Tips for cat.4 racers

The race season is approaching and last year I did a few ‘tips‘ posts, coming from my standpoint as a relative novice. I’ve found you can pick up the basics and even get to a good level of fitness, but getting advice on the things that really matter for racing is actually hard. How many times have I heard “sit in and stay near the front” … “see how you get on and wait for the sprint”. You might not agree with some of these tips, hey I’m a cat.4 novice, but let’s discuss it!

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Learn from your mistakes
I’ve made plenty. Analyse what went wrong and try to avoid it in future. Sounds obvious but how many times have you sat and pondered why you blew when and where you blew? It may be due to a section of the course or a mistimed effort.

Celebrate achievements however small
(credit due to one of the Joes- Friel or Beer) Unless you’re a young and on a rapid improvement curve, it can be quite slow to make the jump from pack fodder to good racer. I have found this in Scotland anyway. If you made it round without getting dropped, got in a break for the first time, were in the right place to contest a sprint or simply beat your best time or placing, you need to big yourself up. Confidence breeds confidence.

Be near the front
This is a cliché but it is true. If you’re not at a level to be contesting the placings, the key moments in your race will be avoiding getting dropped when the pace gets stiff. If you’re digging in at the back of the bunch it will be much harder than from the middle or the front half.

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Get a good warm up
There’s nothing worse than being on the back foot as soon as the flag goes down and struggling with pace as soon as it gets sticky. You can then waste a lot of energy in the ‘elasticy” part of the bunch, and expend even more trying to get up to a safer place. I hear it’s good to ‘go lactic’ in the warm up and then work that off for 15 or 20 minutes, and would be interested to hear others’ experience of this.

Knowing the course helps
Having raced it before helps even more. There are a few events I have done a couple of times and I know certain parts of the course where I tend to struggle. You need to be preparing for these points by getting position a few corners or lumps beforehand and then recovering before the tough bit.

Technique is important
I’ve only ridden road 3 years, and raced 2 years, so I have made gains in cornering, feeding on the bike, gear selection, positioning and holding wheels, and anticipating changes of pace. It can help to think specifically about improving these areas, rather than trying to ride your bike more.

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Drink lots
More than you think. I have it on good authority that for best performance we should be drinking a 700ml bottle every half hour. This sounds excessive and I can’t imagine drinking this much- maybe at elite level- but nonetheless, I have seen a lot of guys riding a 2-and-a-half hour road race on one bottle. Sometimes there’s a perception that ‘weight is everything’, At a lower level people win on not the lightest bikes, and there are some big guys in the field- if these folk are fit and savvy they will do better than a naive racer on carbon aero wheels.

Just the thoughts of a newbie (ish) racer. Feel free to shout me down- all opinions will be useful.
No offence to anyone in the pictures- It was a 2/3/4 race.