How fast is a Categorised race(r)?

by Maggers   August 12, 2014  

Having seen plenty of threads on the forums about sportives not being races and that people should "pin a number on and go and join a real race" I'm intrigued; how fast do you have to be to stand a chance in a race? How long are they? Do you need a super duper unobtainium frame with a groupset powered by electrickery to stand a chance of competing?

Anyone out there got any experiences of their first ever race?

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Don't know the answer to your question and i would imagine that the standard could vary per region.

I have a couple of riding buddies who race. The last race one of them did was 53 miles at an average of 25mph, 2000ft of climbing (only one stinging climb per lap). He placed mid pack.

Gotta say that when they light up the club runs both are difficult to stay with.

posted by Martyn_K [52 posts]
12th August 2014 - 12:03

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You don't need an expensive bike though. In fact, lower category racing is a high crash risk activity, and having cheapish equipment to replace is not a bad idea. Alloy frame, 105/Tiagra level gear is fine.

The guys in my club that race cat 3/4 do our (quite rolling) club 10 in 23 - 24 minutes to give you an idea.

With the benefit of drafting I would say that the post above, saying 25mph, sounds about right for a circuit race.

posted by Chris James [209 posts]
12th August 2014 - 12:47

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By the way, check out Dave's blog as he has just written about his first race!

posted by Chris James [209 posts]
12th August 2014 - 12:48

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"people should "pin a number on and go and join a real race"...how fast do you have to be to stand a chance in a race?"

And here you've hit the nail on the head - people ride sportives to improve on last year's time over the same course - there's a massive difference between trying to beat your (for example) 16mph average from last year, and maintaining a 23-25mph average that you'd find in a race. Not that I'm suggesting that it's ok for people to ride like a complete tool on a sportive, drop their gel wrappers on the road and generally behave like a knob, but sportives do have their place.

Last night I would have considered trading a very loud baby for a really nice bike.

posted by notfastenough [3427 posts]
12th August 2014 - 12:50

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I've raced for the last few years here in Dubai but didn't have a UK race licence so I decided to remedy that this year and maybe my experience will shed some light.

My Cat 4 races were on flattish circuits (Hillingdon and Preston Park at Brighton, which is basically just a big outdoor velodrome).

At Hillingdon I got in a break of 4 and we stayed away most of the race, which is unusual in Cat 4. It was an hour-long circuit and that particular day was truly horrible wind and rain. Our average was 35.8 km/h and my avg power was 296 watts.

The next Hillingdon race was average 36.4 km/h and 288 watts. So faster speed, lower power because it all stayed together. Came nowhere.

Third race, at Preston Park, I won (which gave me the points to go into Cat 3). Tried to make some breaks but couldn't get away, so stayed in the bunch for the second half, saved energy, moved up and won the sprint. (It's nice when a plan comes off !) Average speed 38.3 km/h, avg power 285 watts.

Then I did a Cat 3 road race around Dunsfold (the road circuit not the airfield). Got in a break of 5 for about half the race (total time 2 and a quarter hours). Average speed 38.6 km/h and avg pwr 282 watts. That included 700m climbing so it was pretty hard.

Compare that to some of my races out here, but there are no categories, everyone is together. A flat circuit race of 2 hours riding mostly in the bunch had an avg speed of 37.1 km/h but power only 257 watts.

A lumpy race of 3 hours and 1200m climbing where I was in a long break/lead bunch had an average of 35.9 km/h and 281 watts.

So I guess if you have a local club you could go out with the A ride and see if you can keep up with a bunch averaging 36km/h or more. It's more about what power you can put out, how many times - and if you are in a break can you sustain it again and again. If you can do that then you will probably do well in Cat 4/Cat 3 racing, but even if you don't it's still worth a try.

But beyond speed and power, a huge part of racing is also about positioning and awareness - you can have the legs but you have to be in the right place at the right time and you will never learn that any other way. To be good at racing you have to race.

