Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Bagging sand

Aside from showing up for races and not eating burritos*, my only responsibility for team Revolution Cafe Rio is to file race reports on the team website. This is an easy enough job, since I obsessively check the results of every race I compete in as well as those I don’t. No big deal to check the other categories and write it down.

*Seriously, how cruel is it to have a Mexican restaurant sponsor your cycling team?

Since we’re not getting paid to do this, most of us race as a way to gauge progress against a goal. Most of the amateur racers I know work pretty hard at it and endure quite a bit of suffering* for the sake of trying to get a good result, however one chooses to measure it. Once good results are consistently earned in one category, it’s time to move up to the next and, as Mark T. puts it, try to break yourself against a different rock.

*Really what is bike racing if not organized suffering? And it’s not like the suffering is limited to the race itself. That’s just the acute suffering (and oh how acute it is at times). But there’s chronic suffering, too. Training is hard, but I’m talking about dieting in order to get down to race weight. Wanna know what I hear most from people who haven’t seen me in a couple years? “You look so skinny.” I just smile and thank them, knowing that “skinny” is a relative term compared to how I used to look, all the while dreaming of pie and ice cream and cheeseburgers and burritos that I won’t eat in hopes of dropping five more kilos so I can be really fast. Perhaps I’m making progress, though, as I’ve been told that one of the women on the team laughed when she saw I’d ordered a size small vest with my team kit.

The fear of being slow relative to a hard category is balanced against the shame of being a sandbagger. To illustrate, here’s an IM conversation I had last fall with Aaron:

me: trying to decide whether to continue enjoying results in sport category next season or to just make the jump to expert.


Aaron: Ha. That's always tough. I'm never one to push someone into upgrading...but... :) ...you may be the first sub-9 [Leadville] finisher* to ever race in the sport cat.


me: fair enough.


Aaron: Here's my dilemma. If I show up to a cx race, which cat do I race in?


me: i know absolutely nothing there.


Aaron: I'll probably be on a mtb, because my cx bike is junk right now. I did a couple races 2 years ago in the C flight (the slowest) and didn't do all that well.


me: start in c flight. if you smoke the field, move up.


Aaron: ... but I'd feel a bit weird racing expert mtb and C in cx


me: cx is different. there's so much technique to it. i don't think they'd fault you for racing there once just to feel things out.


Aaron: Funny how I'm just as afraid of being called a "sandbagger" as being really slow.


*Can you imagine Chris Carmichael signing up for an I-Cup race as a sport? He made the Olympic team and rode in the Tour de France**, only to race as a sport after failing in his first attempt at the big buckle?

**Chris is also embroiled in a bit of controversy over his alleged actions during this period of his career. That being said, it would take a whole lot more than some EPO or bagging my own blood for me to make the Olympic team, so he has to have quite a bit of natural talent.

Nobody wants to finish dead last, but it seems there’s more glory in finishing mid pack in a harder category than in winning an easier one. Most people are anxious for an upgrade.

But while I was putting together a race report from last weekend, I noticed some familiar names sitting atop the Cat. 5 standings. Ryan Tanner and Liam O’Donnell are leading the season standings this year. Funny thing is that Liam was third overall in the season standings as a Cat. 5 last year. Ryan didn’t do much worse.

Last year’s top Cat. 4 is now racing in Cat. 3. Last year’s top Cat. 3 is now racing in Cat. 1/2. Last year’s second place Cat. 1/2 signed a pro contract for this season. A 5 to 4 upgrade is the only one for which you don’t need to place in any races. So what are these guys still doing there?

I can understand being fast but not being interested in racing. I get smoked all the time by guys who can’t be troubled to pin on a number or pay for the privilege of beating up on their friends. But Liam and Ryan are racing all the time without bothering to upgrade. Is winning in the beginner category really that satisfying? Especially when you’re not really a beginner?


Special thanks to the potentate for the awesome visuals.


  1. MTB races - Singlespeed is an open div.

    CX races- Singlespeed is an open div.

    There. Problem solved.

  2. Don't they force a cat 5 up to cat 4 after 10 races?

  3. Clydesdale is an open class too. Eat something.

  4. Rick & Blackdog: I'm not qualified for the open categories. I need someone putting limits on the competition so I can feel good about myself.

    Kris: it's not forced. You can upgrade after 10, but nobody forces it.

  5. Even though I am not winning cat 4 races I kind of feel like a sandbagger when I race in them. Also I only really made the jump from expert to pro in the icup out of fear of being called a sandbagger.

  6. Tanner, you are not trying hard enough.

  7. A small vest? I can't picture that. Post one, if you can get it zipped. ;-)

    Sorry, maybe it is just that I ordered XL shorts and I am only 150 lb and 5'9". I guess we have different fit preferences.

    Blackdog, that was funny.

  8. Jube, I wore it Saturday for about four hours with no problems. I hate having my vest flap in the wind, so it probably is a fit preference thing.