So, it’s been a while. I haven’t done much racing since the Wadley but I have managed to keep the training miles up. Mostly in the mornings before work as it’s the only free time I’ve had. I made myself a pretty decent 35 mile route chasing every gradient on the way to Ipswich so now that the season proper is getting closer I’m making my efforts shorter and harder. Once I got my head around waking up at 5:30 am the sunrises made it totally worth it.
I mentioned last time that my #4thcatproblems had become #3rdcatproblems but didn’t quite get round to writing about it. Mostly because I can’t find one single piece of media recording the momentous occasion. Typical really, as there’s always someone around to jump out of a bush and photograph you getting dropped at Hog Hill! I took my first trip to Cyclopark as a 3rd cat last weekend so I thought I would have a look at how 4th and 3rd cat compare.
San Fairy Ann CC Spring crits – Final 4th cat race (5 March)
I was like a kid on Christmas eve in the week running up to this race. In my mind 3rd cat was a certainty (only needing 6th or better), it was just a question of whether last week had been a case of the stars aligning perfectly or was there potential for another decent result? I’m not sure how I got any work done that week to be honest as I kept replaying the last race over in my head looking for ways to change the outcome. Kind of like a lycra clad Groundhog Day. Tactics obviously play a part in racing, but sometimes the other guy is just stronger. In hindsight I reckon I rode my race perfectly and 2nd was the deserved reward.
So rolling back to this race. I’d bumped into last week’s winner before sign on and we got talking about the rematch, I mean race. He and his team mate were keen to get away with a few laps to go so after the usual polite conversation charade (whilst secretly trying to figure out each other’s fitness) I expressed my interest in joining said break. In reality I’m much more suited to a bunch sprint but I would go with them if it looked like we might get away. In the last race we had caused some damage when the field split with 5 to go so I was all for making other peoples’ legs hurt. I’d found in 4th cat races that you often had a few protagonists that were clearly stronger than the rest of the bunch, a fair size mid field that could get a result if the race played out as they wanted and then a pretty big remainder that would get dropped somewhere between the start and finish. I’d realised at the Hillingdon crits that I had gradually moved from the mid field towards the pointy end of the pack. Not that I had managed to convert any of that form into results! If we and a few other strong riders got away at Cyclopark there was no way we were going to get brought back. People would shout in the bunch, but no-one would commit to the chase. Such are 4th cats. This time the wind was up the finish straight though which changed the dynamics of the race completely. It would be a much less selective race as the wind would counteract the drag to the line, not entirely, but enough to knock some watts off the effort each lap and that adds up over an hour.
The race was pretty nondescript for the most part.The graph below tells the story. Average watts of around 210 (Strava has overstated slightly), and average heart rate of around 161. Heart rate uncomfortable but not unsustainable. Nothing ever looked like a realistic prospect for a break so I spent the race holding position in the bunch and doing zero work, which is reflected in the watts. Loads of guys say they do a good job of staying out of the wind but I reckon I was deserving of a degree in wheel sucking such was my lack of contribution. The usual steady increase in pace occurred when the 5 lap board came out. My legs felt pretty good so I was confident at this point that I could get a result. I tend to be fairly passive in the bunch but once a race gets into the last 5 I try to switch off my club run manners and fight for wheels. It takes a while to become utterly ruthless in a bunch but every time you help someone out by letting them in (or out) is an opportunity for them to take points from you. It does still make me chuckle that there is always at least one chopper that shouts “slowing” coming into the tight corners or “on the left” as he dive bombs up the inside. It’s not a club run!
With half a lap to go a dude from North Road CC took a punt on a long one and attacked into the headwind on the back straight. The crucial corners at Cyclopark are the two left handers at the end of the back straight. Get through them in the first five wheels and you should be on for a result. On to the finish straight and I was probably a little further back than I should have been (no obvious excuse springs to mind), I was sheltered though and had a decent line out of the bunch so no biggy. North Road was still dangling off the front but the long drag to the line looked to be taking its toll (first rule of Cyclopark, don’t go too early). I can’t remember who went first but I jumped hard out of the bunch with a dude from Oxted (interestingly last week’s winner’s team mate), he was on my left and slightly ahead with perhaps 20 seconds to go. Ahead of us North Road started to veer over to the left (from the far right) in slow motion, kind of like a drunk walking home from the pub. I found myself headed for a closing gap between him and Oxted. My first thoughts are not repeatable but despite the gap continuing to shrink, so much so that I had to get back in the saddle to squeeze through the gap, I got through. I think we brushed as I went past but a final acceleration once clear was enough to pip Oxted by a bike length or two and win my first bike race! Holy shit!!!!!! A year of hard work, frequent disappointment and much suffering had finally paid off. And no bugger took a photo or recorded a video. There wasn’t even a podium. Sob. In the absence of proof otherwise I’m pretty sure it looked exactly like this.
