How long before you can become 'competitive' in Cat 5?



Aztec

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After a 17 year layoff from riding (age 38 now), I picked up the bike again a year ago. I started riding more seriously in October (joined CTS, see other thread), mostly low intensity. In March, I began to add some intensity. Seemed like a good plan.

Well, it's mid-June, and I've done 3 twilight practice crits. Got dropped on the last lap on the first, 3 laps from the end on the 2nd, and finished with the pack on the 3rd. Today was my first real crit (cat 4/5 of course), and I lasted 15 of the 40 minutes. Hardly anyone dropped, which leads me to believe that I am unusually unfit!!

Is it normal for an ordinary guy (i.e., no genetic phenom) to not even be able to stay in the pack in the first year? Am I too ambitious thinking I should be able to by now? I'm curious to hear the experiences of others out there. I'm seriously discouraged.
 

TRD609

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I don't think you're unusually unfit. From what I've heard, it's not uncommon to get dropped in your first few crits. It has more to do with experience, race smarts and budgeting your efforts, in my limited experience. Sensing when the pack is about to surge can help you jump a little earlier and not have to catch back up to the wheel in front. Making sure you stay sheilded from the wind can reduce your fatigue immensely. After a few more months with CTS you'll be thinking more about timing your attacks than staying with the pack. One thing that helped me - in between power intervals, trying to recover while keeping intensity somewhat elevated, like in the upper end of my EM zone. This is more realistic training for the surge and recover racing that I find in my local crits. Also, remember, everyone gets dropped now and then. A very strong rider who took second in a race I was in last weekend (I got 5th) said he got dropped like a stone the week before. Racing can be very discouraging and humbling - there're too many variables to predict what might happen on any given day. Although its my first year as well, and I'm probably not the most qualified person to speak on this topic, it sounds to me like you're on the right track.

Originally posted by Aztec
After a 17 year layoff from riding (age 38 now), I picked up the bike again a year ago. I started riding more seriously in October (joined CTS, see other thread), mostly low intensity. In March, I began to add some intensity. Seemed like a good plan.

Well, it's mid-June, and I've done 3 twilight practice crits. Got dropped on the last lap on the first, 3 laps from the end on the 2nd, and finished with the pack on the 3rd. Today was my first real crit (cat 4/5 of course), and I lasted 15 of the 40 minutes. Hardly anyone dropped, which leads me to believe that I am unusually unfit!!

Is it normal for an ordinary guy (i.e., no genetic phenom) to not even be able to stay in the pack in the first year? Am I too ambitious thinking I should be able to by now? I'm curious to hear the experiences of others out there. I'm seriously discouraged.
 

Daremo

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I'm in a similar boat ........... but my decline is even more upsetting.

I was a Ct. 3 in '97, and while my fitness was waning because of school and work obligations, I could still easily smoke most 4 and 5 riders. I got out of the sport completely in '98, and didn't ride a bike until this past Fall (like you). I was completely burned out of riding after so many years of training at the edge of the fitness boundary, it was time for a break.

I had absolutely no fitness compared to what I used to, it was depressing. But I was bound and determined to get back into it. And I have been excited by riding again. I started up my winter training regimen again, and was doing fine until I got really sick, and was in bed for a week around late January. After that, I was in my thesis semester for graduate school, so my training disappeared. Now I am finally getting out more.

So I did a real short Ct. 5 race a few weeks ago to see where I stood, and fell off the back at the end of the 3rd lap (out of 5). I ended up finishing about a half a lap down on the field. I thought I came in last, but based on the results posted on Velonews events board, I was in the middle, 18 out of about 34 or so. Made me feel better.

The problem is, I'm 30 pounds heavier (me and bike combined, used to have a light bike, don't now), no hill abilities where I used to be a mountain goat (and a really good sprinter), and I'm 33, not 26 ..............

It will take time and lots of training to get even close to where I was before. Riding with a group will help you the most, and get you back in shape fast. Just keep at it, and you will see improvement. Don't fall into the trap I always do, you cannot judge your abilities now on your abilities in the past!
 

