Mens Racing Category

There was a question asked many times, about road racing categories and which category should a beginner cyclist join to attempt their first race? Hopefully, this will clarify some of these questions for beginners as well as give some racers a better idea of what to expect from teams and team strategies for racing in higher categories.

While this may seem like a basic question to the common racer, it is a often asked question from outsiders of the cycling racing scene.

I can only write about things that I have seen and experienced from racing in the categories and some USPro races in the South Eastern US.

Here in the US we have USA Cycling Federation that creates and enforces most regulations of ‘sanctioned’ races.
But as I look over their website, it seems based for riders that are into racing, not riders that are looking to get into racing. So, I thought I would compile the basic categories and some info on what to expect in each.

MEN Categories are as follows:

Beginners = Category 5, nearly all racers must start in this category. There will be 1st time racers as well as some folks that are used to doing group rides and are now starting to get the hang of what it is like to ride steady and finish a race.

Upgrading 5-4:
To’upgrade’ from this category you Experience in 10 mass start races. Mass starts are groups starts – IE. criterium or road races. NO Time trial starts will qualify.

Category 4 = These riders have competed in a minimum number of cat.5 races. There will be riders here that are still getting their feet wet, and some riders that like racing in this category and can win many races.
Expect the pack to roll along usually together, and chase most attacks from other riders, but usually no counter-attacks, Therefore, most races in this category will come down to a sprint finish.

Upgrading 4->3:
20 points in any 12-month period; or experience in 25 qualifying races with a minimum of 10 top ten finishes with fields of 30 riders or more, or 20 pack finishes with fields over 50. 30 points in 12 months is an automatic upgrade

Category 3: These racers are really starting to get strong. These riders are usually frequent group riders. They will have fairly good bike handling skills. Some racers will want to stay in Cat3’s and not upgrade – for a variety of reasons.

Expect these races to be often aggressive, but many still only attack the climbs, then keep a steady tempo, and chase any attacks. Therefore, many races may come down to sprint finishes.
Expect to see some team tactics, both failed and ones that work well. This is where team strategies will start to play a factor in the outcome of ‘some’ races.
Expect more climbers to show up at hilly races & more sprinters are flatter races.

Upgrading 3-2:
3-2: 25 points in any 12-month period
40 points in 12 months is an automatic upgrade

Pro1,2: These races are where the racing really hits the fan!
These are the guys that have ridden 100-200 miles each weekend over the winter. Some maybe moto-pacing. On group rides, they are the guys that are either chatting at the back of the group (because they know they won’t get dropped) or on the front, pushing the pace. These guys can ride tempo on the front of a group at 20 mph and still hold a conversation with you about drinking last night.

2-1: 30 points in any 12-month period**
50 points in 12 months is an automatic upgrade

Attacks are the norm for this category! expect most races come down to a sprint – a sprint of who is still left in the break! Sometimes, the break gets shattered and the riders will come-in 1-2 at a time due to the speed, attacks, heat, terrain. Sometimes chaotic, sometimes controlled, the pace will vary based on who and if any Pro’s show up that weekend.

The pace may slow down just in time for you to breathe, but usually before you actually recover, someone will be flying off the front again!

Expect team-mates to be organized and team-members that are not afraid to be a sacrificial domestique for their team leader & chase anything down that they don’t like.

Master’s categories: In most Master’s races you can expect a steadier pace than in a Pro1,2 race. The attacks are there, but usually not quite as aggressive – these guys all know they have to go to work on Monday – they usually have families and don’t take some of the chances that the lower categories may try. The racing team tactics can be fierce! Expect the pace to be only slightly slower than a Pro1,2 race.

Some fields require a Master’s fields have 2 requirements:
A) ‘racing age’ over the category. So, if you are turning 35 in December or earlier you racing age for that year, then your ‘racing age’ is 35.

B) to be a cat4 or higher (no cat 5’s) but each race may have different rules.

I hope this helps clarify the questions about where to start off as a new racer, and a little of what to expect in each of the categories, and the differences to expect once you upgrade.

Faster cycling by pace-lining

Want to ride faster while lowering your heart rate? Then pace-lining is what you need.