The final sprint had only been 12 seconds at 770 watts (see below). Of that, 3 seconds was the final gas to the line at 890 watts after squeezing past North Road. Crucially though the last lap had been at near 300 watts, a threshold effort for me, so that 770 watts came after 3-4 minutes of suffering. I’d also made an earlier 900 watt kick to get onto the right wheel out of the hairpin before the back straight. You can see that the pace jumped up nearly 4 kph on the last lap and its this change in pace that strings out the bunch and weeds out the optimists. I’ve realised that once the 2 lap board is out the finish is usually less than 5 minutes away. How ever much you are suffering here its going to be short lived. The other aspect is confidence, so often last year I doubted myself and missed an opportunity by hesitating. If you have a half decent sprint taking the initiative could be enough. Remember the guy that goes second will have to put out more power in a shorter space of time to come round you. Equally, anyone that is behind you when the sprint kicks off has more distance to cover and will likely be gassed by the line. If you can’t see them when you go forget them! Seems obvious but it took me a season to put that into practice.
- Avg: 202 watts
- NP: 242 watts
- Avg speed: 37 kph
- Points: 1o (6 carried over towards 2nd cat)
I’d promised myself #sockdoping last year if I made 3rd cat and that’s exactly how I rewarded myself. Someone had linked me a photo on Instagram to these bad boys and despite the need to pay for air mail from Australia it just seemed meant to be! Who can say they have their surname on their socks? 3rd cat Pete had arrived!
Crits at the Park – First 3rd cat race (16 April)
So roll on five weeks and I headed back to Cyclopark as a 3rd cat. I’d been ill for most of the week beforehand and hadn’t really touched my bike for a week. Needless to say I didn’t have the same confidence as my last outing, hell I didn’t even know if my legs were going to show up. Before the illness I’d been going pretty well though so I was hoping that I would at least get round and I was curious to see how a 3rd cat bunch compared to 4th cat. I had no real aspirations in terms of results, especially after losing a week to illness. It was a big bunch, a good 50+, and we were missing the top hairpin due to a circus being set up. The comm said because of dogs on the course, “dags” if you’ve seen Snatch, I have no idea if he was being serious.
The race started with a dude faceplanting off the line after missing his cleat. More than a little embarrassing. He took someone else down with him and the resulting hold up took a fair few out of the race from the start. The wind was up the finish straight again and the lack of the top hairpin actually made the circuit harder. Now the pace up the finish straight was carried around the top bend straight into the headwind on the back straight. Compared to 4th cat there was a noticeable increase in pace, not a Trinity Park when the scratch group comes through increase, but 4 kph more was enough to make it much harder to move up. I spent the first half of the race just about hanging on to be honest. Despite a decent warm up the lack of miles made my legs feel wooden. I don’t think I’ve seen a full 50+ bunch strung out before but I looked up more than once to see my teammate Tom doing just that. That didn’t help my suffering legs. He had several cracks at getting away but it seems 3rd cats are no different to 4th cats in terms of not letting breaks go. Plenty would bridge over to him only to sit on his wheel. Tom sensibly disappeared back into the bunch for the remainder. The rest of the race was pretty nondescript for me. A dude that I raced with as a 4th cat last year nearly, so nearly, got away with a couple to go. Didn’t quite make it stick though. Tom offered lead out duties which I duly took up but I didn’t have the legs left to hold his wheel. I rolled in about 35th or so but generally I was pretty happy to have survived. As well as my team mate, Tom, there had been Mark (the dude that nearly got away) and another local dude, Andy, in the race so it was pretty cool racing as a 3rd cat with guys that I had raced and watched move out of 4th cat last year. Tom falls into his own special category as the 3rd cat that loves to suffer. “Remember, you’re having fun” being the catchphrase that usually comes with a complete and utter kicking. A few more weeks training and I reckon I’ll be tip top for the start of the road season. First though, Ixworth town crits on the bank holiday weekend. I’m expecting this to be unpleasant.
So comparing this to the 4th cat race that I won…….did I mention that I won a bike race? You can see from the chart above that my heart rate was much more consistent in this one than the previous 4th cat races, reflecting that the pace was faster but more consistent without the stop/start bunching of a 4th cat race. So much so that you can make out the finish straight drag spiking my heart rate each lap. Average heart rate was higher by about 10 bpm, partially due to my lack of fitness and remaining illness, but also because of my poor positioning in this one. I would have got an easier ride at the front of the bunch. Interestingly normalised power was pretty much the same as the last 4th cat race. Average watts were 10 watts higher over the race, not a huge difference but enough for your legs to notice.
- Avg: 209 watts
- NP: 241 watts
- Avg speed: 40 kph
- Points: 0
I thought I’d summarise the differences I spotted between 3rd and 4th cat crits. Probably repeating myself a bit but it might be of interest having them in one place.
- Faster pace, seems obvious right, but a more consistent pace too. If you slip back it will be harder to get back on, but stay near the front and I dare say you’ll get dragged round quite comfortably using less watts than in 4th cat.
- Riding standards weren’t the step up I expected. Quite surprised by this but there were still plenty of choppers and guys that can’t hold a line through a corner. They’ve just got a little faster.
- Much more confident and vocal bunch. Don’t be intimidated (see above).
- A break is just as unlikely to stick here as it would in a 4th cat crit. You will get chased down and very few will work with you.
- Less bunching (when the bunch compresses quickly due to a slowing of the pace on the front) than a 4th cat race, but when it happens boy does it compresses fast!
My final pointer for 3rd cat crits is this, if you are going to rock up on a Tinkoff branded Specialized Tarmac, wearing a Tinkoff branded Evade (because it matches your club kit) don’t shout your mouth off in the bunch. Especially when you seem to spend more time off the track than on it….