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Things I learned from my first Cat 4 race

It's good to learn new stuff, even if it involves breaking yourself a little bit

So I did my first Cat 4 race. I was rubbish, and got spat out of the back. That wasn't a surprise, but it wasn't all I learned. I learned these things too...

Crit racing is fun

Ranting round in close proximity to a bunch of other racers. Trying to sit in and stay out of the wind. Picking a wheel and attempting to stay close in the hairpin to minimise the dreaded sprints to stay on. It's a good laugh is that. It's super hard, but fun. It won't be my last race. I have a target now, too: more than 6 laps on...

My max heart rate is higher than I thought

Nothing like a proper race to test your limits. I thought my heart topped out at about 180, but I managed 187 when I was in the mix. Obviously that's just about 100% effort for me and not sustainable for the length of a 45-minute race, which is why I fell off the back. So, more training. I need to be able to stay on when my heart rate is in the mid 170s, probably.

Staying out of the wind is hard

Especially on a course like Odd Down, with multiple changes of direction. You need to be on one side of the pack going down to the bottom hairpin, and then somehow muscle across to the other side once you've turned 180 degrees. Plus you have to remember which side to be on. I didn't really achieve that, and I got a bit battered as a result.

Position is as important as everyone says

Especially on a tight circuit like Odd Down. You can't carry masses of speed into the corners in a bunch. For the very short period of time I was nearer the front, there's much less sprinting to get back on after the hairpins. The further back you go, the longer the concertina effect becomes. Staying near the front costs you in terms of extra wind exposure, but it's worth it to not have to sprint as much.

I can't do a crit without a drink

I just can't. my throat dries up to the point where it's really unpleasant. There's not many opportunities to drink though.

My fuelling was okay, I think

I didn't bonk or anything, I just wasn't strong enough to stay on. So I can work on that.

I need to lose a bunch of weight

I didn't exactly learn that at the race. But a race is where it really finds you out...

Thanks to Rich Wood for the pic

Dave is a founding father of, having previously worked on Cycling Plus and What Mountain Bike magazines back in the day. He also writes about e-bikes for our sister publication ebiketips. He's won three mountain bike bog snorkelling World Championships, and races at the back of the third cats.

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IngloriousLou | 9 years ago

I did my first C4 this weekend, went in with low expectation and they were confirmed!

A very fast course around a tight park and ride with a sprint every 30 seconds and no time to recover. A decent bunch got away and then the rest of us were strung out in a line until we formed up into small, pointless, groups of 3, 4, 5 riders.

As it was a short course the commissiares were taking us out of the race once we were 3/4 of a lap down to avoid getting mixed up in the guys racing for places.

I've already learnt quite a bit but wish I'd read abudhabichris' post earlier as I was too tentative and picked poor wheels to follow.

It was, however, great fun and I will race again, but maybe not such a tight course.

Joel | 9 years ago

Well done Dave, it's never fun being dropped, but good effort for sticking it out till the end.

alotronic | 9 years ago

Good on you Dave, from Audax to Crits is bit of a journey - most of us do it the other way around  16 I don't think that anyone who has ever ridden a race has any idea how effing hard they are, and how specific in terms of demands on recovery and speed.

My last race was 25 years ago but I still remember everything you talk about, and the feeling. Wonderful/awful all at once.... one day soon enough you'll have a magic day and it will all seem worthwhile. In the meantime, back to the intervals for you!

howieph | 9 years ago

Really want to get into racing next year, sounds fun! Thanks for this, nice reading an inside scoop and good effort!  41

KirinChris | 9 years ago

Good piece, and nice to see people giving it a go. In the last few years I've gone through the Cat 4 thing to doing regular races against guys half my age, and even being thrown into a UCI 2.2 race so I share the pain, but it can be done.

The tough bit about Cat 4 racing is that everyone has 30 seconds of power, maybe twice.

So in most fields there are enough riders to chase down breaks - and they will - but not enough to make them stick. It's hard - you get in a break, only to find your companions shot their bolt just going off the front.

Dave mentioned position and it is impossible to overestimate how important this is. If I could pick one area where I think most people fail it's this.

First, it's not just about your position. It's about the person in front of you, and the riders next to you. You have to be watching them all. Does the guy in front look like he's going to lose the wheel? If so, can I get around him? If you hesitate because you need to mirror-signal-manouevre then you're finished.

Second, if you don't have the fitness and the power then you will find it hard to gain and keep position. That's how people lose wheels. Then you get more tired. It's a vicious circle. It's not about weight per se, but it is about strength and if you're overweight then you're probably not training to the level which will enable you to win those battles.

Third, treat every gap like it was yours. Lose the etiquette of the group ride. There's no "After you. No, after you." It's "Fuck you, and fuck you too." (Within the boundaries of safety of course). If you don't take the gap, someone else will and if you aren't moving up you're sliding back, like an orange pip being squeezed.

This is one of the reasons to respect people who win stage races, and until you've raced you can't really appreciate it fully. Any fool with good legs can cross the line first but to be switched on for every moment of every day over a week, or three weeks, is an incredible mental effort. Cadel Evans has it for example, as does Contador. Wiggins managed it once and couldn't bring himself to do it again. I'm not convinced Sky have it as a team and I don't think Sagan would ever be able to do it mentally, even if he transformed physically. Racing is as much in the head as in the legs.

Stick at it Dave. Cynical tip - after the end of the season it's easier to do a bit of pot-hunting and target races or series with smaller fields where you have more chance of picking up points to escape into Cat 3, never to return.  3

mtbtomo | 9 years ago

Sounds like my first race. Depends on the course but I can now stay in the bunch on some courses but still not at others.

Its addictive for sure!

McVittees | 9 years ago

This year was my first year racing at the grand old age of 41. I've raced mainly at Hog Hill and once at the new Olympic circuit in a mix of 4, 3/4 and LVRC (i.e. vet races) events. I usually finish mid bunch to top third and got a 6th place in the 4s only race I did. My advise would be don't worry too much about your weight - even at Hog Hill PWR isn't a huge factor. More important is your ability to resist and recover from the fatigue of hard efforts. Focusing on sprint-rest-sprint intervals will reap more rewards for the remainder of this season. Also, as you said positioning and momentum is everything in a crit. Being strong just means you don't have be so tactical in managing it. I found the first race is the hardest but soon you get used to the pace and will get quite comfortable keeping up with bunch.

glynr36 | 9 years ago

Exactly what I discovered in my first on Tuesday night, given me some motivation to train properly though.
I was dead last, apart from a mate (first race as well) who got dropped out the back by lap 2 and threw the towel in come lap 10.
My aim for the first one of next season (or any late seasons I get on depending what comes up) is a finish in the bunch first.

b1rdmn | 9 years ago

One thing to note, the position in the photo is often considered dangerous by some leagues (notably Surrey League) and can lead to disqualification.

dave atkinson replied to b1rdmn | 9 years ago
b1rdmn wrote:

One thing to note, the position in the photo is often considered dangerous by some leagues (notably Surrey League) and can lead to disqualification.

Yeah I don't think disqualification was a major issue for me at that point

synthsis | 9 years ago

All of these topics are exactly what I go through as a fledgling Cat5 racer whenever I do a mixed 4/5 Crit. Heartrate, keeping out of the wind, all of it. Just means I need to train harder and push myself in training.

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