11 May Definition of a Bike Racer
What is a bike racer? Many people have this idea that if you pay an entrance fee, and sit on a start line, you are a bike racer. I take exception to with this thought process and is the reason I have started project, Enzo’s Racing School. My intention is to help anyone that wants to race a bicycle increase their understanding of what concepts Enzo and friend’s use while racing. I plan to expose details, thoughts, tactical ideas and bicycle handling concepts of highly skilled racers. I will periodically have interviews with Master’s that have raced at the Pro level, riders of the top amateur level, and current Pro racers. This will allow a broad base of the concepts that will help everyone improve, no matter what your goals or level of racing. I think being a bike racer means that your intention is to race your bike when you sit on a starting line. Winning does not make you a bike racer, being a pack filler does not make you one either.
So what do I mean by “racing” your bike? The number that sticks in my head is 10 percent. Look at results and rankings of USA Cycling, you will find that roughly the same racers are in the top 10 percent over and over, while the same names are in the other 90 percent of results. That is the difference between a racer and pack filler. Now the initial response of the pack filler might go like this, “well those guys are faster” or “I do not have those kind of watts”. I see this as denial; a denial of the amount of work and effort put into the training, dieting and the discipline that it takes to race a bike. If you want to be a racer, you must make some sacrifices in order to achieve this goal. I often tell my students that racing is not about power, it is more of a skill set. Who has the ability to think clearly when all the blood is going to your heart, lungs and legs? Lack of blood to the brain is one reason people make stupid moves in races, the others are: not knowing their competition, weaknesses, or how to read a race.
We are going to change all of that with these blog posts.
Are you a bike racer? This is a question that has a gray answer, though I will try to define the many categories and perceptions of riders that make up bike racing fields.
Why is there a gray area? The gray area has to do with an individual’s own perception of their athletic ability, which may not always be accurate. A riders personality often directly relates to their self perceptions as a rider.
Lets talk about training and personalities. As a coach I like to categorize my students into two groups, gun shy or gun ho. The first is gun shy: this rider is always in protection mode, afraid to expose themselves in a group as not to be dropped or disconnected. At times this rider will go to the front taking what is known as a soft pull, in other words, slowing the pace of the previous rider 1-3, or more MPH, for a very short duration. These riders also have a propensity to be high cadence spinners with minimal ability to push a larger gear, basically poor TT riders. This is a choice and can be remedied.
The second rider is gun ho: this is the rider that thinks bike racing is about power and strength. You will see them at the front killing themselves, towing the field relentlessly, showing everyone how strong they are. Most times this riding style will be at a slower cadence pushing a larger gear. This rider is adequate at TT’s since they practice all the time, but not great at the TT because of their lack of top end and leg speed. This is also a choice that can be remedied.
It is important to know the type of rider you are in order to obtain maximum gains. Most people do not like change, thus are never improving. I know many riders like this and it does not make them bad riders, but they are not the people that will win races often. Many times the complacent rider will enter races with a small attendance history increasing their chance for a higher placing. My intention is not to criticize, but to bring the behavior to one’s attention. Be aware of who you are as a rider, this is a huge building block for improvement. Example: One of my best racing friends, who races for another team, is a great racer but chooses to always work for his team captain. Many times he has a lesser finish because of the amount of work put in or because of a huge lead out effort. This is a choice he makes and he is very satisfied racing this way: kudos to him.
Categories and what they equate to:
Cat 5– Entry level rider with no race experience. May be a good group rider and have some speed and power, but has little idea what racing is, or how to handle a bike correctly under pressure.
Cat 4– Has been in a minimum of 10 Cat 5 events. Most still do not have an idea of what the sport is really about. Many of these riders think they need to be stronger in order to upgrade. Strength may help to an extent; however, I can regularly have a rider upgrade into the 3’s in one season. We do this by teaching them how to race, not by changing their strength.
Cat 3– OK now we are entering the Twilight zone. This is the most diverse group of riders with many styles, attitudes, and abilities. I laugh about, what I call, the eternal Cat 3. This is a rider that is either gun shy, or a rider that has good potential but does not have the time to put in the hours needed to move into the 1-2’s; either because of young family, career/work and all other reasonable effects of life. I have a large amount of respect for this type of rider; they have a sense of balance. Many of these riders will kick ass when they are older, mid to late 40’s. Back to the gun shy cat 3: these are riders that think they know how to race their bikes, yet never step foot on a podium.
They like to talk about their training methods, power files and how well they tested last week. If you fit this description, no disrespect, but testing well or killing an LT set in training does not make you a bike racer. I realize not everyone has the genetic gift to be on the podium, but in Cat 3 races, there are only a few things you need to understand about yourself and the mentality of this group. After learning these concepts, you will find a few podiums each season. For the riders that want to upgrade into the 1-2’s, this might take a full season or two for the rider with lesser genetics.
Cat 2– This is when I will start calling you a bike racer, you have enough experience and discipline to have upgraded and now your learning really begins. Up until now you have learned to keep your bike upright in tight places, hopefully how to recognize a poor rider and avoid them in the field. You may even understand a few tactics, but things are about to change. This change is for the better and worse. If you thought racing in the 3’s was rough, let me tell you, you have not seen anything. This group will be “racing” their bikes, and any sign of weakness will be exposed quickly. Leave a small gap in the field and you will loose 10 places in 5 seconds. Hesitate moving into the small openings, and you loose 5 places. Think you are going to sprint, and find out that these guys are strong, tough and seemingly fearless when making contact with other bikes. The upside is that many of these racers have learned how to handle their bikes in corners, when climbing and while sprinting. This makes for smoother riding and higher average speeds. It also makes for more hard and fast attacks. Smart tactics and toughness is what wins these races, and in that order.
Cat 1– Here are the best racers and for good reason: they have learned how to win bike races. These racers are smart; however, there are exceptions to every rule. I know of a Cat 1 roadie that I always shake my head at wondering how they ever managed to upgrade, not because this racer is older, but because I do not recall him using any smart tactics. Cat 1 racers are smart tacticians. They can still have a weakness in their ability, we all do, the difference is the Cat 1 understands this and has learned how to avoid being caught in that position.
Pro Racer-Enough said: these guys are the racers with only small holes in their racing abilities and have the smartest tactical brains. They are tougher than you can imagine, spending countless hours in the saddle and making very small amounts of money for years at a time. We will talk with a first year pro later this season and will be posting the interview. I will ask questions that will open your eyes to the sacrifices it takes to do this sport at the highest level.
Remember that my intention is not to criticize any rider; it is to teach the sport of bike racing. These are lessons that all good racers have learned, but do not often talk about. This blog will bring to light many of these concepts in hopes of making you a better racer.
Until the next post,