#3rdcatproblems

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.

image3

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!

Cyclopark_4th_1st_half

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.

Cyclopark_4th_last_lap

  • Strava
  • 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!

image1 (5)

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.

Cyclopark_3rd_cat

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.

  • Strava
  • 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….

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

The three types of race

Last weekend already seems like a long time ago. Work is crazy busy, like every March, and I’ve got an exam in a little under a month. What joy,  time to revise! Which brings to an end my first “peak” of the year. I realised last year that you (or maybe just I) can’t be strong all season, so I pick a group of races and try to get the peaks in form to appear somewhere vaguely close by. Doesn’t always work but it seems to prevent those almighty pits of fatigue and illness that follow long periods of mashing yourself into the ground. I had two days rest after Sunday’s race but even by Wednesday the legs had nothing, not a thing! I’d been going full gas since January so it was probably time to rest.

image1 (4)

Magnificent pinning no?

 

So, last Sunday you ask? What was that all about? What began as a joke became my first daft decision of the year. Possibly also my best decision of the year. On paper entering a National B road race a week after getting 3rd cat probably seems like madness. Bear with me here and I’ll explain. So to my mind a race can go one of three ways, which are:

  • A result. Points win prizes baby! That’s fairly self explanatory. Good result = buzzing. I’d been back to Cyclopark a few weeks ago and won the second of the San Fairy Ann 4th cat spring crits (earning my 3rd cat license upgrade in the process). I’ll come back to that another day, but on the back of second place the week before I was pretty stoked. Have I told you that I won a race?
  • A disappointment. There’s nothing worse than crossing the line feeling that you haven’t given it everything. I had so many races like that last year. Partially procrastination, partially lack of confidence, partially a complete fear of getting dropped.  Moral of the story though, leave it all on the road! I’d much rather not finish having tried something daft than sit in the wheels and roll in 43rd.
  • A complete and utter kicking. Generally you know beforehand that you are going to get one of these. Sometimes though its just a pleasant surprise. Finishing, or at least achieving whatever you have set as your goal can feel just as good as a result in these circumstances. You might not get anything out of it, no points, maybe not even a finish and to onlookers you’ll probably look like just another guy blown out the back. At the end of the day though this is all a bit of fun and sometimes its good to race just for the sake of racing. Going back to that National B road race, it was definitely a complete and utter kicking.

image1 (4)

Really impressed with the OTE and Stealth products. Vanilla OTE = amazing. No idea what Betaine is in the elderberry gel but it seemed to get me round though. Note, concentrated banana gels will turn anything they touch radioactive, including skin suits, race numbers and carpets. Don’t ask me how I know.

 

So, this National B. The Jock Wadley Memorial Road Race is the season opener for many of the big domestic teams. It also just happens to be held on a circuit less than 2 miles from my house. The Wadley is open to Elite and 1st cat riders in addition to the 2nd, 3rd and 4th cats that I usually race with. For my non racing buddies these guys are either already pros, semi pro or seriously strong amateurs. Don’t get me wrong 2nd cat is a world away too but I can just about cope with a 2/3/4 road race, maybe even more than that this year. As a comparison a typical week for me is anywhere from 5-8 hours of training. Due to a clash of calendars the only UCI team entered this year was Pedal Heaven. They are doing a pretty good job of turning the podiums of the South East black and green and would be the team to beat. Plenty of other serious outfits (complete with team cars and spare bikes) were entered but the absence of some others big names meant the start list was a little shorter than usual. I had thought the 2nd cats in the club might fancy it when I shared the link below. What I didn’t expect was a barrage of “get signed up Pete” “It will be a great experience” “Just hide in the wheels” Oh how I laughed……

Velo UK article

A week later, now with my 3rd cat upgrade in the bag, and the chance to race big teams on home roads became just too much to miss. That’s something I love about road racing, you can end up sharing a start sheet with serious talent. Turns out there was a former track world champion and British road race champion on the start sheet, not to mention plenty of youngsters that have big futures in the sport. Crumbs. Slightly daunted at this point, not helped by the most common reaction being laughter and that expression that suggests you have grown a second head when I mention I’d entered. Predictions ranged from getting dropped in the neutralised zone, after 2.3 laps (very specific James) to an optimistic 6 laps (thanks Graham!). I genuinely had no personal expectations, obviously I wanted to hang on as long as possible and I was keen to see the lap board at least once. I fully expected to get blown out the back with very little warning, like being jettisoned into space. With a field like this it was a matter of when not if.

