#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.

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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!

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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….

 

 

 

 

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Desperation crits – Part two

So then, one round down, two to go. Three points needed.

Hog Hill 4th only – 17 October

This is a track of mixed fortunes for me but one I love. I raced here in January and got round ok in my first few races. I’d also raced a couple of 3/4s here later in the season and got unceremoniously dropped. Lets not even talk about the 50 kph faceplant. Its a circuit your legs will remember the next day that’s for sure.

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Matt the mountain goat had joined me and as usual we weren’t taking things too seriously. That’s one thing I’d noticed about road racing. Everyone is so serious pre race. I mean, sure, we’ve all invested serious time and effort in our pursuit of points but its supposed to be a hobby, you know, fun? Well, that’s what Tom Starmer has been telling me repeatedly and it’s easier to appreciate when your heart rate is under 180 bpm. Dave Hales was Chief Comm for the day so I was guaranteed some ‘helpful’ advice and encouragement on my way round. There was a crosswind blowing across the hill from right to left so it would be important to stay on the sheltered side. It’s hard enough dragging my 75 kg arse up that hill without a cross headwind in my face.

The races were getting increasingly frantic and this was no exception. The twitchy bunch wasn’t helping my nerves that’s for sure. but at least the hill was keeping everyone honest and keeping the effort levels up. Two got away fairly early on and built a lead of about 40 seconds. I attacked the first prime hard as a test run for the last time up the hill. Its so important to keep on top of the gear and keep the cadence up or you just grind to a halt when the hill ramps up. It worked and I won the bunch sprint. Hurrah, this could work! Back into the bunch I went doing my best to stay out of the wind and do as little as possible. Roll on a few laps and the two were still off the front. The bunch had let the gap go out a bit and when two buddies of the guys up the road brought the pace down that bit further Matt reached his limit. I had to laugh as I heard Matt hit the front with a shout of ‘its not a f*cking club run’. If his effort wasn’t enough, the words were. The chase was on.

4 laps to go and a dude from Cambridge got fed up of of the bunch rolling around looking at each other and did a one man demolition job on the field. I’d been a bit further back than Matt when the bunch split in front of me. Eight or so were in the lead group (with two still up the road) and I’d ended up in a group of about five stuck in no man’s land. A couple were willing to work but no-one was really strong enough to bridge as a group. With the gap growing I attacked hard into the descent and tried to bridge across solo. For once, my additional ballast came in useful. Being on my own I could absolutely rail the corner at the bottom of the descent. Man, that’s a blast. With the wind in my face after the hairpin I was careful not to overdo it going in to the base of the climb. I bridged over just as they crested the hill with one other guy.  There were 10 of us in the lead group now so unless two dropped out points weren’t guaranteed. The rest of the 30-40 strong bunch was strewn around the circuit behind us.

Last lap and we were still strung out behind Cambridge boy, he was strong no doubt, bit daft as he had been on the front for two laps, but definitely strong. Halfway up the hill for the last time and I chose the sheltered left hand side. Matt went right. The attacks came but I was already moving up, come on legs this could be it! The guy in front picked left too though so I got boxed in and I had to settle for 9th. Again! Matt bagged 6th though and got his 3rd cat. Good lad! I’d felt like I’d given this one everything so although disappointed not to get the points I needed I was happy with how I’d raced. Totally stoked for Matt too. I had kind of hoped that this would have been the end of my season though….

  • Strava
  • Avg: 224 watts
  • NP: 264 watts
  • Avg speed: 38 kph
  • Points: 1 (2 to go)

Hillingdon 4th cat – 24 October

Not raced here before. I’d heard it could be messy but seeing as both Cyclopark and Hog Hill had been messy recently I thought why not. I was back in Hemel for the weekend so I wasn’t far away and this was supposedly a track for the sprinters. Not being a climber, I must be a sprinter right? Matt had pre-entered so he had a race but couldn’t score points. One of the two guys that had ridden off the front last week was in this race so he couldn’t be allowed a gap. Enter Matt the super domestique. Wandering around the HQ it seemed there were plenty of others chasing those last points with team mates willing to help. All were supposed to be racing for themselves but it was clear that wasn’t going to happen.

The track was wet and greasy, less than ideal given its a fast track and I’d never raced here. It would be a tailwind finish so really I’d need to be in the first ten wheels going into the bottom corners to stand any chance. Pace wise I was perfectly comfortable, we tooled around for the first half before the siren went for the prime. Matt had been doing a sterling job marking the moves, particularly the big man from Hemel. I’d clocked someone shouting for Pete near the finish line. Took me about three laps to realise that Erin had come out to cheer me on. A nice surprise! Whilst an hour stood in the cold is probably not how she would have wanted to spent a Saturday afternoon it really does make a difference hearing someone cheer you on. Unfortunately she got her own surprise when a guy went down right in front of her in the sprint for the prime. I’ve no idea why half the field bothers to be honest. It’s £20 and even Mark Cavendish couldn’t make it from 20th to 1st. I’d been well over the other side and missed the crash. Broken collar bone for him and a broken wrist for the guy behind him. Ouch.