It will also make you a better rider on your club run.

As for sportives, eventually you will hate them. At Wits End

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posted by abudhabiChris [556 posts]
12th August 2014 - 13:11

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That's why I'd not consider a road race then- I'm way too slow!
30mile solo average, 1200ft climbing is just over 17mph.

I tried CX last year and compared to XC I got annihilated!!

It seems living like a monk and training like a man possessed are the first requirements for any serious racing.

Which leaves sportives for fun no??

Crosshair's picture

posted by Crosshair [12 posts]
12th August 2014 - 13:19

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I can't comment on the state of racing as a whole, but here's my experience from racing in the North East, in mainly 3/4s and almost exclusively crits.

As the races were crits the average speeds usually hung around 38-40 Km/h for between 45mins-1:30, breaks were unusual with the field typically all piling in for an all out sprint finish. However attacks on the last couple of laps tended to stay away, if the riders were fairly strong, as few people have the experience/legs to chase down breaks properly and many are saving their legs for the sprint by that point.

I am very much the fat lad at the back of my club, my FTP is somewhere between 300 and 330W, with a sprint of just over 1.1 kW, but I weight 75Kg so I'm useless as soon as the road heads upwards. With numbers similar to these (assuming I haven't changed much) you'll probably find yourself just about able to be at the pointy end of 4th or 3rd cat races, but I haven't won anything.

The higher categories in my club tend to weigh a lot less and clearly put out a higher threshold effort, I know one guy at around 380W, but the most important aspect in crit racing is the ability to recover after going into the red for a bit to charge out of corners/onto the bunch when things get a bit frisky.

Level of equipment varies hugely, lots of top end "Pro" bikes, lots of deep sections, the amount of money spent on equipment at low levels has no bearing on final placing whatsoever, it's all about fitness, a solid half of the top 10 seem to be on winter bikes for the more tight circuits.

Bike handling and awareness etc. are important, someone clued up that sits at but not on the front will save a huge amount of effort and will probably be able to easily beat much fitter riders.

Important thing to note is that in the lower categories the bunch can get thinned down quite a lot, so there's certainly no shame in getting dropped and it's probably best to at least give it a go for the fun of it.

posted by Le Banana [1 posts]
12th August 2014 - 13:25

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My first race was a crit at Odd Down, which is reasonably flat but makes up for it by being unhelpfully windy. I was spat out after half a dozen laps and finished with an average of about 36km/h, Ed who came second was nudging 40km/h for the 45-odd minutes of the race.

My advice would be to try a closed-road circuit first. The laps aren't very long and it doesn't really matter if you get dropped, plus it's about as safe a place as there is to learn the skills for bunch riding. I did my first race on a £1200 alloy road bike, nothing fancy.

Dave Atkinson's picture

posted by Dave Atkinson [7474 posts]
12th August 2014 - 13:45

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To race or not to race, that is the question....

It depends on how bitter and cynical you are... if challenging yourself is enough and you are satisfied, then no, stick to sportives as the experience is far better.

If however, you need to compete with your fellow man, to see the whites of their eyes, and accordingly want to make every ride a competition of sorts, then hell yeah, give racing a go.

The biggest downer of racing over sportives is the yes/no element of racing. In a bunch over a given course you are going to be asked a series of 'questions' with your ability to respond to these deciding if you remain in the race or not.

Everything centres around these questions, and nothing else matters. What this means is that looking at average speed is not that relevant (after a certain level). The averages seen in your average 4th cat race will not differ significantly from those seen in your average E12 race, however the nature in which those speeds are attained will be different. On certain courses on certain days, I've hit nearly 70kph on the flat responding to attacks (massive tailwind mind), and its those extreme efforts, both in frequency, extremity and duration that differentiate the categories.

The point of entry for racing is quite high... certainly 4th cat racing starts at the upper end of silver medal standard of sportive riding at least.

