This year truly has been exciting for me and probably will continue like this as long as I find something to be excited about and to be inspired by those around me to at it. To start the year, I was inspired by my boyfriend to give my first cycling race a go. So, on January 1st, Chris and I left on one of many bright and early mornings to head up north to race our road bikes. I was ignorant of what racing one’s bike was all about. With having spent the fall training for my first half marathon, the Big Sur Half Marathon, I thought I was in shape.
Entering in and completing the San Bruno Hill Climb on this chilly morning up in the Bay Area, quickly taught me that racing was much more a sport of mental perseverance than fitness. Now, don’t misinterpret what I’m saying. The two go hand in hand; however, it always surprises me to see someone who isn’t as lean and sculpted as a Kenyan marathon runner, able to dominate a cycling race. Racing road bikes has a lot to do with pacing when to burn one’s matches and strategically choosing who to follow and when to go on a break.
This first race, which is all uphill and encourages some of the hill specialists in the state to show up, taught me the importance of repetition, finding the racer inside oneself, balance, and putting in the hours in the saddle. Though I felt great the first few hundred meters up San Bruno, the next few miles were a pure sufferfest. I was desperately hoping someone would throw tacks in front of my bike and I’d have an excuse to pull out of the race. My wish did not come true, and instead I kept on torturing myself and finishing in 12th place. Once I had caught my breath and returned to the finish line to watch the Pros complete their race, I learned my next lesson, one of BALANCE. Never place your weight on the side you are clipped in on, especially not if that side points downhill. Everyone became well aware that instance that I was a newbie. I had pulled up to Chris and his friends, then leaned, and tumbled downhill. How embarrassing, but I certainly learned my lesson!
Throughout January there is a great opportunity for inexperienced cyclists to learn the essentials to bike racing through the Early Birds training clinics and practice races. Completing both clinic and practice race even earns you points towards one’s USA Cycling point collection.
If you’re interested about USA Cycling, here’s a little bit about how men and women can move up the ranks through the various categories.
For men there are 5 categories–5 being the lowest, 1 being the best. Everyone starts as a Category 5 (aka, Cat. 5) racer.
Guidelines and Notes by Category
- Category 5 to 4: Finish 10 mass start races.
- Category 4 to 3: 20 points; or experience in 25 races with a minimum of 10 top-10 finishes with fields of 30 riders or more; or 20 pack finishes with fields over 50. 30 Points in 12 months is a mandatory upgrade.
- USA Cycling-sanctioned rider camps and clinics that are approved by the Local Associations for upgrading will count as a maximum of three upgrade points when upgrading from category 4 to 3.
- Category 3 to 2: 30 points; 40 points in 12 months is a mandatory* upgrade
- Category 2 to 1: 35 points**; 50 points in 12 months is a mandatory* upgrade
*Junior riders are exempt from the mandatory upgrade rules on the road.
**For category 1 upgrades, only 10 of the points may be earned in races that are part of a training series or may be earned in masters races.
For women, currently there are only 4 categories. Same as for men, Cat 4 is the entry level, and Cat 1 are the most competitive/strongest and usually most experienced riders.
Points are gained by placing well in each race, but it also depends on the type of race and the number of racers participating the event. In road cycling, there are road races, circuit races, and criteriums. As listed, they typically decrease in distance. Depending on race category, there are different qualifying distances towards gathering the respective upgrade points.
Here the various points tables:
From all my races this year, I really have enjoyed the crit races the most. I love the thrill of racing at high speeds for +90% of the time, having the chance to win different prizes through primes, and the crowds at crits are definitely the best.