Aztec

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Originally posted by TRD609
I don't think you're unusually unfit. From what I've heard, it's not uncommon to get dropped in your first few crits. It has more to do with experience, race smarts and budgeting your efforts, in my limited experience. Sensing when the pack is about to surge can help you jump a little earlier and not have to catch back up to the wheel in front. Making sure you stay sheilded from the wind can reduce your fatigue immensely. After a few more months with CTS you'll be thinking more about timing your attacks than staying with the pack. One thing that helped me - in between power intervals, trying to recover while keeping intensity somewhat elevated, like in the upper end of my EM zone. This is more realistic training for the surge and recover racing that I find in my local crits. Also, remember, everyone gets dropped now and then. A very strong rider who took second in a race I was in last weekend (I got 5th) said he got dropped like a stone the week before. Racing can be very discouraging and humbling - there're too many variables to predict what might happen on any given day. Although its my first year as well, and I'm probably not the most qualified person to speak on this topic, it sounds to me like you're on the right track.

Those 3 min PIs are brutal. I have been prescribed 3 sets of 3, where a set is 3 mins on, 3 mins off, repeat two more times. I usually don't have to worry much about getting the HR down below EM zone as it pretty mcuh sticks up there anyway after that kind of effort (unless I REALLY just noodle along). I should probably push a bit harder though, in between, to simulate reality, as you suggest.

I hear you about drafting! Trouble for me is when a gap opens up the work increases dramatically, and then I lose a few spots, etc., etc. And the farther back I am, the worse it gets.

This week I just plain wimped out. I wasn't even to the back yet and quit. And I saw the pace slow shortly thereafter. I'm very upset with myself. But am I the only one who is at his limit most of time, even mid-pack? I find it hard to believe most of the others are a couple beats below their max HRs!
 

TRD609

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No way, you are not the only one who is nearly at the limit, I'm sure Daremo will back me up on this. First of all, anytime the group surges and you are not prepared for it, you're gonna have to dig deep to make up the gap that will invariably open in front of you, happens to me regularly. Once I get back tight in the draft, it gets much easier and recovery begins. The problem is, when you just get back on and they go again, then you'll be near redline from the two back to back efforts. Or worse if the guy who's wheel you're hanging onto falls back this time, then you have to go around him and then close the gap to the pack. That takes even more effort.
Several times each race I find myself thinking "I better get a move on or I'm gonna get dropped", or "If they hold this pace much longer I'm not gonna be able to stay with it." Sometimes its just a matter of hanging on for another 20 or 30 seconds. Unless its the last lap, they're gonna sit up, they always do. The pack can't hold that sort of power output for very long. If they could they wouldn't be Cat 5. I agree with you about the Power Intervals, next to the field test they are my least favorite workout. And the 3x3 session is always a killer. I have to make deals with myself and tell myself lies just to get through it. "OK, we'll just do one set and see how we feel, ok just one more set then we stop,..." etc. Lately I've been trying to stand and sprint as hard as I can for the last 15 seconds of a PI, to try and simulate the end of a crit. It really requires all the motivation and self-discipline (self-hatred?)I can muster to sprint after three minutes of grueling effort. But this is what I need to work on because, although I find I can hang with the pack, I don't have the ability to figure in the final outcome other than as pack fill. Out of 7 starts, best result was 5th and most of the rest in the mid 20's or 30's. I don't really know exactly, but there were a LOT of guys who finished ahead of me in those races. So we all have stuff to work on, no matter what level we're at. Just don't quit. I got dropped recently but forced myself to ride until I completed all the laps (I luckily didn't get lapped, but I was VERY alone.) If you wind up by yourself again, just think of it as another opportunity to work on TT skills, put your head down and go.
 

SEJ

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I also race Cat 5, also am a member of CTS, and also use to race several years ago. I picked it up again last year after stoping due to time constraints back in 97. I was Cat 5 then, only did a few crits here and there.