I was on a ride, and we started a paceline. How this happened was random, we were going along single-file then the guy on the front ‘slowly’ pulled off the line by easing to his left (since we were on the right hand side of the road) clear of the next rider, then slowed down slightly (just a mile or 2 per hour). The next rider keeps the same effort that the original rider had that was pulling the group, but decided he didn’t want to pull the whole time, so he slowly pulled over, allowing the next rider to come through and do his share of the work.

Suddenly, we had a paceline going, and as it became my turn to pull through the rider in front of me was less experienced (not a problem) he pulled through well, but after he eased off the paceline he didn’t slow down. Now since I was maintaining the same speed/effort for the group I was not passing him – he soon looked to see why not and once he realized it, he slowed down slightly to allow us to pass him, and continue the paceline.

This is 1 of the most common mistakes by novice riders, to either pull through too hard and/or not slow down or to pull for too long and running out of energy and not pulling off the front to allow other riders to continue the rotation.

The 2nd biggest mistake (and more dangerous) is that when a rider is down with their pull, they swing wildly to the side to allow the next rider to come through…. unless you are on the veldrome or your a lead out man for a Pro sprinter, you should not do this. It is just too drastic of a swing to the side, and again others are counting on you to be a safe rider.

If the group is doing a consistent paceline there is no reason to signal that you are pulling off the paceline, each rider knows everyone is doing a pace-line. Just slowly ease to the side as you pass the rider that was ahead of you, this gives the next rider a smooth transition from drafting you, to pulling the rest of the riders. And when you do it smoothly the rider that you are passing should get plenty of time to adjust their speed to comfortably start drafting from you with out any random moves.

Team Time Trial

When riders do or have to make drastic changes in direction or ‘lines’ that they are taking is a main cause of accidents in a group. Unexpected movements is dangerous to the other riders around you, try to minimize them. When each rider in a group moves around the road smoothly accidents are minimized because where each rider is going becomes obvious.

Although it is the responsibility of each rider to not hit the rider ahead of them, it is also good to keep in mind that you have other’s well being in your hands based on your actions. No one is perfect, but there are some riders I will avoid or go around ASAP! Yet, there are some riders that I have no problem drafting behind them as long as possible.

The steadier and consistent of a rider you are, the more respect you will gain from other riders because no one wants a cyclist ahead of them that is unpredictable!

Are cycling helmets effective

I have an internal debate about helmets. I don’t particularly care for them, maybe it IS the coolness factor, maybe it is about feeling more like a kid. I do like the idea of protection for what I have as a cranium…. is it a false hope?

96 degrees, climbing at about 7mph, sans helmet

I’ve done many easy rides with out a helmet. I’ve done some Long Slow Distance group rides with out a helmet. If I’m slowly climbing a mountain on a hot day, I may take off my helmet. If it was just me by myself out on the road, I would probably do just what I did for many miles as a kid – not wear a helmet. But the truth is I often wear a helmet because of the unknown actions of others around me. Whether that is squirrels, kids, cars, joggers, or other cyclists.

I ALWAYS wear a helmet when doing a fast paced group ride. However, I have recently seen someone forget a helmet before and they just sat at the back of the group. Not having a helmet on the ride make me more cautious around other riders. If I had my helmet I would have ridden in the pack, therefore riding more aggressively amongst other cyclists.

Here is an oddity: In South Carolina you can ride a motorcycle with out a helmet; but you will get a ticket for not wearing a seatbelt.

I’ve crashed a couple times & ‘saving Face’ took priority. Would not wearing a helmet during a low speed crash prevent an head injury any more than the person’s natural instinct of preservation to not hit head first?

I will still be wearing my helmet the same as I have done before. But an interesting point of the article was that motorists act differently around cyclists that are not wearing a helmet – why?! But is that a false sense of security? Think about that and read this article.

Are bicycle helmets the cyclist’s talisman?
Aug 11th, 2010 by elliott.