As I understand it, the reason there is this call for competitive sportive riders to race, is that for those that race, the differences between the disciplines is stark and significant and it can be grating for racers to hear sportive riders talking about their 'racing' achievements.

posted by Jimmy Ray Will [332 posts]
12th August 2014 - 16:40

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Just to make my case I've got no intention of racing just yet. I used to play competitive team sport and cycling is a breath of fresh air. I can get up early on a Sunday morning and just got for a ride or call a couple of mates and see if they are up for it. Just riding for the hell of it.

I was just intrigued if the people that are slated for 'racing sportives' would actually be capable of categorised racing.

Hunting out and testing myself on new hills with the occasional sportive like london100 for the closed roads is what I'm about at the moment. I'm sure one day the lure of finding out what this racing lark is all about may be unavoidable.

posted by Maggers [57 posts]
12th August 2014 - 18:24

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Every race I competed in at Cat 3/4 averaged 25mph (+/- 1mph). As others have said it's more about your ability to react to attacks and recover, bike handling, positioning and general race craft.

I was a reasonable sprinter, and either came in the top 10 or got dropped.

It's a buzz, but requires good fitness and a lot of concentration.

posted by wayno265 [6 posts]
12th August 2014 - 20:10

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Crosshair wrote:
That's why I'd not consider a road race then- I'm way too slow!
30mile solo average, 1200ft climbing is just over 17mph.

I tried CX last year and compared to XC I got annihilated!!

It seems living like a monk and training like a man possessed are the first requirements for any serious racing.

Which leaves sportives for fun no??

You're probably not too slow at all.
30 miles solo on open roads - you're in the wind the whole time, there's nothing actually pushing you on (think for a moment about how much you freewheel or just ease up and look at the view...), there's traffic, junctions etc all conspiring to slow you down. For reference, that's about the speed I average on most solo rides - anywhere between about 16 - 19mph depending on weather/terrain etc. I tend to reckon on about 25mph average for 3rd Cat racing although again that varies depending on the course, the weather and how much attacking gets done.

But in racing, you're in the bunch, there's much less wind, none of the stop-start. You'll find you're fit enough without a problem; what is usually more of a problem for first timers is technique, bunch riding skills and "reading" a race - knowing where to be in the bunch, when to attack, when to hang back, when to do the work etc.
There's a very good and long-running thread over on singletrack if you can be bothered wading through 11 pages of it!
http://singletrackworld.com/forum/topic/how-long-to-be-a-credible-cat-4-...

The vast majority of folk racing at 3rd and 4th Cat level are normal people with families, jobs, commitments etc, they just like getting out for a thrash once in a while. While they're likely to be reasonably health-conscious anyway, very few of them will be living to any super-rigorous diet or training plans.

Give it a go - most entry level circuit stuff doesn't require licences or BC membership or anything too complex (although you'll have to pay extra if you don't have them) but for a one-off easy intro to racing, it's worth it.

posted by crazy-legs [551 posts]
17th August 2014 - 11:10

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Thanks for that crazy_legs. I am tempted I must admit.
I tried CX last year and got slaughtered which doesn't bode well. I think I should ride with a club a few times before I consider it- never done the bunch thing either.

My job means that spring and autumn are my 'season' as June/July is busy/unpredictable.

I usually cram a two month block of training in to get ready for a few xc/cx/Mtb distance events in Sept/Oct but a hernia op and almost two weeks of viruses this year has seen most of that go out the window.

I will see if I can gear myself up for an attempt in 2015- I've got lots of big ideas as it is Wink Big Grin

Ps- the only sight-seeing on one of my 17mph rides is @ the Garmin lol! I agree you can't push the same without a little competition though.

Crosshair's picture

posted by Crosshair [12 posts]
17th August 2014 - 11:42

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I'm working in Dubai for the next few months and was considering bringing my bike out on the next trip but after a couple of journeys in the local taxis I was wondering about the wisdom of riding on the roads.