The race settled down again until the 5 to go board came out. 4 to go and there was another crash. This time a chap faceplanted on the approach to the tight left hander at the top of the rise. He was sparko on the track when we came past next lap so I was expecting the race to be abandoned. Nope! Next lap round and the first aider’s car is parked on the apex of the corner. VW Tiguan’s aren’t particularly soft and squishy which distracted me a bit. Note to self, focus more! Anyway, with 2 to go I’d moved up nicely whilst two guys from Dulwich Paragon had gone off the front. It wasn’t sticking though and they were caught with half a lap to go. Approaching the last two corners and I was on Matt’s wheel and we were both in the first 15. This might just work!

It didn’t. We went to the right out of the last corner and got a bit boxed in. Wouldn’t have mattered at Cyclopark but Hillingdon is pretty narrow. It didn’t hold us up much, but by enough that I couldn’t quite get into clear air soon enough and the line wasn’t far enough away to make up the lost ground. 14th place was the result and a major disappointment given the build up of the last few weeks. I was pretty crushed to be honest. I guess it wasn’t meant to be this year. There was the option of racing on into November but given how messy the races had become I decided to call it a day for the season. Strangely it hadn’t been a hard decision. It had been a roller coaster of a season both physically and mentally so by this point I was ready to knock it on the head and spend a few weeks just enjoying riding my bike. Had a few beers that night with some good mates which finished the season off nicely.

  • Strava
  • Avg: 209 watts
  • NP: 228 watts
  • Avg speed: 41 kph
  • Points: 0
  • Points needed: 12, again.

Desperation crits – Part one

So then, eight points, that’s seven more than the goal I set myself at the start of the season. Back then I just wanted to be strong enough to get round a 4th cat crit without getting dropped. So that’s all good, mission accomplished you might think? Errrr no, not quite.

As ever, goals change and ambitions grow. I’d said earlier in the year that I wanted to earn #sockdoping. I’m more than capable of looking all the gear no idea without the socks so that meant 3rd cat. Joking aside I was keen to get my 3rd cat license so I could stop worrying about points and start racing for decent results.

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Maldon CC Road Race 3/4 – 4 October

First up though, my last road race of the year. I’ve not ridden many road races but I’d felt like it was coming together at the Easterly Leaves in September. A road race is a totally different beast from a 1 hour crit, not least because of the length, but also because they are almost like a chess game on wheels. I’d just been trying to get round them really and gain some experience for next season but it would be good to end the road race season with a decent result.

The course was fairly flat, even for the Eastern region. It had one nasty sharp incline that felt like your legs were turning in treacle when you hit it. The usual early attacks meant that the first lap flew by. A group got a gap on the second lap and started working together. I had flashbacks to the Mid-Suffolk where the early break was never seen again and with it the prospect of any points so I bridged over with another lad. I had just about got past stuffing my lungs back down when the bunch brought us back. It had been worth a punt.

Next thing I knew the bell was ringing. Why am I so far back? The final mile or two went nasty hill, fast gradual descent, tight 90 degree left, then a short sprint.  By the turn I was still too far back (as ever) but I had a clear path to the line which came up far quicker than I expected. Arse, I really must start moving up sooner. I think being new to the road there is almost a nervousness about going too early and blowing up. In reality most of the other guys are in the same place and often those that make the first move gain an advantage that requires everyone else to go that much harder to mark it. At least I got Jamil on the line though so it wasn’t all for nothing!

Andy Sheridan photography: Maldon and District CC road race Cat 3/4 15 &emdash;

Latest edition of ‘Where’s Pete’. He’s there, somewhere in the distance…

  • Strava
  • Avg: 195 watts
  • NP: 224 watts
  •  Avg speed: 40 kph
  • Points: 0 (26th)
  • Points needed: 3

Cyclopark 4th only – 10 October

So then, round 1 of what Matt and I had dubbed the desperation crits. Earlier in the season you could avoid the chaos by riding in the first ten or so wheels. By October the chaos seemed to be everywhere. I’d only ever seen one break get away in a 4th only crit so I was taking a punt, call it an educated punt, by loitering at the back of this one. Matt was doing the right thing and staying in the first 5-10 wheels and doing as little as possible. Fast forward 15 or so laps and we had made it to the 5 lap board. Along the way I’d been overtaken on the grass and Matt had near been forced off the track by some dude trying to ride out the side of the bunch. I mean wtf? Can you see why I want my 3rd cat license? Anyway, the pace picked up and we had a race on our hands rather than a disorganised club run.

On to the final straight and I was near the back of the bunch (there’s a theme developing here). I had moved up on the back straight so I’m not too sure how I ended up here again. A chap ahead of me panicked and gave me a great lead out so I made it back to the pointy end of the bunch by the last 100 metres or so. Nice! The bunch was beginning to spread out ahead so I picked the sheltered right hand side and nailed it. I found myself alongside Matt in the final 10-20 metres with a narrowing gap in front of me. If it had been anyone else I would have bailed but I knew I could trust Matt not to do something daft (could have been an awkward drive home!). We crossed the line practically side by side. Matt was a wheels length ahead and got 7th, I’d managed 9th. Somewhere in the bunch there had been a wheel between ours on the line which is pretty crazy. I left Cyclopark a bit frustrated thinking I could have got a better result, but also encouraged that I’d managed to get a point despite my terrible positioning. Matt was happy, this ended a terrible run of luck for him and a points drought that went with it. He only needed 6th place now to reach 3rd cat. I needed 7th.

  • Strava
  • Avg: 229 watts
  • NP: 252 watts
  • Avg speed:38 kph
  • Points: 1 (9th)
  • Points needed: 3