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Adventures of the Cat 5: Not all roads paved with glory(9 posts)

Adventures of the Cat 5: Not all roads paved with gloryMarlon
Aug 16, 2001 6:13 AM
Thanks for all the replies and comments about my stories - like I said, these are mainly for beginners, but I try and keep 'em interesting for the vets (I've noticed that most of the race reports that gets posted here reads somewhat... blandly). This race wasn't technically too difficult, so I'll delve into the prose this time. So, thanks again, and here goes!

The Background: "B" level (novice) races again, 45 minutes + 7 laps on a roughly 1km course. I'd been feeling a little tired and burned out, so I hadn't done much riding since the last race, and as a consequence, I was a little nervous for this race. The will to race was there, but also this nagging sensation that I'd done a little too much, that I really didn't want to ride - it was a little worrisome, but I tried to hide it.

The Motive: This time, I'm gunning for the win. Did a ride with the big guys (the cat 2's and 3's), survived, and now I'm ready. I've got the confidence, the experience, and I just tuned my bike too:)

The Story: A beautiful sunny afternoon, but not too hot surprisingly, and just a bit of a breeze. Wonderful weather for riding. As I did my pre-race warmup on the course, my legs loosened up and my worries seemed to evaporate away - I was free, free from the office, free from my worries, free to focus on what I loved doing best: riding and racing. As people have mentioned, criterium racing is addictive - the competition, the fast pace, the wash of passion and emotion, and the simple need for speed, these are all things that appeal to me about it. Yet, at the same time, it's an intellectual thinking game, more so than most non-riders will ever appreciate: tactics, strategy, placement, and a unique marriage of speed, skill, and ability. Roadies have often been called "snobs" and "elitists", and in a way, I'm not ashamed to admit that it's true: in what other sport do you have that same finesse and etiquette of pack riding, combined with the exhilaration of power and unmatched velocity? Honestly, you haven't lived until you've raced at least once. These thoughts all were going through my day-dreaming head, and were swiftly wrenched out of my mind as I felt my bike getting physically pulled back by my seat as I was riding! Wha? Huh? A smile and laugh from the guys pulling up beside me - "Slow down there, eh? It hasn't started yet!" Yup. The cameraderie of racing. That's another thing I like about racing. It had taken awhile, but I'd been accepted by the pack:)

So, back to the race. The usual line-up, ho-hum talk about keeping the pace down at the beginning, and the mandatory 6 slow (20mph) laps. Not many racers tonight, only 30-some, but there's a crew of three fast guys in yellow hornet-like jerseys. Hm. Looks intimidating. Whoops! Typically me, I've been day-dreaming, and I'm at the back of the pack. Time to spice things up, so I head to the front. Sitting in this time, the pace has worked back up to 27mph, and already some of the newer riders have been dropped. A number of small breaks go off the front, but nothing sustained. I try a quick flyer off the front, and am bridged pretty quickly by the Hornets. Hmm. This is interesting... team tactics. Hey, and two of them are up with me? I guess they think I can get away... we pull hard and work together for a while, but the pace is high - and I seem to be doing a lot of work too, with those Hornets taking but miniscule pulls. This does not bode well... abruptly, the Hornets stop working, and with me dying on the pulls, we are caught. I try and hang in, but nearly get dropped, by the pack of all things. Holy cow - from off the front to the very back of the pack? I'm not impressed. Meanwhile, one of the Hornets has started another attack, and the whole pack chases - and I'm on the wrong end of the pack! In true slinky style, my half of the pack slowly drifts away from the front pack, loosing contact, and in desperation, I fly up along the sides, p
Not all roads paved with glory, Part IIMarlon
Aug 16, 2001 6:29 AM
Part 2, continued:

Meanwhile, one of the Hornets has started another attack, and the whole pack chases - and I'm on the wrong end of the pack! In true slinky style, my half of the pack slowly drifts away from the front pack, loosing contact, and in desperation, I fly up along the sides, pulling my hardest, my sole purpose in life now to catch the rear wheel of anyone in the front pack. Quick-glace behind me - no one's able to hold onto my rear - and I surge onwards. Dang, but the 2nd half of the pack REALLY wasn't on the ball... 5 more seconds of super-human effort, and I am wheel-sucking for dear life: the field has been split. And I have a feeling those hornets don't like me...

Skip to half-way through the race. The Hornets are sitting in now, and so am I; no way am I going to exhaust myself for their benefit? New development though - one of the riders, just a little too tired, accidentally gets forced out onto the gravel sides after a turn. He doesn't biff, but I have a nagging suspicion that everyone, including myself, is taking the corners too wide, a common enough occurrance on this course. Another new development - we have a slave driver! Another guy in team uniform is exhorting someone, anyone, to get going and attack. Stupidly, something in me responds, and I attack just before a corner. Diving out of it, I slam on the power and dive into a second corner... and whaddaya know? It's a clean, solid break, at least 10 seconds behind me. I push hard, but it's too much for me, and after a lap, I crack up and get caught again. Still, it's given me confidence to know when I should break for the finish.