The Mom mentality of protecting you from the world. Are helmets the same?
Should you wear a bike helmet every time you ride or not? The helmet debates have been ranging in the cycling community for years and seem to be as entrenched and as bitter as the Israelis and the Arabs. One side says helmets save lives and make us safer. The other says the science behind the safety of helmets is dubious and point to mandatory helmet laws as a cause for reducing the number of people cycling, either by creating the idea that cycling is dangerous or simply creating an equipment barrier to entry. Personally, I usually wear a helmet but have to conceded that in the countries with majority culture acceptance of bicycles as transportation helmets are a rarity yet there is no epidemic of brain injury.

Recently, Tom Vanderbilt, the author of Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us), recently hosted a guest post on his blog from British researcher Ian Walker. Walker made waves a few years ago with a research study that looked at interaction of cars and cyclists on the roads of England (as European countries go, a much more car dominated country like the U.S.) His findings were shocking in that he found cars tended to give less room to and behave less carefully around cyclists wearing helmets. In his guest post, he expands on this by looking at probabilities when thinking about what really makes you safest on the road and in life. After questioning the ability of a helmet to save your life in a crash involving 2 tons of steel at high speed, he makes the simple point that your chances of dying from a bicycle accident are infinitesimally small compared to the more than 50-50 chance you will die from heart disease and cancer. Yet the focus of our fear is on the unlikely here and now instead of the very likely off in the future.

Walker muses on the idea that from the cyclists point of view avoiding an accident is far more important that what you are wearing. This is a far different way of looking at safety than with the automobile where you have lots of material designed to protect you. In a car, crashes at 20-30 mph are not that uncommon and most people survive these with little in the form of personal injury. Yet that same crash with a bicycle can be fatal. Walker suggests that when you wear a helmet, it gives you a sense of safety that means you take more risks. Add to that the research he did about how motorists react to you, and you could be looking at a greater chance of being involved in a crash simply by strapping that lid on.

The focus on bicycle safety in this country has been on wrapping the rider in protective garb for the inevitable crash (a policy that sells an awful lot of widgets by the way.) Go down the aisle of children’s bike equipment, and you’ll see gloves, knee pads, and elbow pads sold with most helmets. As a species, these physical totems give us comfort when confronting the fear in front of us. In the most American of sentiments, “If I just have the stuff, I’ll be OK.” It’s psychologically easier to hand over our fear to an object than confront it and make a rational choice.

As one local bike advocate likes to say, “Stop assigning magical qualities to styrofoam.” While our current helmet-focused safety policy makes us feel good and helps the balance sheets of some companies, it is doing little to actually put more people on bikes and get them where they need to go safely. Good infrastructure, not the latest helmet, is what we need. Bike paths and bike priority streets will do far more to reduce injury and death. When you elevate the bicycle to an equal footing in importance on the road to the automobile that will change the way motorists view the bicycle. Plus more people will use bicycles to get from A to B increasing the likelihood that that driver is also a cyclists. All of these things reduce the likelihood of crash.

As Walker says, avoiding the crash is the most important part of avoiding injury and death. Kind of a simple concept. Think we can get it?

Here is the direct link to the article on helmet usage

Stronger cycling

I have taken a week long break away from cycling in the Atlanta heat. It was a nice break during a heat wave that came through the South eastern US – good timing for me.

I spent two weeks in the gym working out again. This re-visiting squats, lunges, core exercises, and total body circuit training helps the balance the body back out from too much of a good thing (cycling) and allows you to tone up and hopefully drop some bodyfat % – ALL of that will create a stronger cyclist.

Now that I have been getting back on the bike I am starting to get in more climbing again. I have been getting out on rides that only had only a few people in the group. I have been able to do this on the Mt bike the past couple of weekends, but now I’m also getting some of that climbing with groups.

Last night I did the Smyrna Bikes Monday night ride. This is a fun group to ride with, and although the pace is not ‘race pace’ it is definitely NOT a recovery ride. For this ride, my goal was to ride how I felt, but climb in a harder gear than I usually would while attempting to stay with a group, this is possible with this ride because after each serious climb they will re-group. That allows me to work on my leg strength with out worrying about being dropped by the group or getting too tired to keep up with the group later in the ride.

A buddy of mine commented that I always seem to climb in a seated position. This is true, and not by chance. 1) For a non-climbing rider, you can usually put more power into the pedals being seated. Where-as a lighter rider is usually able to use his own bodyweight to add more power to the hills while standing.
2) staying seated on a climb keeps my heart rate lower than standing, I will stand to accelerate or stand just to get over steeper sections of a climb.