Not only has it been harder to get back into it, which I attribute to age, but the competition is much stronger. In 97, I was top three in Cat 5 crits. I could sustain 23 to 24 mph at the time. I am now faster (sub 7 minute field test for you CTS'ers), and have yet to break the top three, with one 5th and a DNF on the other end of things. I think, in general, folks are getting much smarter about training. Everyone just seems so much stronger to me.

(That's my story and I'm sticking to it )
 

Daremo

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Even back in '97 they were getting faster .......... there is just so much more interest in the sport now.

I remember my first season racing as a 5 was in '94. In five races, I got two thirds, two seconds, and a win. I moved up to 4 and continued to do very well.

But in '97 I got to a race late, and the 1/2/3 field was full, so I had a plain jersey and helmet in the car and enetered the 5/citizen race to get a workout in. And it was only slightly slower than my typical 1/2/3 race ......... for a shorter distance of course. I sat up the last lap and let everyone go at it so they wouldn't accuse me of sandbagging and winning the race as a citizen. But I knew at that point that the sport was taking off again.

There are so many more mountain bikers and Lance-aholics that want to get into road racing, and they train their azz off and come into the racing field really strong.
 

Aztec

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Ric, good to see you in this area of the site. The crits are dead flat, and have averaged (per my HAC4) in the 24+ mph range. Something like 27 in the straights, something less in the turns.

My training consists of 5 days/week, with every 4th week a very easy week. Tues & Thurs are intervals (gradually increasing in duration, and then intensity, over the last 6 months). Weds, Sat, and Sun are purely endurance days, ranging from 1.5 hours to 3 or 4 hours. Total hours went from about 8-10 in the early months up to 12 or so now, although now with max intensity intervals, CTS reduces volume somewhat (all rides are now either easy endurance work or max effort intervals... thus, no sustained climbing and very little tempo work, etc).

I had an agrument w/ my coach about a month ago about why the lack of work above endurance yet below max effort. I think I should be doing a lot (or at least an hour here and there), CTS thinks not. This frustrates me as I have a great extremely scenic 2200 ft climb minutes from my door, but it's so steep that I can't do it below about 85% of MHR.

In my years off, I did very little cardio, and lots of weight training (although I am still <160lbs -- not overly muscular to be sure). I did tons of work on my home hauling dirt, rock, lumber, etc., up and down countless stairs, though.

TRD609, you just described my exact experience... from the field test (which I hate), the PIs, and my predicament holding in the pack! I measure my HR, and have found I AVERAGE 186bpm in the pack, out of a 196bpm max. And I have hit my max HR every time at some point. I barely ever recover at all, so I'm always on the edge of blowing up.

Daremo, how long had you been riding before you started racing in '94?

I'm going to a twilight crit tomorrow night, despite having just raced yesterday, and am going to do my best to get up to the very front from the beginning. The one time I finished with the main group I had been up toward the front more of the time (and it was a slower race for some reason). I know that "sprint, brake, repeat" thing toward the back is tougher.

Maybe I should start thinking about triathlons... the field is so much less competitive!
 

Daremo

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I ran x-country in high school, and at the Naval Academy Prep School, so I had a areally good fitness base. I started cycling in Germany in '91 while I was in the Army. Starting your cycling career in the Black Forest in Germany immediately takes you up hills that are a few miles long to climb ............. ugh! But I was only 20 then ............

I guess I had been REALLY training for only a year before I got my license. I started a winter indoor regimen Jan. 1st in '94, and by March, I had over 1,000 miles in according to my cyclometer. My teammate and I did our first 5 race together and we just rode off the front after a lap and didn't look back getting one - two. Wasn't a jump to a break away, we just rode everyone off our wheel ......... pretty awesome day! I seriously doubt anyone could do that now since everyone is much more fit.

