Monday, January 03, 2011

Racing - 2011 License

Jeezum. Lookit the size of that sticker!

It's really official, at least for now. I'm a Cat 2. It even says it on my license in print.

Depending on your view point this could be a bad thing or a good thing.

It's bad because it means the license holder will have to race Cat 2 races. For someone (me) not used to that I think it'll be hard.

It's good for someone that, about 20 years ago, said to everyone and anyone that I wanted to get my upgrade to Cat 2, "lose" the license, get a replacement, then frame the new license and hang it on the wall. Then promptly downgrade to Cat 3 again.

See, back then, I felt totally outclassed by the Cat 2s. Heck, I felt outclassed by the Cat 3s.

Then again, in that era the Cat 3s that outclassed me often wore National Champion jerseys. They regularly place top 3 in Cat 1-2-3 races, after winning the Cat 3 race as a warm up. Because of some of the inefficiencies of the then-called USCF, they never upgraded.

Racing against those guys meant it became incredibly difficult to break into the top 6 in a crit.

Another one of the prime reasons I struggled with earning a Cat 2 upgrade was that in those days you had to be a complete rider to upgrade. No specialty upgrades. None of this "I don't do road races" stuff. It was all or nothing.

Typically you'd hear some very good riders (who wanted to upgrade) lament the fact that they could only get 7th, 8th, 9th, or 10th in the road races, some of them being really, really hard ones, and because they never earned points in a road race, the local rep rejected their upgrade request.

So, for me, who never finished a single road race with the group (ever!), an upgrade seemed highly unlikely.

Nowadays it's a bit different. Points are points. Earn them in crits or road races, it's okay. Just remember where you earned them because if you earned your upgrade points in crits, chances are that you'll get totally spanked in the road races.

(Since it logically follows that you couldn't earn points in a road race, upgrading will make the now-harder road races impossible to conquer.)

What this has done is dilute the Cat 2 ranks.


I can say this because, frankly, I'm one of the solvents. A "diluter" if you will.

See, if you lined me up against a Cat 2 of yesteryear, I'd fall pretty short in many respects. Climbing, for sure, and time trialing, another "for sure". Steady state power. Power to weight ratio, at least for more than a minute.

But put me in a crit that's reasonably flat...


I've held my own in 1-2-3 crits. I even infiltrated a 10 lap long break as a "strong" 3 (with two either current or former Cat 1s).

And, as a friend of mine likes to reminisce, I even bridged to a young (1992) George Hincapie in probably the fastest flying lap I've ever done (and ever will do) at the Naugatuck Crit.

Lil' ole me, bridging up to the star of the National team.

Imagine that.

(To be fair I dropped out. Hincapie, marked like no one else's business, managed to place but didn't win.)

Now, last year, when I earned all my upgrade points, I was riding about as strongly as I've ridden in my life. I'd say it was perhaps my third or fourth best year ever. I'd count my Belgium year as my best, with a couple others around there as being just below the Belgium year.

After that would come 2010, it was that good.

I don't know what will come of 2011 but it'll be interesting. I'm both intimidated and excited about the prospects of racing the 2s. I'm looking forward to entering a 50 mile crit, even a 40 mile one.

I want to experience a 40 mph attack again, or even a 42 mph attack as one Gene C launched at a New Britain in a forgotten time. It was so fast we both came close to flying off the course in the first turn at New Britain - yes, the turn that you can go through at any speed you want.

And we had to brake to stay out of the woods.

I want to experience a race where the tempo never eases, where I wonder who the eff is pulling so frickin' hard.

I want to feel like I've hit the aero wall... and I'm still sitting in the field.

I want to look up and see a single file line of racers, all with good form, all doing what they have to do, all cooperating in a game of survival.

And then...

Well, I've only ever placed once in a Cat 2-3 or harder race, and it was a 6th.

I've forgotten what it's like to fight it out at the end of such a race.

I remember one year, at New Britain, with half a lap to go in the P123 race, someone unclipped their foot and started kicking another rider.


To do this in the middle of a crazy wound up field is insane.

Well, of course it is. The kicker I think crashed. Incredibly (or not) I'm pretty sure no one else went down.

But still, watching some of those P123 or P12 races roar down to the finish... I try and watch at the 200 or 300 meter to go mark. That's where the action finalizes, where the final jumps go.

And it's always crazy.

Everyone knows how to ride. Everyone figures the others know how to ride. Everyone pushes the limits, trusting one another to make it through.

I'd like to say that I've been in a bunch of races like that in 2010. Unfortunately I was in a few races where stuff happened in the finale. Cat 3 races aren't quite as homogeneous as a Cat 2 race, at least not so I notice.

So for 2011 I expect it to be a bit wild and wooly in the final laps. If I have the engine to drive through to the final sprint then it'll be a whole different ball game. Higher speed for the run in to the finish, harder jumps, and faster sprints.

And that, depending on how you look at it, could be a good or bad thing.


Loren said...

Aki, your blog and videos have inspired me. I could be the newest, oldest cat 5 racer in America today. Just purchased my license. Minnesota is a long way from the East Coast, so I will probably never race the same course, the same day as you, but thanks for the inspiration.


magboo said...

Hey Loren - you're not the only oldest cat 5 out there! I'm in the running too.

Aki - thanks for the awesome blog and I'm looking forward to hearing stories and seeing some vids of some Cat2 craziness! Good luck!

Ron said...

Umm, you got a five digit license number.

Vader said...

Congratulations on CAT2, Aki -- Great season last year! I enjoy reading your blog. So many great insights.
Looking forward to the Bethel Spring Series again this year. Thank you so much for everything you bring to the sport in our area!

Aki said...

Licenses are issued in numerical order. There are 4 digit license holders.

I used to have a lower number (L25664) but I let my license lapse due to a USCF oversight - they gave 13 months on a license so I'd renew 1 year and 1 month after I got my last license. I figured I'd renew for March the first year, April the next, and after 5 or 6 years I'd skip renewing for September or October and then get my next license for March. I'd race a year for free.

That's when the changed from Lxxx,xxx to Bxxx,xxx. So I renewed in March, i.e. late, and got issued a new license like I'd never raced before. I was totally bummed out. But then someone pointed out it's "31337", or LEETE or Elite in h4x0r terms. So then I decided it was a good number.

Aki said...

Thanks for the kind words on the blog. I'm glad that I've inspired someone out there to race. Obviously I love the sport and I want it to grow and mature and become a bit more prevalent here in the US. It kind of is now but 60k-70k racers is not that many compared to the hundreds of thousands in Italy or the 3 times a week races throughout the racing season in EACH area ("county?" of Belgium).

I also think it's important for racers to have a common upbringing as far as basic principles and philosophies in racing (hence my blog).

I have my work cut out for me.

Anonymous said...

Well my license number is 329358, with a racing age of 54.

Anonymous said...

Previous was mine, would not let me publish with my name. Loren