Well, it's only the end of July, but in my mind the racing season in nearly over. My goal back in January was to complete 10 Cat 5 races this year, and earn an upgrade to Cat 4. With Jack being born on January 7th, I can't believe I was able to get a race in the first week of February. But these Cat 5 races are very early in the morning, something that I won't miss - the 5am wakeup calls are never that fun.
Moving to Cat 4 opens a multitude of possibilities for racing this year and next - I will now be able to do a number of races that require a Cat 4 license. Masters 35+, Cat 4, Cat 4 40+ (my racing age will be 40 next year - yikes!), Cat 4 Elite, etc. I will likely avoid the 35+ races, as they typically include categories 1-4, so you see ex-pros, ex-Olympians, current national champions, the list goes on. The big challenge about racing in Southern California is the wide range of talent. I'm just getting started w/ this racing gig, but keeping up w/ those guys is a challenge I'm going to have to work up to. I train w/ many of those guys, and it's a different level of fitness and strength.
As for the season, it was one of mixed success. I heard often that the main idea in the Cat 5 season is just to learn the basics - ride in a big, competitive group; learn to judge sprints; meter your efforts efficiently; work with teammates where possible (hard to do in 5's!). My "resume" is posted below, but I think I suffered in several races from being impatient. I learned that I'm a pretty strong rider compared to the guys I was racing, but given the advantage of the draft one has to be 40% stronger than them to ride away solo. I tried this several times, only to be swallowed up by the peloton at the line! But at least it's a lesson learned, albeit the hard way, and I can't ever complain about being aggressive.
The last 3 races this season offer up the lesson of patience. The Paramount Criterium, run the July 4th weekend, was a race run on a very long 1 mile+ square course w/ 4 turns. Nobody wanted to work, to ride with any pace. So I did it myself, w/ the help of some other impatient guys. I figured that if I was 1st into turn 3 on the last lap, I'd be able to hold off everyone. I was 1st into turn 3, but I was passed by other guys going into and past turn 4, leaving me w/ a 14th place finish. I was easily strong enough for a top 3 or 5, but this bad strategy killed those chances.
The next weekend, I tried the patient approach at Long Beach. I literally sat in the group the whole time, about 5-10 riders back. On the last lap, I made sure I was in the outside position coming into the last 2 turns, and just followed the lead guy into the final straight for a 3rd place finish (a very fast sprinter overtook me!). It was the easiest race of the year. Lesson learned, right?
Well, the last Cat 5 race for me this year was a road race. A very beautiful location north of the Santa Ynez Valley (maybe you saw it in the movie Sideways) and a rolling course had me convinced that I could really do well in this race. The final straight was a long 1km+ slight uphill run, and I made a move w/ about 500m to go to catch the 2nd place guy dangling 20m in front of the group (1st place was too far up - bad decision by all of us to let him go). I had a clear look at the finish line and was convinced I would finish 2nd or 3rd - I even had enough time to really think through this result! But I got swarmed in the last 10m and finished 11th or 12th! Again, the impatience strikes.
So a season of many lessons, the biggest of which is that bike racing is a complicated sport w/ many dimensions. I'm looking forward to getting more of it right in the future. I wish I had known of this sport when I was younger - I would have spent those years learning all these things! I still am not sure what kind of rider/racer I am or can be, but more on that in a future post...
Here are the final Cat 5 results for 2008:
Race - date (placing)
1. Mothballs Criterium - 2/3/08 (crash in front of me on last lap = broken chainring and seatpost)
2. Long Beach Criterium - 2/17/08 (14)
3. Garrett Lemire Mem. - 4/13/08 (46 - 9th Cat 5, as this was a Cat 4-5 combined race)
4. Torrance Criterium - 4/20/08 (8)
5. Devil's Punchbowl RR - 4/26/08 (27)
6. Barry Wolfe Mem. - 5/26/08 (DNF - broken pedal)
7. San Fernando Grand Prix - 6/14/08 (12)
8. Paramount Criterium - 7/5/08 (14)
9. Long Beach Criterium - 7/13/08 (3)
10. Sisquoc RR - 7/19/08 (12)