Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Return of the blog, a summary of what it's like to go from cat 5 to cat 2 in 3 months

I've been wanting to start posting on this page for quite some time. I've been racing on the road nearly every weekend since March 20th of this year, and my two readers have maybe wondered what the heck has been going on.

So, here it goes, from the top of my head, starting back in late March of this year.

I awoke at an hour no sane person should ever be subjected to on a regular basis. It was very dark outside still and would be still for at least another hour. My eyes popped open before the first alarm hit it's note around 4:25am. I was excited, amped, ready to race on this cold early Spring morning. My first category 5 race - the bottom of the barrel for those who don't know, the beginner category otherwise known as crash 5, the ten race requirement category to move in to the ranks of USA Cycling road racing.

It all started in Central Park at 6:30am with 49 other poor souls. From guys who looked like they'd been racing for years on $10,000 aero machines, to very newbie-looking novices on cheap bikes, I lined up in the front with instructions to sprint from the start and see what happens. I sprinted at the gun. I opened up a big gap, but I also was red-lined, going way too hard even for a 20 mile race, and about half way around the 6 mile loop I was caught by the pack. Huffing and puffing, I recovered. People started attacking and I jumped after every wheel. I rode myself in to the ground. I tried to break away near the end but got caught and passed and finished in the top 10. Not exactly how I thought things were going to go. I was told by a few people I was far stronger than other cat 5's and should dominate easily. It sure didn't go that way at the first race!

Fast fwd a bit, and most the races after that I did totally dominate easily winning solo by quite a bit. I learned a lot from that first race. It's not so easy to solo win from the gun. Draft some, conserve energy, wait for the right moment and things go as they should.

My eighth race was Battenkill. I was still stuck in category 5. Another cold start, we had a 1km neutral roll out before the racing began. 49 others again (50 max in cat 5 races) and we rolled slowly through the 1km. After 1km, I thought things would pick up a bit, but they didn't. So I joked around a bit with the few guys in the front, said I was freezing and needed to warm up so I accelerated. Stories after the race from others said I "sprinted" away from the field and disappeared. My story says I bumped the speed up from 16mph to 25mph and went in to endurance cruising mode hoping to warm my numb toes and hands. I was shocked nobody came with me. I immediately opened up a huge gap and that's all she wrote. I soloed the entire ~63 mile race and won by nearly 10 minutes. My time would've beat every cat 5 and cat 4 race and landed me in the top ten in cat 3.

I applied for my category 4 upgrade early, but meanwhile, the day after Battenkill, I raced my last cat 5 race in Bethel, CT. A criterium of some silly distance, say, 20 miles, around and around a 1 mile course with a small hill, I was again with 49 others and by now they recognized me and feared the, uh, orange jersey. On the first lap I sprinted up the hill and broke away. I rode by myself for the rest of the race and eventually lapped the entire field for another easy win.

Category 4 baby! I was psyched. I was nervous at my first race, another Bethel Crit. This time with nearly 100 guys and a dangerous distance of ~30 miles. I joked at the start I was in over my head and I had no idea what to do. People really liked that. I rode a few laps with the group and decided to break away. This time a guy went with me. He drafted off me nearly the entire time each lap and it really started to annoy me. So I sprinted up the hill and dropped him. I soloed the rest of the race for my first cat 4 victory. 7 points. I think I needed 15 or 20 to go to cat 3. I entered the cat 3/4 race the same afternoon and got 6th place I think. Another point or two towards my upgrade. I was pooped from the earlier solo effort - still hadn't learned how to take it easy and draft and wait for the right moment!

The next weekend I raced in PA at the Turkey Hill race. a 60+ mile road race with some climbing! I broke away with 4 or 5 others on the 2nd of x amount of laps, we'll say 6, and rode a lap with them. They were going too slow on the hills, I thought, and I was paranoid about getting caught so I dropped them and rode off by myself. Why, why??? Why do I ride myself in to the ground when I could easily draft with a few others! So, anyways, I soloed that race too for an easy win by a few minutes.

After that, I think the following weekend, I did the same thing at Prospect park, my last cat 4 race, and got first place by about a minute.

Cat 3! Getting up there with the big boys now... Before I was officially upgraded to cat 3 I decided to enter a pro 1 2 3 race at Floyd Bennett field, my Tuesday night local series with a lot of heavy hitters, and I got 2nd place. They found out I was still cat 4 though so they dq'd me and made me return my money:(

I entered a stage race in NJ called the Giro de Cielo. There were two other guys from NYC there that were strong riders and it was basically us against each other with 50 or so other guys fighting for 4th place. Mr Chabanov and Mr Ingraham gave me a run for my money, but I persevered and came out on top and got first place overall. I got 2nd in the crit, and top 10 in the road race. I also won the individual TT and set a new course record. yay.

Next up was the Wilmington Grand Prix in DE. This was a cat 2/3 criterium with all the big dogs out to whip my little cat 3 butt in to submission. A decent amount of prize money, and a huge pro race so there were lots of fans and sponsors around the course. I had no aspirations of winning this race, and just wanted to finish. It was all I could do just to stay in the front pack as we wound our way around the technical course. With two to go, I found myself in the front and decided, what the hell, go for it, so I sprinted as hard as I could towards the finish line and to my surprise opened a fairly nice gap on the field. Tuck the head, crank it out, hyperventilate, go go go! I'm still amazed I managed to stay away from the field for the final two laps and win the race.

I tried to upgrade to cat 2 after winning two races - one of them a fairly important race with most the strong cat 2s of the region, but was denied by my arch-nemesis Mr ragot. This really pissed me off. I was shy of a cat 2 upgrade by only a few points and it was pretty obvious, to me at least, that I could handle my own against cat 2 guys. So, I called up Colorado, home base for USA cycling, and spoke with the head official of the country. I explained my situation and he put me in touch with the head of the NE, a very level headed individual, and he told me deliver him the GC at Killington the following weekend and cat 2 is mine. GC = general classification, or overall stage winner. I had my first crash at the circuit race in Killington on day 1. A nasty 45mph crash where I managed to only lose a lot of skin and a few minor bruises. I still have some major scars from this one! I did decent in the TT the next day and moved up to around 8th place. the final day was the mountain stage road race. The race ended with a 5 mile steep climb and I thought I could probably win the overall with just that climb. I drilled it at the beginning and dropped the field almost immediately. I passed the few guys who had formed a break and climbed my way to victory and won the overall by about 2 minutes.

Cat 2! I'm still a cat 2...but not for long. I need a few points or maybe one point to get to category 1, but there's not really any rush since all the races I want to do up to September are pro 1 2 events. In September there's UNIVEST which is a Pro-1 only and that will probably be my last race of the year.

I've done really well since becoming a cat 2, but those stories will have to be told another day!

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