Sunday, June 7, 2009

A Call to Prudence

As my previous WSCG blog suggests, I am now officially a cat5 bicycle racer.

As a bicycle racer, one is required to purchase a license from the United States Cycling Organization. You can buy a single day license for $10, or an annual license for $60. Since I'm now gulping the cycling Kool-Aid faster than it can be mixed, I opted for the annual license.

At $60, the whole license thing might seem a bit hokey to the outsider. The benefits include: 1) Ranking among 60,000+ amateur cyclists, 2) Discounts such as 10% hotel fees and magazines, and 3) Accident insurance. The latter is really the only thing that matters. Still, the marketing wizards do their best to assuage the insurance hating people that they're getting something useful (beyond insurance that they appreciate after wrecking) for their hard-earned bacon. I don't have any problems with bartering my bacon for the potential of paying medical bills. Cycling is a risky sport. I just wish they would call it accident insurance rather than the flimsy attempt to mask it with benefits I can find in the value-saver junk mail.

It's actually funny to imagine being ranked fairly among 60,000 people across different states, regions, etc. Can you imagine the BCS ranking 60k football teams? Take heart Boise State, I bet I am currently ranked 60,001 of 60,001. Helloooooooo up there!

The evening before amounted to preparing for the race: a once-over on Old Yeller, tweeting friends for a spare 9 speed wheel set to go in the wheel-truck (fail), packing and watching Conan on the Tonight Show, then the Family Guy, then Sienfeld. As I put my head on my two snow white pillows, I drifted off to sleep strategically planning how I would win the race the following morning. I was out in about 15 seconds.

The thunder and lightening served as an alarm clock at 5:30 AM. It was raining buckets as I loaded the car with Old Yeller and cycling gear for the short drive over to carpool with fellow cyclist Mike Miles (cat4). With the gloomy weather conditions, it was going to be an interesting day for a first road race among cat 5'rs.

On the way out, I asked Mike about cat5 racing strategy. He said that the best way to win the race was to sit in the pack about four deep from the front, so as to be ahead of the squirrels and to be ready to mark a potential threat that attacks from the group. That's the exact same advice that Shim (cat3) offered during a recent UP lunch ride. Both said that there would always be some yahoo who thought he was the stronger than the pack and would would launch several attacks before being swallowed back up by the group. Most cat5 races, they contended, ended in a sprint finish from the pack.

But when I got to the race, Chris Spence (cat3), gave me the green light to attack right from the beginning and TT all 32 miles to victory. Bryan Redemske (cat3) affirmed this vote of confidence.

Ultimately, I decided to sit in with the group and reassess at the halfway point of the single loop 32 mi course.

There were about 25 cat5 racers at the starting line. It was 48 F degrees and raining. I was shivering. It felt like November. I would've been at home if I hadn't become the 60,001 amateur cyclist the night before. But I was a committed foot-solder now.

There was a neutral rolling start for about a mile before the race officially started. From there, I sat in for about twenty minutes before losing patience. We were going about 16 mph on a false-flat with a slight crosswind. At this rate, it'd be two hours before we'd cross the finish line. I was getting antsy and decided that it was time to become that yahoo that Miles and Shim had forewarned about. Plan shifted here from assess to attack.

At the next hill, I dropped the hammer on the group and opened up a huge gap. Like outta sight, man. I continued pounding on the rolling hills through the next five miles of the road.

But after being away for about 15 minutes, I could see that the pack was closing in on me. With 16 miles to go, I sat up and let the pack catch me.

My efforts shed the group to 12 riders. A few in the pack were complimentary on the attack and my ability to stay away for as long as I did. Somebody suggested that I should add insult to injury by putting Huffy stickers on my plain powder-coated yellow frame. Huffy? No, I prefer to let people think that I stole the bike from Portland.

So I sat in with the group on my stolen bicycle with no name and let things get really comfortable. My heart rate plummeted to about 120 as we tried to organize a pace line. There was lots of talking. It was not unlike being on an easy peddling Shommer Shabbos+1 ride after a hard workout the previous day. If a Crane's Coffee shop was in sight, I do believe the group would have temporarily abandoned (possibly quit) the race for some 'joe.

Ultimately, I started getting cold again and prepared to yodel on the way to the top of the next climb.

When the time arrived, a Clydesdale in front and two flankers must have guessed my strategy as they boxed me in. I'd feign right: blocked; then left: the same. The big gun in front of me was practically standing while grinding out a measly 10 mph up the hill. With no other option but to go backwards, I slowed to 8mph to let them pass and then wiggled through for my escape.

This time somebody latched onto my wheel. This was a good because the two of us could work together to stay away. But after two pulls, my fellow protagonist fell off.

From there, I gave it my best time trial, but the pack closed once more about two miles from the finish. I sat up and positioned myself third in the group the pending sprint to the finish.

With 1K left to go, someone I never saw in the previous 31 miles came charging out of the pack and was pulling the Clydesdale with him. Oh, the irony. I jumped on their wheels. And then, another attacker came from the left. That's when my left calf muscle cramped. Game over. I coasted into fourth place.

The Clydesdale won.


While there are lots of skills required to win a road race -- sprinting speed, strength, bike handling, strategy -- I've learned that the most important skill in a cat5 race is practicing patience.

For example, it took a tremendous amount of patience to pin the bib on the back of my kit even before the race started. I spent about ten minutes doing that while pre-race jitters would have had me pee. It was agony. The actual cat5 race itself requires being prudent until you can see the whites of the officials' eyes. That's the demarcation between where the 31.8 mile neutral roll out ends and a cat5 race really begins.

