Tuesday, March 3, 2009

self-demoted to cat 8

or … why i’m giving up on road-racing

My first bicycle road race was back in February 2006, seven months after my 51st birthday (which was when I became a committed cyclist). It was the first race of the season, called “Cherry Pie” (something to do with the prizes), and happened near Harrisburg (north of Eugene), Oregon. I suppose I did it as a bit of a lark, but it was also part of my exploration of all things bicycle. Back then, I didn’t even know what a peloton was, and I can’t say I learned any more about them that day either, except to be scolded about momentarily drafting a passing group of cyclists from another category.

“Cherry Pie” moved to a different location in the Willamette Valley in subsequent years, and I did two more, in Feb ’07 & ’08. Each time my category (Masters 50+ one year, Cat 5 the other) dropped me within a mile or two of the start. So, like the majority of my road races, they became long solo training rides.

I did a few other road races, and probably had the most “success” at the PIR Monday series (Portland Intl. Raceway). At PIR, they have a Novice category, which newcomers are encouraged to do before doing a real Cat 5 race. In ’07, I actually managed to stay “more or less” with a Novice peloton for one race, and I congratulated myself by saying I was finally a Category 6 rider. But in ’08, I wasn’t able to duplicate that feat, so I demoted myself to a Cat 7. (Keep in mind Cat 5 is the lowest category).

This year, I passed on “Cherry Pie,” and instead did the “Sublime Sublimity” race (southeast of Salem) as the first one of the season. I became a bit disheartened after this one, as not only did I lose all the Cat 5’s by the 2nd mile, I was passed by the Woman’s 4 & Masters 40+ categories (they started 5 minutes later), and then lapped by the leaders in my own category about midway through the second lap (each lap being about 13 rolling miles), and THEN a little later by the Cat 1-3 women (who had started 5 minutes earlier). That meant that my “race” was over at the end of the 2nd lap, and was officially given a DNF. Afterwards, I no longer felt like a Cat 7.

The real problem with road racing, when you’re unable to keep up with a peloton, is … you cease to exist. You lose your support, you become an ordinary tourist on the road, and you are often ignored by the scorekeepers.

This is not the case in cyclocross, or at the track, or in time trials.

In the mudfest they call cyclocross, you can almost always find someone to race, even at the back. Still, I count my successes there by how few times I’m lapped. But still, the general silliness and the party atmosphere make it more about participating and having a good time rather than actually being competitive.

And at the velodrome (particularly on Tuesdays and Fridays at Alpenrose Dairy here in Portland), you can almost always find someone with which to engage in a pursuit or a match sprint.

With a time trial, cyclists race against the clock instead of directly against each other. Usually after the Cherry Pie roadrace (and this year after “Sublime Sublimity”) I participate in the Jack Frost Time Trial. This was my 4th consecutive year to enter this race. It's a good meter of one’s progress (or not) from year to year.

I actually improved this year over previous attempts. My times on this 12.4-mile out-&-back course are as follows:
  • 2006: 39:24.08
  • 2007: 39:38.00
  • 2008: 41:40.00
  • 2009: 37:31.17
In 2008, I must have ridden a 200k brevet the day before. But this last time round, it felt good to have a personal best, particularly after my way-off-the-back experience in Sublimity the day before.

I still plan to work on getting faster, if for no other reason so I can take longer breaks on long randonneuring rides. And also to have more options in general while cycling.

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