Tips for cat 4 racers: stick at it! (but have fun)

The start of another road race season is only a few weeks away. Enthusiasm is often high at this time of year: you’ve had a good winter, got a new bike maybe, are inspired by club mates or pros, and are raring to get stuck in.

The 4th category road racer’s main aim is usually to get those 10 license points and move up to 3rd. Some are happy to race for the challenge and the participation, but the road scene has a bit more of a competitive atmosphere than, say, time trialling or cyclocross, and everyone wants to do something.

Dig In cyclocross 2013

I don’t mean to do down TTing or CX, but those disciplines are more conducive to racing against yourself and relishing a personal challenge, if you are not in amongst the sharp end. Getting dropped from a RR bunch can be a lonely place however.

Scottish Cycling’s stated manifesto has been that 4th cat races should be a place for riders to gain experience and after learning bunch craft and gaining fitness, move up. This is harder than it sounds in reality though, as every year there are strong juniors, talented newcomers or vets having a breakthrough year to take the placings.

My point, though, is “stick at it!” This might sound like hollow motivational bluster but last year I saw a few guys who had been racing and working hard for a few years, who made it to 3rd cat. I’m thinking of folk like Macluskie, Hamill and Paton (anyone else you feel deserves a mention, post in the comments).

Try something different: a winter weights programme, some structured turbo sessions, a wodge of aerobic base miles perhaps. Or maybe cut out fish suppers, eat veg with every meal or fuel yourself better on the bike. Or better yet, get some coaching advice or a bike fit.

This will be my 4th year of road racing. I took up club riding in 2008 and raced for the first time in ’09. The first half dozen were a lesson in getting dropped and the goal became to make it round in the bunch.

Trossachs Classic RR 27/9/09 - Callander
Dropped: Trossachs RR 2009

2010 was much of the same: a winter of long hard miles didn’t seem to have the desired affect and I was disappointed to be dropped half-way round at Gifford and got a total ‘pumping’ at the Edinburgh Nocturne cat4 race. A week in the Pyrenees in July had an amazing effect though, and I enjoyed some great form for club rides, TTs and hill climbs in August and September. Sometimes having fun with your friends brings as much satisfaction as competing against riders from around the country.

I was lucky enough to be a guinea pig for a coach doing his BC Level 3 qualification in winter 2010-11 and while it wasn’t a magic pill, I had my best time at Gifford, just missing out on the bunch finish I was hoping for. I came to realise that it is actually a really tough course. Our 2nd child came along and the need to do ‘quality’ training increased. I got my best placings that year, but nothing much to shout about.

Lap 1 Group 4
May Day Gallop 2011

I stuck with the same training plan for another winter but ‘the change’ was to make the bike and myself a little bit lighter. Having a schedule helped me when I lost 2 and 3 weeks at a time to colds, on a number of occasions. It took me until May to get race fit – the trouble with working on your aerobic base is you lose all your top end fitness.

However I can have say it worked- in June 2012 I scored my first (and as yet, only) BC license point with a 10th place at the Lothian Flyer RR near Peebles. Equipment problems (don’t mention roof racks please) made the year a challenge. Yet more illness (two tonsillitises in a row, anyone?) meant that the only thing I got to show for the fitness I amassed in July on holiday in France was a couple of chaingangs where I did more than one spell on the front in the scratch group.

Lothian Flyer 2012
Lothian Flyer 2012

This meant an early return to base miles for September and a new plan for 2013. What was the new thing this time? A determination to beat the colds has led to a somewhat unhealthy obsession with hand washing, but more importantly I think, with a voracious appetite for fruit and veg. I have been measurably healthier this winter but its all guesswork really- maybe as my second kiddie nears the age of two there are fewer germs projected my way.

A bit of strength and conditioning has been added to the mix- squats, lunges, step-ups and some kettlebell stuff. I have yet to see the benefits of this after suffering like a dog at today’s reliability trial but increased leg strength may pay dividends when sprinting for that all-important 30mph sign.

Time is limited for most people and changing your routines, being disciplined or ditching something from your life can make time for an extra training session. This might sound a bit depressing but if you’re working full-time you have to carve out an hour or two from somewhere. I think my strength work has been to the detriment of turbo sessions, which is visible in my inability to sustain a high pace uphill at he moment. There’s still time for that though.

So the goal for 2013? 3rd cat, of course! Or a least, a ore more points than last year. I was talking to Stephen, a Falkirk rider, today, and we both agreed we are not ready to throw in the towel yet. Seeing stronger folk like Wilson or Gartland get to the elusive 10 point mark in a few months can be dispiriting but you have to enjoy the challenge at the level you are at.

So I’ll be giving it a other real good go this year, health, family and finances permitting, and hopefully make another improvement, but the increments seem to be small where I am concerned.