Written by Mike Benson Saturday, 13 May 2017 00:00
So this race marked my tenth race as a CAT 5 road racer. The USA cycling rules clearly state that any road racer needs to complete 10 mass starts prior to getting an upgrade. Racing in the Category 5 group has a number of issues related to it. Numero Uno is the fact that you are racing in packs with inexperienced racers. This increases the chances of crashing by a lot. Luckily I have avoided crashes during my first 10 races, but only by small margins. Every race that I have participated in has had at least one crash. Some of these crashes have been ugly. Hearing the sound of aluminum, carbon, and bodies being thrashed is not a fun memory. Part of this report is to review my experience with this race but the other half is to share some advice while road racing within the category 5 realm.
This was my first time racing in Plymouth at Myles Standish State Park. When I arrived to the venue I was greeted by a long scenic drive into the park. I was grateful that this race was within the confines of a safe venue with nice roads to race on. The negative was that it was raining and it was forecasted to only get worse. I spent the night prior researching how to race in the rain and started to formulate a plan for the following day. Would I just sit in and finish the race to get my upgrade or would I ride hard at the front of the race with the assumption that many would ride timid?
Prior to the race, I was able to get a good warmup on my Omnium Feedback portable trainer. I set it up under the cover of the rear door of my SUV. I was riding my Cannondale SuperSix EVO Hi-Mod with Carver Wheels and Schwalbe Pro One Tires. When I rolled up to the line, I told my wife that I just was going to ride safe and not worry about the result. When the whistle blew, there was a neutral start for the first ¼ mile. When the pace motorcycle sped forward, our race was on. I sat in the middle of the pack of about 60 riders. One of the things I noticed was that people weren’t comfortable riding in the rain and elbow to elbow. There were juniors in our race and they were surfing wheels left and right. I didn’t like how things were going and decided to peel out to the left side of the peloton on glide up to the front to see what the vibe was. Just as I got to the front, an awful crash happened right where I just was. Hoping that everyone was alright, I forged ahead. My goal for the remainder of the race was to stay at the very front of the race no matter what. So I took a pull, then another, and another. I told myself that it was safer here and maybe I could wear people out a bit.
My race was only 20 miles. Each lap around the park was about 5 miles. After each lap, I started to get a feel for the course. At the same time, about 5-6 other racers obliged by sharing the load while sharing pulls at the front. One of the things I took notice in was the last ½ mile to the finish. Laps 2 and 3 I found myself pulling everyone to the finish. Hmmm I thought to myself. I wonder if I could make it through the craziness to the top of the final hill and rail the corner without tapping my brakes towards the finish. As we started the final lap, I refused to take a pull. I played dumb, tired and whooped and sat back 5-10 wheels and waited for my opportunity to move towards the front near the final hill. As we neared the hill, things started to get dicey. Riders that I hadn’t seen the whole race started to make an appearance. Stick to the plan I told myself.
As we neared the last quarter of the course, I slowly edged forward. One guy came flying by me and was all over the place and ended up off the road and then tried to pull back on as everyone was cruising at 28mph. I yelled and he stayed in the ditch. Thank god because he could have wrecked many of us. When the hill approached I hit the gas up the right side with ease. Everyone was either gassed or nervous. I was the first to descend the hill toward the hard left hand turn. I pushed hard into my right pedal as I leaned into the turn pushing on my outside pedal as hard as I could. Consequently, it was pouring harder than any other time in the race. When I hit the flat and the two rollers I pushed as hard as I could. When I saw the finish line, I was out of the saddle sprinting and not looking back.
I crossed the finish line in first and was shocked. After a cool down I rode up to my wife and kids who were super pumped. I was on top of the world and happy with my result. My wife says “I thought you were just going to ride around the course and get this one behind you”? Looking back, I realized that two things won me that race. The first was my lack of fear for riding in bad weather. The second was having a plan to stay at the front of the race and formulating a plan at the end. Wait…. I’ll add a third. I feel like I rode balls out on the last corner (41mph) in the pouring rain sideways.
While I’m super happy with this win, I try to think about what I have learned during my first 10 races.
- There is always someone who has trained more than you – Don’t take CAT 5 for granted. Our race finished almost 2 minutes faster than the CAT 4 race.
- Try to ride either at the front of the race or at the rear of race to avoid crashes.
- Tire pressure is important especially in the rain. I ran my front tire at 85 psi and my rear around 92 during my last race.
- Don’t over dress but make sure you have the right gear for your race. I wish I had worn my rain booties over my race shoes during the last race because my socks were completely soaked. When racing Rasputitsa, I wish I had invested in Gore-Tex shoes because the rain booties didn’t help as much. Remember that when you’re racing it will feel 15-20 degrees warmer.
- Bring food to eat during your race and eat often – Try to ingest 200-400 calories per hour or you won’t finish strong. This is tough to do but if you practice during your training rides, it will pay off when you have the energy to finish strong.
- Pay attention to other riders at the start line and during the beginning of the race. If you want to do well, you need to know your competition so you can plan accordingly.
- Pay attention while racing and don’t lose focus. All it takes is 1 second and you are crashed out of the race. 100% focus all the time.
- Warm up on a trainer if you can. Noodling around the start line is okay but when you put your headphones on and hop on the trainer, you can focus on your warm-up which will help you do better at the start of the race.
- Get your front wheel on the start line at the beginning of the race. If you can, this will afford you a chance to be in a safe place when the race starts and during the first few miles.
- Take your pulls on the hills and sit in on the descents and flats. Bottom line is that you will have to pull hard on hills and if you start at the front and don’t have the watts/kilo to keep your position, you will drift back a few spots which won’t be a big deal. If you are at the middle or worst, this won’t set you up well and you will get dropped. Taking pulls on descents feels easy but trust me everyone else behind you isn’t even peddling. Be smart.
Thank you Bikeman.com for having the gear I needed to deliver a good result. On to CAT 4 now.
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