Steve Jones

posted by Tiffin15 [15 posts]
21st August 2014 - 13:07

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I went Cat 4 this year, but only managed a few races, due to having a life that involves children & work. I commute, and use that as training. Bike-wise, I use a Cinelli alloy frame with Campag Chorus (sourced from eBay), and American Classics wheels; whole lot probably worth about £1200 (I also did a crit on my steel singlespeed - that was FUN Big Grin )

Four open races in total:

1. 50 mile / 22mph avg. 4 laps with a mile-long drag to the finish line. Went out in a break at the very start, and blew to bits by lap 3. Hung in and finished top 15
2. 30 mile / 24 mph avg. Won it; attacked from the start, was able to get over the windy bits, then soloed from laps 5 - 10. I think the bunch forgot about me.
3. 36.5 mile / 24mph avg. Rode hard most of the race, got boxed in on the final hill and finished top 10. Starting to learn to save energy by not attacking all the time.
4. 60 mile / 22.5 mph avg. Abandoned with 1 lap to go. Worked too hard at the start, with too many wheelsuckers. Got in a breakaway but couldn't sustain it; the guy who initiated it went on to solo for 3 laps and win by 2 mins.

Did a few crits & club races; they were faster, but because they were shorter, I found them more enjoyable.

Next year, I'm hoping to race a bit more & get up to Cat 3 early in the season.

posted by s_lim [130 posts]
21st August 2014 - 15:20

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Flipping heck Tiffin.... I got two second places in 4th cat crits and the average speed wasn't much more than 36.5km/h. So I'm now 3rd cat but am way off anywhere near competitive with the majority of 3rd cat riders.

24mph average solo???? I can only just about manage 19mph moving avg on my own on the open road - which can't be much different to soloing on a race surely.

How have you not got the points from those races to move up to 3rd cat? Or did you not have a race license?

posted by mtbtomo [112 posts]
21st August 2014 - 22:17

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over a 2 hour period I am solo-ing about 25kph.... Crying
sod the racing malarkey I'm off for a mars bar supper and a litre of Irn-Bru...

The_Kaner
FREEEEEEEEDOM!

The _Kaner's picture

posted by The _Kaner [483 posts]
21st August 2014 - 23:07

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s_lim wrote:
I went Cat 4 this year, but only managed a few races, due to having a life that involves children & work. I commute, and use that as training. Bike-wise, I use a Cinelli alloy frame with Campag Chorus (sourced from eBay), and American Classics wheels; whole lot probably worth about £1200 (I also did a crit on my steel singlespeed - that was FUN Big Grin )

Four open races in total:

1. 50 mile / 22mph avg. 4 laps with a mile-long drag to the finish line. Went out in a break at the very start, and blew to bits by lap 3. Hung in and finished top 15
2. 30 mile / 24 mph avg. Won it; attacked from the start, was able to get over the windy bits, then soloed from laps 5 - 10. I think the bunch forgot about me.
3. 36.5 mile / 24mph avg. Rode hard most of the race, got boxed in on the final hill and finished top 10. Starting to learn to save energy by not attacking all the time.
4. 60 mile / 22.5 mph avg. Abandoned with 1 lap to go. Worked too hard at the start, with too many wheelsuckers. Got in a breakaway but couldn't sustain it; the guy who initiated it went on to solo for 3 laps and win by 2 mins.

Did a few crits & club races; they were faster, but because they were shorter, I found them more enjoyable.

Next year, I'm hoping to race a bit more & get up to Cat 3 early in the season.

Was this 3/4 cat racing? If its 4th cat only, I have to question the need for 50 and 60 mile road races. Not on topic at all, but just seems a bit weird to have such long length events for 4th only.

