Sunday, September 5, 2010

Race Report: Wells Ave A Race--Cat 4's Have Their Own Race, Why Are They Cluttering Up the A?

I am not currently fit. This post is not a series of excuses about why I failed to win any primes, get in a break or contest the final sprint. The reason that none of these things happened is due to my lack of fitness. Even with a lack of fitness, I have the requisite skills to effectively participate in an A race at Wells Avenue. No everyone can say this truthfully.

Over the course of this season (and perhaps before that) there has been a quietly running debate about whether cat 4's should be allowed to race the A race on days where there is a seperate B race. The logic for excluding the cat 4's is that they lack the experience and as a result, likely the bike handling and pack skills to deal with the rigors of A race. The logic for allowing them to race the A is to allow the cat 4's the opportunity to "race up" and improve fitness and to get a preview of what a race may look like when and if they upgrade.

I made a few observations today that color my position in this matter.

  1. Dirty bikes on the starting line. Generally this indicates a lack of care/maintenance. Racers in Belgium are forbidden to start if their bikes are dirty. It is considered a lack of respect for the sport. A bucket, a set of brushes and some dishsoap will set you back less then a new tire; cleaning a bike with the proper tools (see the former) takes less than 15 minutes. "I didn't have time" is a load of horseshit.
  2. Swerving to avoid ridable obstacles. There are potholes on the course. They are in the same spot every lap. A rider with experience will correct their line well before a big pothole in order to avoid endangering other riders with a squirrelly lane change. I lost count of how many squirrelly swerves I saw today. It is safer to ride over a big pothole than to swerve in a pack. Worst case scenario is that you damage your rear wheel; but you are on your training wheels, right?
  3. Non Bib Shorts. I am not sure what this means, but it means something. I saw lots of ass crack today and I am not happy about it. Racers wear bibs.
  4. Braking in the corners. Riders were grabbing handfuls of brake IN the corners. Firstly, none of the corners at Wells require braking. Secondly, if you failto brake before the corner, braking IN it will only make your problems worse. I am not even mentioning what illogical braking does to the riders who are unfortunate enough to be on the braker's wheel.
  5. Gaps opening up for no reason. Apparently tempo pace was too fast for some of the cat 4's. While this does not endanger anyone, its annoying. If you are not fit enough to hold a wheel at tempo pace, you are in the wrong race.
  6. Unshaved legs. Again, bicycle racers shave their legs. There are notable exceptions of highly successful racers with hairleg, but they are few and far between.
  7. Not holding a line. I observed a number of riders who were drifting, seemingly out of control for no apparent reason. One or two of them almost took me out. They were endangering everyone.
  8. Huge teams that do no work. If you enter a race with 15+ dudes, you should have a goal. If none of you are fit enough to DO ANYTHING, then you are in the wrong race.

Originally, I took no position in this debate. While I was aware that the A race was a bit sketchier when it was combined with the B, I never really thought much about it. I just took note of the sketchy wheels and stayed ahead of them. When gaps opened up because of a flagging cat 4; I closed them. When a cat 4 swerved wildly to avoid a very rideable manhole cover; I gently asked the rider to hold his line (explaining the reason if I wasn't shouted down). I ignored the affronts to our sport.

My position has changed. Cat 4's (and less fit 3's) have their own race at Wells. When the race is combined, I'll deal with it, as I respect and understand BRC's reasoning behind combining fields. When there is a separate B race, cat 4's should be restricted to that race. Higher category riders have earned their upgrades based on experience, time served and results garnered. It is unfair to allow beginners to endanger higher category riders unnecessarily. Higher category riders allow less room when passing and generally ride much more tightly packed together. There is much less margin for error. When a bunch of higher cat riders are riding together it is not a problem. Add a beginner into a hotly contested race...problems.

If cat 4's insist that they should be allowed to race the A, there is nothing stopping them from requesting an upgrade from cat 4 to 3. If they claim that the B is too easy, then they should prove it by winning the race (and some other races as well) and upgrading. Furthermore, I have raced the B, it is not easy. Even today, Paul Curly his SpinArts teammate got a 5 man break going with Mike Wissell and stayed away. I watched them, it did not look easy for anyone.

I hope that the Boston Road Club considers barring cat 4's from the A race. It would be unfortunate if we had to have another series of devastating crashes in order to get their attention.

14 comments:

Colin R said...

This post is aimed at Kevin, isn't it?

RMM said...

Colin:

No, I noticed no sketchiness from Sweens.

If I wanted to call anyone out, I would have. But if you are looking for details, you had the dirtiest bike on the starting line.

zack said...

Wait, Paul Curley is doing the B race? There should be a 'if you've won a national championship in something, you have to do the A race' policy.

kevin said...

rooter's always looking for trouble. i got nothing but bibs in my drawers, i shaved my legs last night, i rode over more potholes and manhole covers today than I have all summer, i was shutting down gaps like it was my job, and my bike is always spotless.

in 545's defense, today was their club championship, i talked to them beforehand and they said they would be riding like idiots, attacking each other and what-not. they realized what they were doing wasn't 100% awesome. i fully support them, every club needs a an alpha, they make their alpha earn it.

... and i hate that flesh-gap above a pair of bike shorts and below a jersey.