Riding at the front is key in crits, it is so much more stable there. The trick is, you need to figure out who is strong, and who is brand new. Tactics and skills makes just as much of a difference in 5 races as it does in 1/2/3, the main difference being you work as a team in the higher levels that the 5's don't, even if they try. After a half season or so of races, you will recognize the players, and know who to follow.

Don't go to the dark side!!! Stay on the road, leave the tri's to the tri-geeks! ;)
 

ric_stern/RST

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Originally posted by Aztec
Ric, good to see you in this area of the site. The crits are dead flat, and have averaged (per my HAC4) in the 24+ mph range. Something like 27 in the straights, something less in the turns.

My training consists of 5 days/week, with every 4th week a very easy week. Tues & Thurs are intervals (gradually increasing in duration, and then intensity, over the last 6 months). Weds, Sat, and Sun are purely endurance days, ranging from 1.5 hours to 3 or 4 hours. Total hours went from about 8-10 in the early months up to 12 or so now, although now with max intensity intervals, CTS reduces volume somewhat (all rides are now either easy endurance work or max effort intervals... thus, no sustained climbing and very little tempo work, etc).


sounds like you're doing sufficient volume (total weekly time). there's maybe some things i'd do differently, in that i don't generally have people do an easy 4th week, and i don't really limit endurance ride intensity so low (at a rough approximation i have people train at ~ 80 % MHR, and suggest they maybe don't go > ~ 90% MHR on hills (< 5-mins duration). i also find tempo work very useful when doing lots of short intervals (~4 -mins), but this may depend on how you define tempo as well
[/quote]


I had an agrument w/ my coach about a month ago about why the lack of work above endurance yet below max effort. I think I should be doing a lot (or at least an hour here and there), CTS thinks not. This frustrates me as I have a great extremely scenic 2200 ft climb minutes from my door, but it's so steep that I can't do it below about 85% of MHR.

pushing aside the discussion as to what is or isn't useful in training terms, sometimes it can be important to train in a specific manner that may sometimes preclude scenic or nice routes. half my intervals this morning were down a most boring main road. :-(

In my years off, I did very little cardio, and lots of weight training (although I am still <160lbs -- not overly muscular to be sure). I did tons of work on my home hauling dirt, rock, lumber, etc., up and down countless stairs, though.

so you weren't inactive then. this is my first year racing again since 2000, but i trained fairly hard in my off years. good fun to be racing again, and you have to keep plugging away.

ric
 

Aztec

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Ric, the endurance intensity is capped at 79% of my MHR, with most of the time spent at 74% (145 of 196). For further reference, tempo = 81%, climbing repeats = 86%.

CTS doesn't use this measurement method, though. They use %s off of your average HR from two 3 mile TTs. But it works out to the above.
 

beerco

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Quick tip to keep from getting killed in crits etc.- Keep your vision up at all times. When you see the guys in the front surging, accelerate immediately, just not as hard as you would to bridge a gap normally as you guys mentioned.

You'll find that within a couple times of trying this, you'll get the timing down such that instead of ramming the guy in front of you, you're right on his wheel when he starts to accelerate. This can save gobs and gobs of energy.
 

ric_stern/RST

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Originally posted by Aztec
Ric, the endurance intensity is capped at 79% of my MHR, with most of the time spent at 74% (145 of 196). For further reference, tempo = 81%, climbing repeats = 86%.



just to give you an idea on the way that i work, that ~74 % would be about what i would prescribe for very long rides, say 2 to 7 hrs. what i term core endurance and is ~ 80% are sessions of 90mins to ~ 4hrs. i term tempo as ~ 83 to 87%. hill intervals would be 90%+

and just to clarify, i set a range, rather than a specific % point.

having said the above the majority of people i coach use a power meter, which can really make your training effective.

ric
 

Aztec

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Thanks, Ric. My Powertap has been on order, but that factory recall has delayed it for a month already. Analytic Cycling says that there was no recall, and actually offers the PT at a lower price than CTS does! But I'm worried when they don't know about the recall...