Skip to the final lap: the interim has been steadily getting faster, someone's pushing the pace. And unlike the higher-level races, for some reason, the pace doesn't wobble, going faster and slower, - it just gets faster and faster! Too many triathletes, I guess; myself included, heh. But it's fast, too fast for me to break anymore, and around lap 3, I was in a dangerous position, just about out in front, pulling the rest of the pack. I pulled out and drifted back, but the damage was already done, and exhausted, I was just trying to set up again for the final sprint. Working my way up, I looked for a big guy to follow, but time and distance were running out... half a mile left, and I finally got a place behind two of the Hornets! Yes! But, oh no, there's a small group sprinting already - damn! The Hornets give chase, and I'm forced to sprint just a little too early for my taste. 30...31...32mph... my speedometer keeps ticking up, and I'm starting to get winded. Push push push, just a little more, I pull out to the side, leaving the two Hornets behind me, and try to gun up, but it's sooo hard... AARGH. 4th place. Not bad, but not what I wanted. Oh well. After the race, a few quick tips and admonishments from the vets there (I REALLY need to work on holding my line more), and I head back for home. Nothing special, but I feel satisfied - at least, until the next time. This is my last crit of the season, as I'm packing to head back to school and the Master's degree, but I feel satisfied - one time trial to go, and then it's homeward bound.
Not all roads paved with glory, Part IIflyinbowlofmilk
Aug 16, 2001 10:51 AM
Congradulations,Marlon. I just like reading you reports of how you doing it Crit racing. It make me think about doing some Crit racing next year . Keep up the reports,and good Luck in pursing your Master degree. Maybe next year I try a Crit in my hometown In N.C. . wish me luck
Good luck!Marlon
Aug 17, 2001 5:30 AM

Thanks for the comments! Yup, crit racing is fun, but it's demanding too. Plus, there really is a whole new world of etiquette and unwritten rules that I'm only starting to learn... I'll keep up the posts, but I'll try different things to keep it interesting. Good luck with the training and hope you try a crit next year!
Great report, but...Old Guy
Aug 16, 2001 11:35 AM
there are "Vets" in Cat-5?
It's true about vets...Marlon
Aug 17, 2001 5:35 AM
The race organizer lets in a few cat 2's and 3's to keep the pace up, act as general marshalls in case someone's acting stupid, and bring back complete beginners back into the pack when it's safe. Although it is the end of the season and I think most of us in the pack have moved up around one category (or are stronger at least), we still get the occassional newcomer, and in the interest of promoting the sport, us season-long riders try not to scare them too badly:)

It's the vet cat 2's and 3's who like to bring out the big guns at the final sprint, and also keep the stronger 4-5's humble throughout the race.
so... how's it feel to be a marked man?lonefrontranger
Aug 16, 2001 2:08 PM
Great work as always, and keep it coming! 4th isn't bad - think how those guys you dropped in the split feel.

The team was using you as a Pack Diesel my man. They've seen you perform enough to know they can count on you for a lot of pace. This doesn't mean you have to become a total wheelsuck, just be aware that you are now considered a dangerous threat and no one is going to just let you go up the road. They'll be happy to let you pull all day, though :)

I'd take it as a compliment, and it's just good team tactics - send a strong free agent up to do the hard work, then toast him in the sprint. As a free agent (and as a woman racer, I've been a free agent a LOT), it's a very hard line to walk - do you watch breaks go up the road knowing they might not get pulled back, or do you waste yourself chasing every daggoned little thing? (??? I'm still working on this one, will let you know someday...)

This is where it helps to become really observant and familiar with your competition, so you know for sure who the local "Jacky Durand" types are (total no-hopers who are always attacking but never succeed and usually wind up off the back for their trouble). Tip: don't chase those guys :-) Sounds like you did the right thing in this instance, though - anytime you see two or more teammates go in a break, bridge up there like gangbusters, 'cause that one's got teeth. The same goes for any breakaway containing a couple of good time trialists. Anytime you're in a chase that's "thrown in the towel" as these guys did, it's a good idea (unless you're REALLY feeling good) to just cut your losses, sit up and wait for the pack to catch so that you have fresh legs for any counterattacks that go. If you haven't made that particular break, then just as the field catches them is an awesome opportunity for you to lay down a vicious counterattack. And so on, and on... Work on your alliances and see who you can recruit to your cause.

Your goal over the winter should be to get hooked up with some other riders and learn some team tactics. Even as a "free agent" you can form temporary alliances with guys of complimentary skills. I've found that it can sometimes be even more rewarding to ride as lieutenant and leadout wheel for a faster sprinter, as it is to ride solo for the win. You have that extra warm feeling from helping a teammate / buddy, AND you have that big smile all over from knowing you just outsmarted the rest of the pack.

Good luck, and have fun over the winter!
Thanks lonefrontranger!Marlon
Aug 17, 2001 5:47 AM
Boff... it's been quite the blast, from getting dropped in my first race, to finishing strong in the latest race. Part of it, like I've said before, is in reading the race reports and other tips from - they can get truly inspiring at times!

Being a marked man is both flattering and deadly awful. I still feel like I need more race experience to complement the strength, but hopefully that will come with time - it's stupid things, like feeling aggressive in the first half of the crit, and launching off the front just because I feel I can, all without thinking. Only when I start getting tired do I start thinking strategy, so again, I think that's a clear sign of my inexperience. I just hope I don't turn into a Jacky Durand - I haven't the experience or stamina just yet to keep my breaks away (which is strange, since my triathlon background should make me a strong time triallist). In any case, I'm hoping to play lieutenant for some of my friends in other races - I'm starting to develop an "all-roundness" in my riding style. I can't wait!

As for the winter plans, I hope to try some cyclocross (yup, I'll post the race reports here) and fixed-gear commuting to boost strength and handling skills. And as for teams, I'm trying to organize a collegiate road racing team to participate in the collegiate races in the Northwest, so for the first time, I guess I'll be playing coach and mentor to others. I think the forum might become my coaching resource soon...

That's that. Again, thanks for everything, and I'll keep you posted!

- Marlon
quit looking at your computer and just sprintspookyload
Sep 6, 2001 10:21 PM
Just kidding. Great stroy. Stories like that helps all newer riders. They learn through your mistakes without having to do all the sweating. Keep up the good work. Maybe you should look into the editorial side of writing because your race recaps would have made a great short series for a magazine like bicycling. Especially if you could mix in training rides and the lows and highs of the season as they happen sort of thing.