... and i don't think sir swerves-a-lot (aka. the ata guy) is a cat4.

RMM said...

Kevin:

Realizing that what you are doing is not 100% awesome makes doing it that much worse. For the record, we have have the CB Championships at Wells. While we attacked each, I am certain that we were not any more sketchy than normal, as far as bike handling is concerned. The riders' sketchiness was an issue separate from their tactics for the day (non 545's were sketchy too).

ATA guy (yeah I know his name, but am not putting it in print), is either 2 or a 1 (more likely a 1) and a strong racer who gets solid results. He's been racing longer than I have (+6 years). He is notorious for swerving. At this point in his racing career he must know that he does it and has chosen not to address the issue. Just avoid him.

Ian said...

I am a 4, but I actually agree that it would be a good idea to get more of the 4s back in the B race at Wells.

I have always done the B race, frankly because I would rather be one of the people making an impact at the front of the race, rather then having to sit in and follow wheels in the A, and I am actually surprised that more people do not use the opportunity to have some fun at the front. I feel like this year however, there has been a little bit of a trend for 4s to race up, and sort of think of the B as the "easy" race, which sort of feeds on itself because with some of the strong 4s out of the race, the B is getting easier all the time.

The one thing is that I do really like how cat 3/4 teammates can use Wells to race together, which you can rarely do elsewhere, and that you get the chance to race with some people, like Paul Curley, that you usually don't get to see as a 4.

Personally I think it would make sense to make entering the A race as a 4 to be more of a "at the race director's discretion" or something like that. That way you could still do it if you were known to be a strong cat 4, or had good results and wanted to get a taste of the faster race, etc. but you would not have a whole bunch of 4s in the A race every week. Then we would also get a higher quality field in the B, which would be good for that race as well.

RMM said...

Ian:

That is a very well reasoned proposal (perhaps more well thought out than mine). Your perspective as a rider who would be impacted by my proposal is especially valuable.

Thanks for the comment.

kevin said...

To Ian's point: The guy collecting money at a training race, or any race, isn't going to want to review cat4 race resumes, and he certainly isn't going to know the who's-who of cat4s.

RMM: I was trying to be nice and not state the obvious earlier, but your response just begged for it: IT'S A FUCKING TRAINING RACE. It's an open invitation for sketchiness. Let's not take it so seriously.

...and can you clarify one thing for me? if a cat1 knowingly endangers the entire field by swerving, it's ok; but if a cat 4 unknowingly does it, he doesn't belong in the race? is that what you're saying?

mike said...

"Training race" should not mean "prepare to die". I think what RMM is addressing here is a matter of safety - and I do tend to agree with him when it comes to a dedicated racer (i.e. in the a field) who has trained hard all season getting crashed out all over the office park by some weekend warrior playing hero for a morning.

Let it be said, however, that as what would appear to be a lifetime cat 4, I would like the option to do the a race if I dont have to be at work by noon.

mike said...

And yes, riding in a break for 45 minutes with Paul Curley is very hard.

RMM said...

Kevin:

Sketchy cat 1's are more difficult to address since you can't exclude them based on category. Cat 4's as a group have a higher sketchiness coefficient than cat 1,2 or 3 riders. We should exclude cat 4's for the same reason we exclude cat 5's.

As for the fact that it is a training race, Mike has already addressed that point quite well.

Mike/Kevin:

No one says that exceptions couldn't be made. But the act of asking for an exception should put the asker under scrutiny of the official and influential and experienced riders in the A peloton.

solobreak said...

Mike, for the record, I was on the BRC board in the 80's, and yes, this debate existed then. You'd love masters racing; we have a mix from 1's to 4's every week. The front and back of the pack is like night and day and it sucks. Our 4's are not only inexperienced (most of them got a courtesy upgrade from 5), but old and slow-reflexed to boot. Of course, at one time there were only 3 categories (often all racing together), and some masters today never held a 4 license. I started as a 4 when there was no 5, which began sometime in the 90s. That's when it really got to be a mess.

As you have pointed out so many times before, the real problem here is riders not being moved along to the higher categories. Cat 3 used to be the most populous group at the races. It was (and still should be) the place for journeymen riders who have plenty of experience, but lack the athletic ability (for whatever reason) to compete at the higher levels. The issue is that since the creation of Cat 5, most riders who fit that description have chosen to remain Cat4evers. Most of the guys who upgrade to 3 are really trying to make it to 2, and many do. The Cat 3 fields are definitely better, but way smaller, than they were 15 years ago. A full field in a Cat 3 only race is very rare these days. We used to have 175 at Fitchburg, filled weeks before the event, with no such think at online reg. All races had a full 100 if that was the limit. Now that is what happens in the 4s, even if they have two fields sometimes.

Thus for economic reasons we have 4s in the masters and the A race at Wells, and lots of combined 3/4 races all the time. The solution is to move riders along. Make Cat 5 the entry level, get your feet wet group. 4 racing should not have prizes, long distances, and favorable start times to make it so attractive. Give the 3 field some love with more money and longer races. Make masters 1-3. And the feds should do their job and push riders up when appropriate.

But yeah, like KS says, Wells is a training race, relax.

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