Hopefully you have all started your winter training at this stage. You have gotten to the point when it’s time to stop reminiscing about last season and start setting goals for next season. Some evening in the near future many of us will sit down with the cycling calendar and pick out our targets for next season. Some of us will pick the safe options and go with events that we feel we can be competitive in or complete with ease. On the flip side, some of us will aim for the stars and pick events that we are unsure we can even finish. Unfortunately, there’s no right or wrong answer when it comes to setting goals. There are arguments on both sides, but as you become more experienced in the sport, you begin to understand your capabilities and the goal setting becomes slightly easier.
In Ireland on the Easter bank holiday weekend, Cat 2 Irish racing cyclist are faced with the perfect example of this classic debate. They have to choose between Ras Mumhan (Cat 1/Cat 2 race) or The Gorey 3 Day (Cat 2/Cat 3 race). Put simply, the choice is between one of the countries hardest stage races were they are the underdogs or a slightly easier stage race were they are the ones expected to make the race. Here starts the debate of whether to take part or take over.
For those who choose to ride the harder event (Cat 2 riding Ras Mumhan), unfortunately it is unlikely they will get a result. They will simple take part and probably question why they entered the event with every painful pedal stroke. It takes a brave athlete to take a beating like this and stay positive. It can make or break the best of us.
Ultimately there are two possible outcomes; the kicking you get will make you hate cycling for the foreseeable future. You will have flashbacks of this event every time you look at the bike. If you try ride the bike soon after the event you will probably feel like you have aged 10 years in the space of a weekend.
However, there is a positive possible outcome. After you finish this event, you are riddled with joy as all those months of training have finally gotten you to the finish line of one of your life long dreams. You can finally tick it off your bucket list. In addition, in the weeks after the event if you recover correctly you will probably be on the form of your life as a result of pushing yourself harder than you ever could out training in the last number of days. Every event thereafter will seem like a piece of cake.
Those who choose to ride the slightly easier event (Cat 2 riding The Gorey 3 Day), they have an opportunity to take home some silver wear. As the stronger riders in the event, it is up to them to make the race and hurt the legs of the lower categorised riders.
Taking part in a slightly easier event you have an invaluable opportunity to learn how to race. You are strong enough to be at the head of the race, trying to establish breakaways and contest sprint finishes. This type of opportunity doesn’t present itself to those riding the harder event as they hang on for dear life. It takes a level headed athlete to choose what is perceived as the lesser event, by doing so they get an opportunity to learn the trade. Then when the opportunity arises in future years and they have an opportunity to take part in these harder events, not only will they have the ability to compete, they will know what it takes and how to win the event as they can spot key moves, know the safest and most energy saving places to be in the bunch and how to finish off a sprint to the finish. These riders have taken the time to understand the art of bike racing and they can use this experience to their advantage.
One downfall of taking part in these events is that many of the riders look to you to make the race. Sometimes it feels as if the whole bunch has its eyes on you and are sitting on your wheel. As Fabian Cancellara once said “If I had of stopped for a coffee during that race, the bunch would have stopped with me”. It is often difficult to overcome this but just let your legs do the talking and prove to the others why you are titled as one of the stronger riders.
Do What Makes You Happy
As I said, there is no right or wrong answer. For some just finishing an event they have targeted all their lives brings them the same joy as winning a race. It will more than likely be an undesirable experience throughout but soon after finishing it will all be forgotten about.
To those who wish to win races, I would recommend learning your trade. Success doesn’t come overnight. Progress slowly and learn how to win lesser bike races first before you target the lifelong target. Experience is invaluable.
Whether you’re in an event to take part or take over, there is no shame. We all ride bikes, some for different reasons but there is one reason we all have in common, we do it because we love it.