I often get asked by athletes I coach (and don't coach), "Do you think I can race in a Cat 5 race?". The answer..(you guessed it), "It depends". What kind of race? A Road Race? A Time Trial? A Criterium? Are you good at sprinting? Is it a hilly race? What's the duration of the race? Where do you want to finish in the race? What kind of shape are you in? Are you comfortable riding in a tight, fast group? How are your bike handling skills? etc. There are just so many variables. What I'll try to do in this blog..is give you what I think are the minimum requirements for entering a race and being competitive...whether it be a road race, time trial or criterium:
a. Time Trial bike or road bike with clip-on aero bars (not required but preferred)
b. Must have good endurance (or you're going to suffer more than others)
c. Good aerodynamic position on the bike
d. Must be comfortable in Aero position (riding in aero bars)
a. High w/kg if the course is hilly (otherwise you'll get dropped quickly)
b. Must have good bike handling skills
c. Must be experienced (and feel comfortable) riding in tight groups at high speed
d. Must have good endurance (depending on length/duration of race) if you want to finish w/ the group
e. Must be a good sprinter if you want to podium
f. Must be prepared for crashes (they happen)
a. Must have excellent bike handling skills
b. Must be experienced (and feel comfortable) riding in tight groups at high speed
c. Must be a good sprinter if you want to podium
d. Must be prepared for crashes (they happen)
e. Must be able to handle constant accelerations
Ok, now lets discuss each. The Time Trial (aka the race of truth) is probably the easiest and safest of the three to enter. It's probably one that I recommend that most cyclists try first. You'll find out real quick whether your in-shape/out-of-shape, a sprinter or distance rider, able to tolerate pain, etc. If you want to be competitive..you better have a HIGH Functional Threshold Power, a Time Trial bike (or aero road bike), in good shape..and able to tolerate pain.
The Road Race is probably the next race you'd want to enter after a TT. The road races are spread out more..which is why they are normally held in rural areas. Typically, the Road Races around here (Lancaster PA area are the closest) are five 5-mile laps...and HILLY. Typical speeds are averaging 24-26 mph on the flats and 16-18 mph on the hills. They usually last anywhere from an hour to an hour and a half. If your w/kg isn't at least 2.75..I wouldn't bother..unless you don't mind getting dropped. They are fast & tight requiring good bike handling skills but they aren't as "nerve-racking" as a Criterium.
The Criterium is probably the most popular (I should say..most common) of all road bike races. That's because the promoters prefer them because they don't take as much real estate to setup and run as a Road Race does. Plus, they are shorter. They are normally held in cities, towns, industrial parks and on college campuses. Most Crits are 20 or so 1-mile loops lasting less than an hour. They are fast..some averaging 27-28 mph on the flats. Top speeds on the flats are over 30 mph. So, if high speed and close riding is NOT your thing...or you don't feel comfortable riding like this..I would NOT recommend Crits. That is, until you get more experience riding at high speeds in tight groups. Also, bike handling skills are key. In addition to the high speeds on the flat stretches...you're going to be leaning into turns at high speed too. And, if you don't know it by now..crashes are a part of cycling racing. They are more prevalent in Criteriums. b
Sorry..there's nothing you can do about that. And, it doesn't matter whether it's a Cat 5 Crit or a Pro-1-2-3 Crit...crashes happen. Albeit for the Pros..the crashes don't usually occur from inexperience (like they do at Cat 5 races) but more from riders jockeying (maneuvering) for position in the final sprint.b
If you think that Crits are for you..and you're not sure if you're ready or not...the best advice I can give you is to enter a "Training Series". There are two that I know of..one in Center Valley out near King of Prussia PA and the other up in the Lehigh Valley, PA. Check online for dates/times/etc.
If you have any specific questions re: any of the three races I mentioned..email away. I may not be very good at any of them..but I do know what it takes to be competitive..and I do know what it takes if you want to podium or win ...especially at the Cat 4/5 level. firstname.lastname@example.org
Power ON! Coach Rob