What to expect from your first 4th Cat Race.

So, it’s the big day. You’ve done the training and sorted out your race license (if not click here to find out more and here to go to the BC website). You’ve managed to find a race within easy range and got in an entry. The conformation email will have come through, confirming you have a ride. It’s best to start with a closed circuit race, if possible a 4th Cat only rather than a 3/4. Here’s what you can expect to happen next.

Getting to race venues isn’t always easy, some are off the beaten track. Always bring a map for backup, the phone number of the organiser can also come in useful. Remember to check what time sign-on closes and the exact start time of your race.

Upon arrival, you’ll see a few very strong looking riders – with bikes to match. I’ll admit to being put off by this when it came to my first race. Appearances can be deceptive, don’t be intimidated by expensive bikes and shiny legs. If nothing else, you may not even be racing against these particular riders. Most closed circuit events consist of more than one race, (e.g. a 4th Cat only and a 2/3).

Remember to go to sign on and present your race license – obvious as this might sound, I’ve almost forgotten it many a time. You will be given a number, make sure to pin this onto your jersey in the correct position (this will differ from race to race).

Its good practice to bring a turbo trainer or set of rollers to warm up on. At some venues you will be-able to warm up on the circuit, do this if you can – it’s a good way of familiarising yourself with the course. However, more often than not you will need to use the aforementioned turbo trainer or rollers. Ideally, leave half an hour for a warm up – in practice this is easier said than done, I find 15-20 minutes is usually adequate.

At some point, typically about ten minutes before your race is due to start – you’ll be called to the start line. Listen out for this announcement, it’s easy to get engrossed in your warm up and not hear the call. Normally, you’ll be given the chance to ride round the circuit a few times before the actual race begins. Finally, you’ll line up on the start line and be given a safety briefing (usually words to the affect of – don’t ride dangerously and don’t swear). The flag drops, and things get underway.

If you can, try to start at the front of the race. Crashes are common in the very early stages, it is possible to be dropped virtually on the start line if you get caught behind one. Being at the front of the race will also save you a large amount of energy. In almost every event, there will be some ‘underprepared’ riders who will be dropped within the first few laps – you don’t want to be behind one, bridging a gap requires a big effort.

For many first timers, myself included, the intensity can come as a shock. You’ll have to sprint out of the corners – especially early on. In this kind of racing, no time will be spend sat at tempo, the effort will either be far below threshold or well above it (very much on again / off again). There is some good news in that the pace tends to slow down rather than speed up, many riders will get caught in the adrenaline rush and start off too enthusiastically. Push on for as long as you can, you might surprise yourself in what you can do once over the initial threshold.

The middle part of the race is simply about trying to stay with the bunch and conserve as much energy as possible. There will be a few optimistic riders attacking at this point, unless there is a large group (say 5+) these attacks are rarely worth going with – 99% of the time they will be bought back by the bunch. I have made the mistake of getting complacent at this point, doing lap after lap can be very dull – some races are far more animated than others. If you start to lose concentration its inevitable you will lose some places in the bunch, it also makes crashing far more likely. Stay awake.

Typically a sign will be held up indicating the number of laps to go, beginning from three laps out. It is at this point that things begin to get interesting – you’ll see more attacks and the pace will increase. If you are feeling strong, now is the time to go solo, that is to say with 2-3 laps to go. Many 4th Cat races are won with attacks such as this, many riders will be unsure of their own ability and as such will be reluctant to chase, even in the closing stages.

If you get to final straight within the bunch, chaos often ensues. The final sprint is another time where crashes are common. If you can, try to come through the last corner in a good position (say one of the first five riders to enter the straight). Often these sprints are short – positioning is more important than peak power. Don’t look behind you before pulling out to sprint, you may well hit the rider in front or inadvertently move to the left or right, again making a crash likely. Do however, pay attention to what is going on in front – leave space in case someone pulls out. These riders won’t know where you are in much the same way you can’t see those behind you.

If you are nervous or know you have poor bike handling skills, it can be better to sit up and move yourself out of the way. This especially applies if you are at the back of the field, chances of a points finish from this position are very minimal. After a season of racing, I still avoid these chaotic sprints if possible – preferring to make a move with a few laps to go.

You will be commonly advised to ‘just sit in’ during a race. If you do, you’ll never learn where your strengths lie – amongst other things it is a complete waste of money. Go with some moves if you can, try and get into a good position for the final sprint. Ride to win, not to avoid losing. I made that very mistake several times, the poor results speak for themselves. It was only with two races left in the season that I began to ride more aggressively, realising I had nothing to lose in trying to achieve my goal of moving up to 3rd Cat. In the course of these two races, I attacked on my own and it payed dividends on both occasions (taking a 6th and a 2nd respectively).

If you do get dropped – don’t worry. It’s what happens to most of us in the first couple of races. If the first attempt doesn’t go well – don’t assume all is lost, give it another couple of tries and things might well improve. Remember, its not just about fitness – the most common limiting factor at this stage is racecraft, more on that here. If you happen to be dropped very early on, it might be time to make some changes to your training plan, a post covering this is on the way.

Hopefully, this provides a good overview of what that first race will be like. Has anyone reading this got a story to share about how your first race went? If so, I’d be interested in hearing it, do leave a comment. Cheers all.

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