Each time I have coached or even chatted with road racing cyclists, 1 of the quickest things when asked what level (category) they race is: ‘But I want to upgrade!’
While the desire is Great, it is actually better to look for milestones as reasons for upgrading rather than just wanting to be in a certain category, or upgrade just because _______.
1) You are a safe rider
2) You know how to ride safely in a pack
3) You know how to take a turn while in a pack
4) You can hang onto the local group ride.
– I know we could add a lot of other cycling milestones (century, first crash, showering w/ Road Rash, shaven legs, riding for a club, etc.) but these are the race safety milestones (and I’m sure I may have missed a few – so, onto my point!)
5-> 4) You have participated in minimum number of mass start races.
4 ->3) You have done the above and also:
A) Won at least 1 race
B) Learned how to maneuver through a pack.
3-> 2) You have done all the above and also:
A) You have been in successful breaks.
B) You have learned to be a beneficial team mate.
C) You have learned how to read a race.
My reasoning for all this is that like Life, upgrading shouldn’t be about the destination, it is about the experiences leading up to the Goal as much as the Goal itself. Wanting to upgrade is a good & quantifiable goal. However, learning some racing lessons along the way is what it should really be about.
Racers that only have 1 strategy for a race will soon run out of strategy – and strategy is still being created, there should be plenty to go around.
Racers that can only sprint in a finish will get to a point where they can no longer win a race. Racers that can only break away and win solo will be thrown for a loop at some point in a higher category when they can’t break away – then what? You will need to adapt or burn-out.
Also, too many cyclists upgrade too quickly without learning tactics that go along with the experience of how to read a race. If you don’t win a race in a lower category, do you think that you are more likely to win a race in a higher category.
Although, it may seem that the main thing I am pointing out is Winning a race, really what I feel is more important is how to read the race & understand the tactics behind how to either cross the finish line in First, or put a team-mate into that position.
Chances are less likely to win a race in a higher/faster category than in a lower category. And if you don’t understand the dynamics of how to read a race then your chances of doing well and even assisting a team mate at the most important times have been drastically decreased.
But there is Hope! You don’t have to start winning races to understand the dynamics and tactics. Talk with more experienced riders. I have seen these changes of a local rider go from ‘whatever’ to Winning a National Masters Track event – mainly due to an experienced rider that often would give him advise.
Don’t just race. Watch what is going on. Watch the reactions.
And get in the action, try things and learn from yours and others attempts – failed or successful! Try guess what is going to happen in a race before it happens.
Racing is similar to a poker match, the best hand doesn’t always Win, the best strategy usually wins the match.