The release of the preliminary racing schedule for the upcoming road season is always one of the most exciting moments of offseason. This will be my second offseason spent training through the apparent six-month Colorado winter, so the population of the race calendar and it’s associated boost in morale comes at the perfect moment: just as the winter doldrums are setting in and when I would otherwise need to be forced by sharpened pike point onto the trainer.
Unlike last year, when I was returning to racing after six years of enthusiastic pursuit of my two favorite deadly sins (sloth and gluttony), I have a season under my tightened belt and the new schedule inspires excitement and anticipation rather than fear and dread. So as I pencil races into the periodization schedule, it’s a good time to think about my goals for 2012 and what it will take to achieve them.
Having already been a Cat 3 at one point in my life, I have to admit that regaining this status has been a strong undercurrent of motivation since returning to racing. Cat 4 has been the de facto entry-level category here in CO (thankfully about to change due to reintegration with USAC) with its associated sketchiness and stigma and it is very natural for riders to want to upgrade to 3’s by any means necessary.
That said, I decided that I would rather be process oriented and really earn the upgrade, with the objective to be “in at the kill” in a handful of races that suit me and inspire the imagination. Basically, train to be strong enough to find myself in the Top 10 near the end of any hard road race, with a crack at the places…or better, dare I dream. Let the points come as they may.
Some of the races I would love to do well in will be new to me, like Morgul and Salida. With others, I’m looking for a little payback from last year. I was feeling good at Deer Trail but had to steer off into a grassy ditch at 40 mph to avoid a fearful crash a few riders in front of me. At Koppenberg I was very comfortably at the head of affairs on the third lap—the lead group of 15 having shed more than 2/3d’s of the field inside two laps—when I rolled over what appears to have been a the blade of a machete, or so the gash through my front tubular would have seemed to indicate. At Hugo I raced strongly and sensibly for 76 miles only completely lose my mind with a K to go when I jumped for it…and got swarmed 300 meters later.
Getting points in any of these races will be no small task, even with optimal preparation. Even in the 4’s, competition for Top 10’s is fierce for racers of a modest athletic pedigree. There are usually a handful of very strong riders soaking up the places as they blow their way through the lower categories.
This is especially true during the first third of the season where a handful of guys come flying out of the offseason looking get to get those last few points toward the upgrade. It is also true at the higher profile races which often compel one or two of the Boulder area’s high population of elite endurance athletes to come out and have a go at an amateur road race, usually with devastating consequences to the rest of us punters.
So, how to compete?
Training is obviously a no-brainer, but I’ve seen guys train intelligently, consistently and tenaciously throughout the entire offseason…only to race in exactly the opposite way once it actually counts. I was guilty of this to extent myself in 2011.
It is realistic to assume that if I wish to place consistently and get enough points for the upgrade, at some point during the upcoming season I will have to put the training dogma aside, see the potential in every race I enter, work with my teammates and with gritted teeth seize whatever opportunities come my way. Or create them. In short, I will have to race my bike, take some calculated risks and be willing to suffer.
Hopefully places, points, glory and an upgrade will be the natural outcome. If not, so be it. I read a great quote the other day from Mario Cipollini, when asked how, in his prime, he might do in a hypothetical sprint against Mark Cavendish. His answer summed up the mentality I will cultivate in 2012: “I don’t feel inferior and I wouldn’t start already beaten…”