In the end, it really doesn't matter if you're out of shape or as strong as an ox. I'd be willing to bet that you could even polish off a six pack of Schlitz the night before and roll up to the starting line with confidence knowing that despite your troubles to pin your bib to the jersey, you still have nearly 32 miles before you're required to get bright.

Tons of fun. Glad I did it. Congratulations to the victors and to all who competed.


  1. Nice story, Brady. After reading that, and hearing Mikes Munson and Miles talk about the race over coffee yesterday, I think I understand the game a little better.

    Congratulations. 4th place on your first Cat5 race sounds like a victory to me.

  2. I didn't finish my first Cat 5 road race. Crashed and broke a shifter. After only one lap of sketchy racing.

  3. Brady, you did practice patience in one respect. You waited this long to hop into racing. Most people take the plunge and have bad experiences their first race (read Sean's post). I was dropped my first crit. But I tried real hard to get back on to no avail. You've been riding with some big dogs for a while so you've been kind of on the race scene without actually partaking in it. But now it's quite evident that you are ready.

    Just imagine if another version of you had gone with you during your first attack. That would have been it. First and second right there. My guess is you can do pretty well in the Omaha Weekend race and probably mix it up in the Cat 4 races next year. Or, take Mr. Mile's offer on that cross bike (you really need to get on that), and hop into some cyclocross racing. You're running ability would make you a natural at the sport.

    But yeah, getting 1 step away from the podium your first go round is quite impressive. Well done, sir.

  4. Here's a thought from (lapsed) USA Cycling License 257542....

    That pretty much summs up my first road racing experience. I couldn't believe how slow we were going in the first 10-15 miles, it was a joke. I jumped and got a gap--500m....for about 5 minutes. Next thing I knew there were 2 riders flanking me like F-16's...then the whole airlift/airwing/luftpost/armada/peleton passed me like I was standing still, barely caught the last wheel to hang on.

    I too was in 4th going into the last sprint---but got passed by about 8 other guys all like jackrabbits showing a gear I didn't have.

    I took 12th out of 25.

    Racing is fun, but I now understnad that I really am not into the pain or the preparation it takes to race. Also, almost every race in the last 2 years I have been out of town or committed to something else. In my humble opinion, best to worse races are:
    1. Cyclocross (short & sweet & fun)
    2. Road Races (Long & strategic)
    3. Time Trials (Safe--er)
    4. Criteriums (Gong Show)

    While I really don't like TimeTrialing, at least they are safer than the roller-derby that a cat 5 criterium can be. I saw 2 crashes in my first crit--and vowed I'd either need to be in the front, or way in the rear. The pack of over-confident Cat5's is scary.

    BTW, I rode Cliff Drive in KC this weekend and found the bottom of the climb tougher than the top. Nice road.

    Well written--sheesh Cat 4 here you come, and if you get on a cyclocross bike, watch out. You'd be really good at it.

  5. Well done. I'll pass on the crits, but a road race or two on the trucker is not out of the question. But I'm not taking the fenders off dang it.

    Redemske asked me when I was planning to race the trucker. Hmmm... when is your next race Brady? ;-)

  6. Scott: I'm looking forward to some rides with you on your new Specialized Tricross.

    Sean: I rode in the mid to back of the pack in the neutral roll-out. Outside of the initial 1/4 mile of the Corporate Cycling Challenge, that's the most scared I've ever been in a group at the start of a race. Yikes. Then again, I heard that the cat5 crit had hail on the course the next day. Can you imagine a cat5 crit on ice?!? Didn't Mel Brooks make a movie about that?

    Munson: until last autumn,the thought of bicycle races hasn't been strong. I've enjoyed the group and club rides, but I suppose my focus has been on triathlon and TT vs road races and crits. I'm all in now.

    Murphini: all-in includes cylcocross. That sounds painfully fun. I think it'd be fun to get Old Yeller out there, but it's too big, has the wrong brakes and won't accommodate much girth in tire size. Fortunately, Mike Miles has suggested parting with a cross frame to get me going on a new build. Now for the rest of the components.

    Bob: I'm out of town for the Omaha weekend's Dave Babcook Memorial Road Race (July 12). I have no idea when or where the next road race is within 200 miles of here. Outside of that, NE racing's calendar has crits, TTs, Crits and MTB races thru the rest of '09.

  7. You only have a road license, it won't work for a MTB race.

  8. Unless I'm reading this wrong, the 2009 schedule of fees say that the Adult Road/Track/Cyclocross license is $60.

    MTB can be added to a road/track/CX license or vice versa at anytime for an extra $30.

  9. Geez brady. Good thing you are so much better than all those guys or you might have finished way worse than fourth.

    Sorry, I have 2 young children and a hyper-tuned ear for whining. Whiner.

  10. I get that way when I eat too much macaroni and cheese. I think that I have diverticulitis.

  11. 10 PRINT, "I regret the last comment I made."
    20 PRINT, "It's not even original."
    25 PRINT, "I lifted it from SNL Whiner skit."
    30 PRINT, "me = witless."
    40 PRINT, "Joe Piscipo isn't even funny."
    50 PRINT, "Oh, for some mac 'n cheese."
    60 PRINT, "My diverticulitis is inflamed..."
    70 GOTO 10

  12. I can't wait to read your blog after suffering thru the "race of truth." I see you're signed up for the NE State Championships TT. Good man. Pain is our friend. Embrace it. El Guapo

  13. OK, after todays event I believe you are ready to upgrade. You are not a five.