4th Cat racing – am I fast enough?

After having trawled through a few forums – one very common question is that of “am I fast enough to start racing?”. Unfortunately, it’s a very tricky one to answer. In this post I will try and provide a few useful guidelines as to when you might be ready to enter that first 4th Cat race.

Even if you have a good fitness level, it’s likely that you’ll be dropped in your first couple of races. Don’t panic – this is the case for almost all of us, racing isn’t about fitness alone. I can’t stress enough as to the importance of technical skills such as cornering and being able to sit in a fast moving bunch. My advice is to give it at least three tries before assuming fitness is the main limiting factor.

For me, after three disastrous races, everything just seemed to click – I have data to prove I wasn’t significantly fitter, it was simply a matter of learning how to race. Being tactically astute and having good bike handling skills can save you a massive amount of energy – the strongest rider won’t always emerge victorious.

I would also say it’s important to live in the real world and to not worry too much about the numbers. I’ve seen many people posting power figures on forums, asking for advice on whether or not to start racing. My power to weight ratio at FTP was 4.5 W/Kg at the time of my first race (according to a well known volume, this is the average for a Second Cat) – I was still dropped very early on.

One very important point is that your level of equipment has very little effect on race results – especially when it comes to flat closed circuit races (i.e. those most people choose to start off with). I’ve seen many riders on 5k superbikes dropped within the first few minutes of 4th Cat crits, and many on old alloy models go on to win. Of course, it can also be the other way round – but you get the idea. Don’t be put off racing by the fact you have a limited budget.

So, how can you tell? I hear you asking. If you can keep up with the fast group on a club ride, by which I mean be-able to do the odd turn at the front and participate in the inevitable sprints to town signs – chances are you’ll be-able to hold your own in a 4th Cat race.

I am very hesitant to give out power figures, so I will stress that these should only be used as a very rough guideline. If you have an FTP of 260 Watts or over, with a power to weight of around 3 W/Kg at FTP – staying with the bunch in 4th Cat only races should be possible.

Another regular feature on the forums is that of sportive times as an indicator of potential racing performance. Yet again, it is very difficult to give a definitive answer. As a rough guideline, a high end silver time or better in a 100 mile sportive indicates a good level of fitness – meaning you may succeed in races.

However, the demands of races and sportives are very different, particularly in terms of intensity. Don’t be surprised if you’ve had gold times in tough sportives and still get dropped. I had this experience myself early on in the season, being fit for 6 hour stints in the saddle doesn’t mean a 40 minute race will be easy, quite the opposite. Yet again, don’t despair – if ‘converting’ from sportives to racing, just be sure to include some short sessions at a high intensity in your training. A post covering this in more detail is on the way.

Ultimately – you won’t know if you are ready to race until you’ve gone and tried one. I seriously regret starting as late as I did, missing out on a lot of fun in the process. The worst that can happen is crashing or getting dropped, neither of which will be the end of the world. One more time – if it doesn’t go well to start off with don’t give up, the guys (or girls) at the front of the bunch driving the pace are probably just the ones who stuck with it.

There we have it. I hope this has provided some useful info. If you think something has been overlooked – do feel free to comment. Any ideas for further posts would also be greatly welcomed. Stay tuned.

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