I've been thinking about whether or not to do any road racing this year. I should explain that I'm not a road racer. I'm really not much of any kind of racer, getting into the game far too late in life to be serious about any of it. But I've had a couple fun seasons in the Master B cross races, and had almost as much fun in a few short track mountain bike races last summer. I also did a handful (as in 5) of road races last year. As a 48-year old cat-5 rider, maybe I'm using "race" rather loosely. We were all breathing hard and trying to get to the front or avoid being dropped, and I pretty much held my mid-pack own while avoiding crashing or taking anyone else out. But the kind of tactics and form and teamwork practiced by guys who are "real" racers were in pretty short supply in the cat 5's.
My first road race was the Piece of Cake race in Woodland WA. I remember two things about this race. One was how, despite the sprint at the finish - where I finished somewhere near the rear of the main pack - I felt fresher than I ever remember feeling after riding 30+ miles. The second was how frustrating it was to want to move up, to feel like I had the legs to move up, but to be boxed in for miles and unable to find the room - or maybe the nerve? - to squeeze forward. I finished in the same place I was stuck in for over half the race. I also learned my sprint sucks.
My next 4 road races were really more like crits, without the tight corners or crashes. The Mount Tabor series was where I first learned you really can fall over from exhaustion and after a hard race you really do taste blood. But the 400+ feet of climbing/descending per 1.3 mile loop tends to string the pack out quickly, so there's not much blocking and it's hard for anyone to control the pace in a race lasting only 40 minutes. Which is not to say it was fun, exactly, but there was a kind of satisfaction for me in seeing how long I could stay in before getting dropped.
In OBRA, the rules for moving up from cat 5 to 4 are pretty simple: 10 mass-start races (time trials don't count). I'm half-way there regardless of how I place. And I really can't imagine getting beyond Cat 4. The 3's scare me - testosterone seems to be at least as important as talent in their races, and smiles are rare but fiery crashes common.
But cat-ing up seems like a dumb reason to race. I mean, I'm all about goals and everything, but if I'm not really having fun, and I'm not making the world a better place, what's the point? That's where I'm at. Here's some reasons why I may not road race.
1 - Money. It cost $20-$30 per race. On my self-imposed allowance, that's 1/4 or more of my spending money for the month. A couple races could get me one of these. And it's not like I can't just go out and ride for free anyway. I'm not winning anything - which was never the point anyway. And if I do race I'm on my cross bike (with disc brakes) which gets some funny looks, though others have made it work. But a dedicated road race bike is more money than I can even think about spending right now, even if I build up some old steel frame from scrounged parts.
2 - Crashing. It happens, often and quickly. I've passed guys lying under a bike or cradling a broken clavicle. Six weeks in a sling unable to put weight on my arm would suck, and seriously mess up my commute and family life. My rib injury from practicing in the dirt this last fall was enough for me this year. I heal well, but I'm not young and rubbery any more either.
3 - Desire. Road racing is kind of weird. Hanging out in a pack for an hour for the opportunity to sprint 200 yards. Compared to mtb and cross races, roadies are a grim lot. I like the idea of the culture, like I like the idea of being in U2, but I suspect it doesn't fit me very well. I'm serious enough sitting in a chair all alone. I need leisure activities that relax my shoulders, and road racing doesn't do that.
But on the other shoulder, this voice whispers:
1 - Teamwork. Road racing is a team sport. Being a domestique, helping place a teammate with fresh legs in the sprint, is part of the craft and worth learning. Maybe I have something to contribute. And there's no denying the fluid beauty of a well-oiled paceline. Only roadies get it.
2 - Sport. I am competitive. I don't celebrate it, and in fact it's a bit embarassing, but if I'm honest with myself I realize it just IS. I look at my race placement. I take it seriously and I analyze every race to figure out what went right and, more often, where I can improve. This could be seen as a negative as well. My wife sees it that way. But I have to admit I'm goal oriented and that's part of the appeal.
Right now, I'm leaning pretty strongly away from the fast and furious and more toward long and slow.