image2 (2)

“Blissfully unaware” Photo credit: VeloUK on Twitter

 

Dave Hales (and his friendly megaphone) was the Chief Comm for the race. Not often you get you numbers repinned personally closely followed by a £5 fine for folding them. D’oh! Dave would become a useful reference point. i.e.  If he gets louder i’m slipping back in the bunch and need to move up. So, off we roll and the road from the HQ to the main road is possibly the worst road in Colchester. If I’m honest I was secretly hoping for a puncture “Oh well, I gave it a try, wasn’t to be etc etc”. No joy, so we rolled out on to the circuit en masse. I bloody love this part. 80 guys rolling out in close proximity, motorbike escorts,cars front and back and plenty of confused looking old dears popping out for a pint of milk and wondering where the Tour de France came from. So cool. The race is neutralised until we reach the circuit, but everyone wants to be at the front and there’s a hill just before the turn onto the circuit so it’s not really neutralised at all….we reach the circuit, right turn, hammer down, and straight into a descent and a rolling drag up to the top of the course. I got out of the neutralised zone at least. Wahey! I was happy enough at this point to proclaim mission complete to my club mate Tom. He was the only other from theclub daft enough to enter. He had picked this race as his first after seven years out. Wowzers.

Wadley

This, then repeat Photo credit: @Spikervelo

 

I didn’t have time to celebrate sadly, given the experience and the size of the teams involved I was expecting a complete smash up until the right composition of riders got away in the break. This is the bit of a race you never see on TV. The break will only get away when the bunch lets it so for that to happen the right teams need to be represented. Until then it will be attack after attack until the bunch lets it go. Thankfully, it only took about a lap. “Not so bad this” says Tom. Famous last words….

Courtesy of Jamil. 800 watts out of a 90 degree bend, with a marshal point on the other side and a 45 mph descent shortly after. Felt so pro.

 

Average watts only tell part of the story  here as they take into account the freewheeling and soft pedaling in the bunch but I’ve tried to give you an idea of the relative intensity of each 7.2 mile lap.The maximum wattage gives you an idea of how hard the kicks were out of the corners, we were doing that every lap, several times a lap and its that really wears you (me) down. As you tire, the gaps start to get bigger and the kicks need to be harder to stay on. By now it’s just a matter of time until the gap gets just a little too big. The heart rate figures compare with a maximum of 196. Don’t often see that to be honest, a race winning sprint at Cyclopark only peaked at 188.2016-03-22_2105

  • Strava
  • Avg: 21o watts
  • NP: 236 watts
  • Avg speed: 40 kph
  • Points: lol

My usual road races last about 2 hours so it was no surprise that my legs fell off before the finish. To be honest I thought I would have got dropped long before 67 miles! It was the kicking I expected, a bit easier in some places would you believe as the bunch really flowed. Provided I stayed up in the bunch I seemed to be ok but these guys move around and move up so effortlessy I often went from safe mid bunch to near the back pretty quickly. Moving up took either a good few miles or a big effort. On around lap 5 or 6 I found myself on the windward side of the bunch (I know, I know) and wasn’t quite quick enough to get into the gutter. Obviously no one will let you in and you can’t help but take some satisfaction when the position is reversed and you are coasting along in someone’s draft whilst they suffer in the wind. I’d been merrily plodding along at 150-200 watts, minding my own business, when suddenly i’m doing 400 watts and fighting to hold the wheel in front. That burnt more than a few matches let me tell you! Given the field I was in I couldn’t help but feel that my match box was a little inadequate compared to those around me. Obviously I forced a smile each time I passed the finish but it was murder, agonising leg sapping murder. Totally worth it though! It was a fantastic experience racing on home roads with friends and club mates cheering from the side of the road. Next year you never know, I might even finish. A 19 year old lad that went from 4th cat to 1st cat (that’s 252 points and the equivalent of 25 of the crits I won) in three months last year won the race, just edging Lloyd Chapman of Pedal Heaven. Chapeau Spirit Bikes, beautifully ridden.

12525188_963182417069546_830581293157922123_o

Strung out, I’m in there somewhere….Photo credit: VeloUK on Twitter