As for the ranges, CTS uses them as well. I just cited the upper boundary of those ranges. I have complained a lot about the ranges being too low, but both of the coaches I've had have continually re-confirmed them. Your ranges (and the single points) are a solid 10bpm above what they suggest.

For me, out of 196, and a mean HR of 182 on a 3 mile TT:
- Endurance 155 max (5% of time allowed above it)
- Tempo 159 max (oddly they want cadence = 70rpm)
- Steady State 165 max (usually 2 or 3x10 min)
- Climbing repeats 169 max (usually 3x8 min)

In my 8 months or so w/ CTS, I have never once had the green light to just climb at 170-175bpm for an hour up that mountain.

I think I just might have to take things into my own hands more, especially when that Powertap FINALLY get here. I'm anxious to measure my output during a practice crit.

Beerco... I'll give that a shot at tonight's twilight crit.
 

ric_stern/RST

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Originally posted by Aztec
Thanks, Ric. My Powertap has been on order, but that factory recall has delayed it for a month already. Analytic Cycling says that there was no recall, and actually offers the PT at a lower price than CTS does! But I'm worried when they don't know about the recall...


i believe it was a very minor recall, which only affected a few units. i *think* that all the ones that are available for purchase (now) are fine.

As for the ranges, CTS uses them as well. I just cited the upper boundary of those ranges. I have complained a lot about the ranges being too low, but both of the coaches I've had have continually re-confirmed them. Your ranges (and the single points) are a solid 10bpm above what they suggest.

ok. some people i have seen use either very small ranges or single points.

the HR ranges i use, are a development that i made, based on Peter Keen's original four HR levels. in case you're not aware, Peter used to be Chris Boardman's coach, and was until recently the head of coaching (or a similar title) for British Cycling.

For me, out of 196, and a mean HR of 182 on a 3 mile TT:
- Endurance 155 max (5% of time allowed above it)
- Tempo 159 max (oddly they want cadence = 70rpm)
- Steady State 165 max (usually 2 or 3x10 min)
- Climbing repeats 169 max (usually 3x8 min)

my HRmax is slightly higher than yours (198 - 200 b/min). i rarely wear a HR monitor these days, but my hill intervals this morning (7 x 4-mins) i'd estimate that my HR was peaking ~ 185 b/min. last week on an 8-min climb i did wear my strap, and from memory i peaked at 190 b/min.

in general, my opinion, is that if you're targetting hill intervals (or whatever) you're going to need to replicate what you'll come across in racing.

In my 8 months or so w/ CTS, I have never once had the green light to just climb at 170-175bpm for an hour up that mountain.

i'm routinely at that level. as previously mentioned i do all my training with power. at a monotonic intensity on the trainer, when i do my tempo/TT efforts i do 75-90-mins and maybe the last 45 mins drifts to that sort of HR (bear in mind i'm riding a constant power and my HRmax is slightly higher than yours)

I think I just might have to take things into my own hands more, especially when that Powertap FINALLY get here. I'm anxious to measure my output during a practice crit.

lemme know when you get your PT up and running. i use mine in all my races.

ric
 

Aztec

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Will do, Ric.

I rode a crit last night, trying to use the advice above. But I stupidly led the first lap, then chased two maniacs who attacked, thinking I needed to. I smoked a lot of energy, so it wasn't long before I was toast and dropped. But, I joined with another who had already been dropped, recovered some, and we picked up more and more who got dropped. When we got lapped, I stuck with the front for the remainder (and got out of the way for the lead-lappers' sprint). The working with my fellow-droppers taught me a lot more about tight drafting and energy conservation which I was more comfy using when I was back with the main group (though one lap down). But it's still clear my fitness is way short of what's needed!
 

Espada9

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Originally posted by Aztec
Will do, Ric.

I rode a crit last night, trying to use the advice above. But I stupidly led the first lap, then chased two maniacs who attacked, thinking I needed to. I smoked a lot of energy, so it wasn't long before I was toast and dropped. But, I joined with another who had already been dropped, recovered some, and we picked up more and more who got dropped. When we got lapped, I stuck with the front for the remainder (and got out of the way for the lead-lappers' sprint). The working with my fellow-droppers taught me a lot more about tight drafting and energy conservation which I was more comfy using when I was back with the main group (though one lap down). But it's still clear my fitness is way short of what's needed!

