If you’re anything like me, you can spend hours after a race dissecting what went well, what didn’t, where the difference was made. For instance, I’ve spent the last two days beating myself up about Lotoja—not for letting a gap open on the Salt River climb, but for being so stupid as to be towards the back of the pack when the climb started.
You see, thanks to online time splits, I know there were a couple of riders who stayed with the lead group but who climbed that hill in about the same time I did. Had I been at the front, even climbing at a slower pace, I would have just drifted to the back but may have been able to stay with the lead group. Ironic since I’ve been known to rip on Levi and VDV for not staying at the front and getting caught in crashes as a result. And those guys are way smarter racers than I’ll ever be. Woulda, shoulda, coulda.
Here’s the thing, though, the usefulness of comparing splits only extends so far, even in the same race. For instance, the Cat. 3-4 group was slower over Salt River than the Cat. 4 group. Does that mean had I signed up with the 3-4 group, I would have stayed with the leaders? Impossible to say. It was a different race, and had I been there and not where I was, the tactics could have been completely different, too.
It would be great if there were a magic calculator we could plug a few splits into, have it check our pulse and a few other vitals, and it could spit back our finish time in a given race. But it doesn’t work that way.
Which is why I get a kick out of comparisons from one race to another, such as Leadville to Park City Point to Point, or Tour DAY Park City to Lotoja, or Lotoja to STP. They’re different races, and times in one don’t mean the same as times in another. Moreover, even if the courses are the same, times from one year aren’t directly comparable to times another year, as wind, weather, and other externalities, in addition to tactics, always play a role.
Even within the race, my time at Lotoja is only directly comparable to others in my start wave. Were the Cat. 5s who caught us between Logan and Preston stronger riders because they finished 3, 6, or 9 minutes faster than the Cat. 4 winners? I doubt it. They benefitted from Mark T. and Spence R. pulling the train just as much as the other Cat. 4s did. Had Mark and Spence drilled it from the opening gun, I doubt the fives would have ever caught us. But tactically, none of the 4s thought it was in his interest to pull through that section, so nobody did.
Comparing one race to another is even more difficult. For example, let’s compare Leadville to Park City Point to Point. Alex Grant took fourth at Leadville with a time of 7:10 and first at PCPP with a time of 7:04. Afterward, he said PCPP was tougher. Does that mean a sub nine hour finish at PCPP is roughly equivalent to a sub nine hour finish at Leadville? Who knows?
At Leadville, Alex had the benefit of a fast lead group that he was chasing throughout the day. At PCPP, Alex was in front most of the day, with Bart a few minutes back but not really threatening. Do you go faster chasing/being chased by someone, or do you go faster riding alone? Moreover, which would you perceive as more difficult?
At both races, roughly 20% of the field did not finish. Of those who finished Leadville, roughly 10% finished under nine hours. Of those who finished PCPP, roughly 40% finished under nine hours. Moreover, several racers, such as KC and Chris Holley and Kenny Jones, did both events. All three plus AG had faster times at PCPP than at Leadville. That suggests going under nine is “easier” at PCPP than at Leadville.
But the four in my sample may have been healthier at PCPP. Weather certainly was less of a factor at PCPP. Leadville could have improved their fitness ahead of PCPP. Additionally, the field at PCPP may have been overall stronger than the field at Leadville. Self-selection may have led to the 40% who finished under nine hours being of the same caliber as the 10% who did so at Leadville.
I bet you’re expecting me to get somewhere with this, but I have no point, beyond my assertion that comparisons are valid only for the very practical and extremely useful purpose of beating one’s self up. As for congratulating one’s self for a result that never happened, well they’re sort of useless in that regard. Because who really cares about a result you didn’t get in an event you didn’t enter? (Or, if we’re being brutally honest, who besides you, your mom, and a few friends cares about a result you did get in an event you did enter?)
For nearly everyone reading this blog—working stiffs who ride and race for fun, fitness, and mental health—the only thing that matters is that we’ve proven to ourselves whatever it is we didn’t know before. Mark T. summed it up well in his comment Monday:
At one point James C told me "you're a tough rider." Maybe, maybe not. I can't stomach giving anything less than everything. All I want at the end of a day like that is to know - without reservation - that I worked as hard as I could, and emptied the tank, utterly. Any less and nothing may be learned.
To me racing the bike is part of The Way. I've used other means but in the end the means don't matter, only that one is honest, 100% present, and aware enough to learn the lessons of the experience. In this sense I got everything I needed on Saturday.