My friend Sean is a Cat 3 racer, and had some pretty good observations from his first full year as a Cat 3. I post them here, though he is the source of these helpful hints:
Live and Learn- Reflections on Top 10s and no Top 1s in Cat3
This is partially for me to put thoughts together and partially to share the lessons I continue to learn in my first full season as a Cat 3. Last year podiums seemed to come easily and I was getting dropped left and right anytime I tried a Cat 3 race. This year I am still getting dropped from the truly hard crits like Steel City and Rock Lititz but mostly I am hanging. Here are some of the tips I have picked up along the way.
Learn to find the draft sweet spot.
It takes about 30 seconds for the start of a race to settle in a bit after people jockey for initial position. Learn to clip in fast and then pick your way through the madhouse quickly and then GRAB A WHEEL and DRAFT THE SWEET SPOT. The sweet spot is more important in Cat 3 and Cat 1/2/3 than in Cat 4 because the speeds are faster and the surges can last longer. In 1/2/3 the pace goes full gas and just stays there. Practice surfing that sweet spot by trying to stay in the draft and on the wheel of much stronger riders in training. Motor pacing is good for this but we don’t have a scooter. Learn to find the sweet spot in the draft. My power numbers in races are way down this season while speeds are up. Mostly due to better and smarter use of the draft mid race.
Live on the inside of the course.
If the course is clockwise tend to stay on the right of the pack. Counterclockwise stay on the left side. By tending to stay on the inside of the course you always have more options and exits upon exiting the corners. When going through a corner either stay directly behind the man in front of you or slightly towards the inside of the corner. Don’t drift to the outside of the corner or rider in front of you or you are inviting getting boxed by the curb. This is most vital in the final 10 minutes or 5 laps. Inside gains positions. Outside bleeds positions.
Count on late attacks.
There are always late attacks by the non sprinters who have not made a break. They usually go with 2-3 to go and should be followed. If you don’t want that move to stick and want to sprint it out at the end then just sit on and let them get discouraged. Otherwise get a free tow. If you want it to stick then work your tail off until it is clear you are all free and the end is near. Then play the games to win.
Do NOT hit the apex of corners in the bell lap.
There WILL be dive bombers in all corners. Just count on it. It is desperate and way too risky. The crash at ToWC Kickoff in the final corner was dive bombing and I nearly got taken out last weekend by a dive bomber and nearly got taken out last year at Ft Ritchie. All in the final corner when the speeds into those corners are 30-35mph and we are trying to hit the apex to get the fastest line. Instead kick your line out enough to allow the dive bomber space which WILL happen. Just be strong enough to finish him off to the line. Get into the habit in all corners of making room for the dive bomb. Not making that space is not going to do you any good when he comes along and hits you at 35mph with only 8 seconds to go.
Block the dive bomb attacks with line choice out of corners.
I just saw this at the MABRA Champs 1/2/3 race. If you are hammering the front and dictating the pack’s line then after a right hand corner swing back to the right curb and keep hammering. Just before the next right hand corner swing back left to setup the turn and take it. This shuts down the race winning attacks from the inside. Few winning late attacks come from the outside. Almost all of them are hard charging from the inside line. Reverse it for a counterclockwise course.
In double yellow races line the team up on the double yellow in the closing minutes.
The double yellow is really the only place to move up in a double yellow rule race. If the road is tight or packed put the whole team in line on the double yellow near the front to setup the finale. This blocks swarming and keeps the team near the front and gives the team the easiest path to take the front when it is time. We did this at Crash Dolan by dumb luck and it was money. We just went on the front too early for the amount of firepower we possess.
Keep your exit open and follow everything with 5 to go.
With 5 to go follow all moves. With 2 to go be willing to push air and just accept a 400+ watt bell lap. With 2 to go protect the inside lane and live there without hitting corner apexes too close.
Treat the surges and pacing like incoming artillery fire.
When the pace kicks up hard mid race do NOT panic about your position. Jump into the sweet spot of the draft in front of you and hide behind that wall until the all clear is sounded. When the pack takes a quick breath you do NOT. Instead take that lull to move up immediately. Then take your breath.
You will never win a bike race by following the race winning final sprint attack.
You win races by dictating the winning attack and sprint. At some point the winner of the race must be willing to commit and go away out front. The winner of the race is the guy in FRONT of everyone else. You MUST make that move. You CAN’T wait for someone else to go and then follow them in for 4th place. Dictate the finish. Be willing to take that tactical risk. GO NOW!
Strong and SMART teamwork is vital.
There are strong teams and there are smart teams. The team must be both to be effective. Make the effort to get physically strong in training at Hains. Make the effort to get mentally stronger in races where the action is happening. I have learned very little in races from the times I have tailgunned and I have had plenty of that position this season. Live closer to the pointy end of the race and take mental notes what works for you and others. You learn a lot more in the race than watching racing on TV. I have raced fewer races this season than last year. This has allowed me to be more physically strong due to better recovery but it has made me less mentally strong due to a lighter racing calendar. I am ok with that and just hope the smarts carry over to next season in Cat 3. It is just taking longer than I hoped.
Race the impossible races.
I have gotten stronger from races I knew I would get dropped from. ToWC, Black Hills, Jeff Cup, MABRA Champs 1/2/3, Giro di Coppi, Poolesville. A couple others I expected to do better at I still learned valuable lessons like Steel City and Rock Lititz. Training races have great value even if you are not going to win. Don’t skip races because you do not feel fit enough to win. It is ok to lose.
Do not eat within 3hrs of a race or hard intervals.
It did not discover this trend until I heard that Sir Bradley Wiggins or Jens Voight, can’t remember which, made sure his last meal was 3.5hrs before the hour record attempt. When I heard that I started paying attention to my own performances in relation to meal times. I always wondered why I would have some great session even when I was dieting last year. Also couldn’t figure out why I got dropped so so fast this year at Poolesville. Many of my surprisingly poor races and interval sessions I believe were in part due to eating food of substance too close to the event. Instead time meals 3hrs before the race then switch to race food just before the start and then stick with race food until the end. It is making a big difference for me.
Buy a foam roller get used to the pain.
The foam roller will allow you to train harder the next day. Foam roll every night before going to bed. You will get faster.
Intervals are supposed to hurt.
I did my intervals last year but this year I have been more willing to risk hurting myself in the last couple sets. Everyone wants to get big muscles but not everyone wants to lift no heavy ass weights. I am paraphrasing. You get the idea. If the last 5 minutes is hopeless then just SHUT UP LEGS and turn yourself inside out. There will be time to cry in a corner 6 minutes from now. GO NOW!
As MT found out this season when got some coaching, you are GUARANTEED to get faster. He was flying early season and I remember asking what the heck happened. He crushed it this year. His answer? “I got a coach.” Yeah. He got a coach AND he did the work. Even if you don’t get a coach at least do the work. It is fun to race but as Chris found out at Steel City it is also fun to podium. Still my favorite moment of the 2015 season so far. So proud of him and Tina at ToWC getting their first podiums this year.
Value your friends, teammates, and fellow racers.
This is all supposed to be fun as MT tells me. Find joy in the time spent riding to the race with teammates and after the race hanging with friends and fellow racers while cheering on the Women’s race or the 1/2/3 Men’s race. The season comes and goes too quickly. I still remember when we were all so surprised the first race was around the corner. Now the season only has a handful left and #crossiscoming. Enjoy the moments as they come.
Just do it. My gawd it is so so much fun. Refer to the pic of Patty from DCCX for proof.