That sounds familiar, I raced as a cat 5 in 92-93’ in the Southwest US (very fast region).
I had no problem with keeping the 28mph pace during a crit or RR, but the accelerations used to kill me. I was very fast at ITT and could sprint with the fastest guys, but I thought my fitness was suspect because I couldn’t keep up with the accelerations of a crit (most of the riders I rode with trained more because their job didn’t seem to be a priority).
I thought it was all about the numbers of miles you put in (reading about the mega-miles the pros put in only supported this belief).

I moved to Boston in late 93’ and gained plenty of weight not being used to the lousy weather, work and school, but I started to train in the spring and once I had my base mileage and fitness, I piled on the short intense training sessions, lot’s of hill intervals, and kept a good training diary.

I had my first top 10 finishes in several crits, won plenty of ITT’s and all without putting in insane miles. I gained enough confidence to sit in the bunch and have a conversation with other riders instead of panicking about getting dropped on priem lap.
Interval training prepares you for the repeated accelerations you experience during an event like a short intense crit.
 

denk

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Originally posted by Aztec
Ric, the endurance intensity is capped at 79% of my MHR, with most of the time spent at 74% (145 of 196). For further reference, tempo = 81%, climbing repeats = 86%.

CTS doesn't use this measurement method, though. They use %s off of your average HR from two 3 mile TTs. But it works out to the above.

I've been really trying to figure this out. I've read the CTS book, trying to do workouts based on the samples in the book. Are the HR ranges they give based on the average HR from the field test? That is much different than Max HR. My average from indoor field test is 174bpm, which seems low. Basing Foundation Miles and Endurance Miles (CTS terminology) on this number seems too easy. I'm almost 36 yrs old, and FM @ 86% or less of 174 = max of 150 bpm, max EM = 153.

All winter for Foundation Miles I used 159 as my max. Which is the number I'm supposed to use for the HR ranges. MAX HR or the average from the field test. Does 174 seem low for an average??? THanks.
 

denk

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Originally posted by Aztec
After a 17 year layoff from riding (age 38 now), I picked up the bike again a year ago. I started riding more seriously in October (joined CTS, see other thread), mostly low intensity. In March, I began to add some intensity. Seemed like a good plan.

Well, it's mid-June, and I've done 3 twilight practice crits. Got dropped on the last lap on the first, 3 laps from the end on the 2nd, and finished with the pack on the 3rd. Today was my first real crit (cat 4/5 of course), and I lasted 15 of the 40 minutes. Hardly anyone dropped, which leads me to believe that I am unusually unfit!!

Is it normal for an ordinary guy (i.e., no genetic phenom) to not even be able to stay in the pack in the first year? Am I too ambitious thinking I should be able to by now? I'm curious to hear the experiences of others out there. I'm seriously discouraged.

I'm having similar discouragement. I'm thinking (hoping!) that a good part of my recent crit difficulties are as a result of positioning. My first crit as a 5, I started in the front, stayed near the front, finished third. A basically round course. Second crit, raced with 4's, stayed near front again, no problems, finished mid-pack. Third and fourth crits (with 3/4's) started at the back on courses with tight turns. There is a super slinky effect - braking into corners, then outright sprinting to catch up. After a few laps of that I got dropped in both races. I tried to hold a wheel in front of me, but he got dropped, I couldn't make up the difference.

I'm hoping the combinations of tighter courses and poor positioning is what negatively affected my performances. Give your starting positioning some thought. If you think you can stay with the pack while drafting, get a spot up front, and know that there will essentially be a sprint right off the line for position. With four races under my belt, I'm certainly no expert, but my poor positioning at the starts were a common denominator. Do as I say, not as I do. ; )
 

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