me to do another crit, even though that crash last year was a big newspaper swat across the nose. I don't have the watts like you guys to help much in a break, but maybe I could attempt to slow the pack. I admit crit tactics are alluring.

  3. Eric, the backcountry skiing seems to work for the cardio, but I've still got a lot of intervals yet to do to build the top end. I feel like I'm coming into the season with as good of a base as I've ever had. Bart G., local cycling god, has been backcountry skiing all winter and I think is now 2 for 2 with I-cup victories. So apparently it works for him.

    Kris, come ride with us on Tuesday nights. Fun stuff, and we could use more guys to help make our tactics work. Not sure if one more guy would have made the difference, but having 3 instead of two means doing half as much work on the front.

  4. Mark, great times last night. Even though it was a suicide break I would do the same thing again if I were racing tonight. One of these nights a break will stay away. Can't wait for the next one. BTW nice riding. Did you have your inhaler in the jersey pocket?

  5. Inhaler was in my pocket. I think. I used it before I started. That's usually enough for a couple hours.

    I agree with you on the suicide break. Seems easier than trying to win a bunch sprint. If we can get 3-4 of us out, I think we can hold them off.