Thursday, May 21, 2009

Racing - Why Upgrade Equipment For a Cat 3?

(Note: for the track I should say "Cat 4" because that's what I am on the track.)

Since last week, when I picked up the parts for the track bike, I've been thinking of exactly what I wanted to do with the Riggio.


Why bother with equipment? Don't I know that bike racing potential is ultimately determined by genetics?

Yes, I do.

Nothing I can do (legally) can improve my body for bike racing beyond a certain point. And getting there would be painful in a different way - socially, relationship-wise with the missus, etc. Although I had such an opportunity to be a full time cyclist, I learned pretty quickly that I plateaued pretty quickly. I've decided that I know my lot in life, and I'm not too far away from being as good as I can be.

This means that, if I'm getting shelled in the fast B races on the track, I'll be getting shelled in the fast B races later. Okay, fine, I may be able to improve a bit, since the track is new to me, but you get the idea. Maybe I'll do some A races, but I won't magically become a 4:15 pursuiter or a 53 kph hour record holder.

Think of it this way - I won't be trying out for the National Team this summer.

So why put all this time and energy and focus into building wheels with no budget or major goals or whatever?

Because I want to perform to the best of my ability on race day.

I want to be as good as I can be on the Riggio next Tuesday. Because it's not my life, or my profession, or my vocation ($3 for a win won't go far in paying the mortgage), I can't sacrifice everything for it. But regardless of my work schedule, regardless of what I've eaten (or not), when I roll onto the track, I have only two things with me.

Me and my bike.

Tactics for most track racing is pretty basic. The single gear limits the speed differential to a certain extent, and therefore you have a two by two matrix:

(Low Gear / High Gear) x (Can Jump / Can Time Trial)

I have a High Gear and I Can Jump, so I have some top end, I can accelerate pretty well, but I can't hold anything for long. Most of the other riders have a Low Gear relative to me and they Can Time Trial. Ideally I need to use the high gear to keep my revs down and save my jump for the important bits of the race.

The reality is that when the Can Time Trial guys go to the front, I can't do much. I hang on for dear life and pray that I make it to the end.

(The Madison is different, but it's so complex that I can't get my head wrapped around it yet, so I don't count that yet.)

I can't really change my body, not at this moment. That's already done. I mean, yeah, I could have ridden tonight (for example, but I decided that it wasn't as important as doing some other stuff I wanted to do.

Fine, just before the racing starts I could drink a Coke or something. I did last week, but it didn't help. Sugar, caffeine, electrolytes, water, they all help. And, yes, I have more ideas for next week on this.

But I can optimize my bike.

I won't go hog-wild and get a Cervelo ($3k for a track frame through Excel!) with all crazy good parts, but I'll focus on the position, gear, and wheels. I have yet to put a speedometer on the bike so I have no metrics right now - I'd like to race next week with a speedo at least.

This way I can experiment. For example, I have yet to do a true flying 200 for any kind of baseline. I figure that I'll be faster with aero wheels than not, but without some kind of quantitative measurement, I don't really know. A speedometer will help prove this or not.

On the road my gear illustrates this idea of "fulfilling current potential" vividly. I have essentially a $8-10k bike. It's light, responsive, measures power, and it's way more than I need in a bike.

Yet not only did I buy it, I tried to improve it. I swapped out some parts for fit (post, saddle, bars, stem) but put on the Reynolds DV46 tubulars for races. And then, to top it off, I built up a Zipp 440 front wheel to make the bike even faster.

Am I a Cat 2 now? Will I be signing with a pro team?


I can't even stay with some local yahoos in the Tuesday Night World Championships, at least not the attack and break guys.

But man, it's fun.

It's fun training on it. It's fun bombing down descents with absolute confidence in the bike.

And, of course, it's fun racing on it. It's fun to bury myself with effort just to be able to stay on wheels. My whole world simplifies, narrows down to a singular focus - to get on that wheel in front of you, to sit just to one side of it to get maximum shelter, to not getting dropped.

For me, far too often, I watch a tiny gap grow until it looks like a chasm opened up between that wheel and me. Those are the painful moments, the disappointments.

In return I get to experience some better races, those where I manage to hang on, where I start counting laps so I keep track of when to sprint, as opposed to counting laps because "I'll do one more and then drop out".

It's those better days that, with a few laps to go, I find some "get up and go" from somewhere deep in my body. Suddenly things seem possible, little bursts of energy become available, and, magically, hopefully anyway, with 150 or 200 meters to go I'm sprinting for the line.

If a slightly faster wheelset gets me a bit closer to the front, so be it. If it lets me make 60 extra seconds of effort over an hour, sign me up.

It makes racing more fun for me.

And therefore it's worth it.

(Once again for those RSS subscriber types, I apologize for the premature publication of this post... I blame again the touch pad again although technically it's the nut holding the keyboard that really set the publication of the post into action.)


Mike said...

I know what you mean, having power data really highlights just how close you were to not getting dropped.

I look at NP for road races and see my IF is sky high and think "If my bike was 3-4 lbs lighter I would have worked ~2% less on the climbs and maybe stayed with the pack a little while longer" or whatever. Sometimes the gear obsession seems silly but when you're so close to keeping that wheel it might make the difference.

I also just really like racing and want to try track and cross this year. Maybe mountain bike racing at some point too.

Bilko said...

Track racing should be simple... and so should some of the solutions to your becoming faster.... new stuff is one thing. Another is a coach? Could a coach help you with workout feedback? Could a coach help with workout scenarios that gain you tactics as well as fitness? Could a coach challenge you to tackle some of your weaknesses? Could a coach motivate you to get past your plateaus?

OK enough coach.

"Madison clinic" videos are on youtube, Watch them in order to build on ideas in the one before... sorry about quality... some real nuggets of madison insight.

Aki said...

Point taken on the training/coaching. The director of the track, Tony, is a very savy and experienced racer (he even races when he can). I hope to pick his brain regarding some of the subtleties of track racing.

For the most part, I understand the mass start tactics (scratch, points, even unknown distance or snowball). Problem is I lack some elemental fitness or power to sustain the efforts I need to sustain. It's not like a crit where I can coast for 30 seconds a lap (which I typically do). There's no faking it.

Therefore I've decided that I need to work on specific intervals, stuff I did way back when. It helped me deal with repeated jumps and such, but after a while I just did more races instead of doing the training. Although I hope to race tons, I realize that specific intervals will help me learn about myself when I have only one gear and can't coast at all.