My understanding is distance is added as ability grows as more duration is required to force the difference. 4th cat racing is for those lacking experience, or those lacking the opportunity to train, or in extreme cases, those lacking any athletic ability... having a 2.3 hour race for those people seems completely unnecessary.

posted by Jimmy Ray Will [332 posts]
22nd August 2014 - 8:25

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I've been doing a few crits this summer. They're fun, scary, exhilarating and a good work out all at once. Average speeds tend to be between 38km/hr and 43km/hr.

Whist those appear to be fast numbers, you have to take into account the peloton effect. On a flat course without any sharp bends, its easy to stay in the pack. Having said that, i found myself operating at an intensity way higher than what i can achieve on a solo ride.

posted by Scoob_84 [221 posts]
22nd August 2014 - 11:40

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If you want a new challenge, have you thought about time trials?

It's not the same as massed start racing but it does have some pluses; there's no chance of crashing, they are quite easy to slot into a busy schedule and they can be quite social.

If you look around, you'll probably find a local-ish club with a suitable schedule of weekday 10's. You get to know people whilst milling about before you start. You won't break any records without a TT bike but plenty of people turn up on road bikes.

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posted by Scrufftie [66 posts]
22nd August 2014 - 12:07

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I would really, really encourage anyone considering road racing to first spend some time out with a road race orientated club and/or their local chain gang. Ask for and listen to advice - watch and learn from the experienced guys. 4th cat races are crash-fests partly 'cos so many rock up never having ridden in a bunch before.

(edit) or just saw this

http://www.braveheartfund.co.uk/Community/topic.asp?TOPIC_ID=13831

- worth checking to see if BC are doing similar in your area

posted by JohnnyRemo [90 posts]
22nd August 2014 - 14:25

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@Jimmy Ray Will: They were Cat 4 only. The first race was on the edge of most folks abilities, the 60 mile race was deliberately lengthy as it was notorious for bad crashes on the finish line, so the organisers concluded that making it longer would make it safer. However, this was only communicated on the day of the race, which was a bit of a joke.

posted by s_lim [130 posts]
22nd August 2014 - 17:36

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4th cat road races are often 3rd/4th cat combined and from what I've seen on the BC website, usually between about 30 and 60 miles. Seems about right to me - anything shorter just becomes a sprint like a crit. Closed circuit crits are usually between 25 - 45 mins.

Seemed to me that at the start of the season, loads of people start in 4th cat who are way over and above the ability for 4th cat. They either quickly move up to 3rd cat, or because they've just bought a day license and don't get BC points, they just stay in 4th cat - almost like hustlers Wink

4th cat to me seemed way more serious than any other sporting race or event I've ever done. (duathlons, 10k's, mtb enduros etc)

I actually did my first crit before I did the chaingang with my local club. I had done a few regular club runs though and read up lots and lots on amateur racing, and knew the importance of holding my line etc. I took a "watching brief" in the first race and promptly got jettisoned off the back of the bunch and lapped. You need to get to the pointy end, fitness or no fitness.

posted by mtbtomo [112 posts]
22nd August 2014 - 17:52

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S_Lim - did you not get the points to move up to 3rd cat? A win (10points)and a top ten (1 point minimum) could or would nearly be enough for 3rd cat (12 points) surely?

posted by mtbtomo [112 posts]
22nd August 2014 - 17:55

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mtbtomo wrote:
S_Lim - did you not get the points to move up to 3rd cat? A win (10points)and a top ten (1 point minimum) could or would nearly be enough for 3rd cat (12 points) surely?

I'm under Cycling Ireland, and the points categorisation is slightly different. 8 for a win, and only top 6 get points. To be honest, I'm pretty strong, and if I carry half my points over (plus maintain the training over winter) I should be up in a few races

posted by s_lim [130 posts]
22nd August 2014 - 19:01

1 Like

Ahhhhh.....

TBH that sounds a bit more sensible. I got two results in relatively slow paced races so then 3rd cat with the fast lads where I'm still off the pace a bit.

posted by mtbtomo [112 posts]
23rd August 2014 - 13:58

1 Like