If you have compact cranks you can still do this type of hill training, the key is to use a harder gear than you usually would. Most people that have compact cranks end up spinning all the time. This is good on race day or Big events, but it does not create stronger legs. If you truly want to get stronger while cycling you have to mash a harder gear in training.

Remember train your weakness, but race your strengths.

Climbing hills in a harder gear than you are used too will give you ‘on the bike’ leg strength that is needed for stronger cycling. What happens is that you to fatigue your muscles, and only by stressing the muscles and allowing for adequate recovery do they get stronger. As you continue to do this, those mountains will become more like hills.

So get out there and hit the climbs.

Get the System that I and my clients use to become a Stronger Cyclist. In this ebook I will give you a system of how to set-up your training in a way that allows you to focus on 1 of the 4 parts of the puzzle at a time AND in the correct order. This will ensure you become a Stronger Cyclist.

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Pisgah vs. Tsali trails

Wonder what it would be like to ride some of the fabled epic trails of the south east?! These are 2 of some of the most epic riding in North Carolina, yet each is so different in style and scope that they would probably appeal to different types of riders.

TSALI is a smaller network of trail system that is awesomely fast, flow. There is very little that slows you down too much. The trails are quite well taken care of and groomed. There are races there often. And although you may find several spots of mud puddles of various depths – which you figure out how deep they are after going through them – the drainage of the trails in general is quite good, especially the right and left loop.
There are several overlooks that contain stunning views of the lake and the Great Smokey mountains.

The trails are Fast! For the most part you can run a 32/20 and probably walk only a couple of short stiff climbs. On a geared 2Niner I use the middle ring for all except the same climbs. Some sections of these trails are just too Fun, ripping it downhill and around corners of the lake is a blast!
For Tsali I usually take 2 bottles, a gel flask, clif bar (that I usually don’t eat) and a patch kit.

Camping is onsite and you can ride all the trails straight out of the campsite – BUT you may need the campsite or hotel if you want to ride all the trails. Tsali trails are basically a 4 leaf clover, with half the trails open to Mt bikers and the other half for horseback use, and the days alternate. This past weekend we got to ride Thompson and Mouse loops on Saturday, then ride Left and Right loops on Sunday.

PISGAH is a much larger network of trails. You can come across any number of things while in Pisgah. Downed trees are not uncommon. Drop offs are not that uncommon either. Pisgah is where I saw the longest rock garden that I had ever seen – well over 100 yards, all at a downhill angle that would give you a forearm pump that would make a rock climber be jealous.

Caution is to be used in Pisgah!!! Navigating and maps are a must unless you are very familiar with the area. We had mapped out a route that we figured would be a good 5-6 hour ride, we did about half of it due to not being sure where we were at and hiking rather than being able to cycle up some climbs.

There are several places to camp in Pisgah, from the Davidson full RV campground, the group sites w/ only rest rooms & tent sites (my choice), to just a tent site.

For Pisgah I usually take 2 big bottles, camel back, 2 gel flasks, 3 clif bars, patch kit, 2-3 tubes, and I would take a filter if I had one or iodine tablets. Don’t expect to get much cell service. I have verizon and usually get service most places – not Pisgah.

As crazy as Pisgah can be I have some incredibly epic rides there. Some downhills and stream crossings the likes of that I have never seen before in the south east. Some of the uphills will make hike-a-bike challenging. Some stream crossings you will have to get off and walk across. You may think you are some place on the map that does not exist – probably because I don’t think all the trails are actually on the maps. There must be sections of trails up there that only the locals know about – there is just so much forest there that they have Mt bike stage races.

If you want a simple and well groomed trail that is just a blast to ride, it is Tsali hands down! The trails are well marked, only a handful of intersections. Only a few times that you may have to walk or step over downed trees. There are some great sections of trails to catch speed and some jumps, whoops to increase the fun.

If you are looking for a more complex trail system that challenges you to navigate, riding technically, longer hours of ride time, and throw anything at you, including an epic adventure, then Pisgah is for you!