The Road to Cat 1: The Final ‘Grade’

This is the final installment of a 3-part series. Part one can be found here, part two can be found here.

It’s not just about watts, and then it is.

As I previously stated, this is my 8th year racing. I was complimented on how I went from a cat 4 to a Cat 2 relatively quickly; but there I stayed. Earning my points within the requisite time to get my Cat 1 seemed more difficult each year, not less. As a cat 2 you are racing in a Pro/1/2 category anyway so why the big fuss? Is it a big deal?

I think it is and here’s why:

As a bike racer we hear a lot of ‘it’s not just about watts’, it’s about how you think and the decisions you make and when. I’m smart. I graduated magna cum laude with a Major in biology and double minors in chemistry and nutrition. I moved up faster in companies as a chemist than most others there had. I created jobs and positions for myself. I moved to California when I knew only one person there so I could pursue bike racing. Surely, I can do this. Five years later…Huh?

Going from a cat 4 to cat 3 meant I had to beat the cat 4’s and maybe some cat 3’s. Going from cat 3 to cat 2 meant I had to beat the cat 3’s, some cat 4’s (fairly easy) and on occasion some cat 1/2’s. As a cat 2, you have to beat cat 1’s who have probably been cat 1’s for a very long time (being the highest category) and on occasion, beat a few pro’s to earn points to upgrade to a cat 1. It’s like earning a PhD in bike racing with just as much hoop jumping, drama, politics, sacrifice and perseverance as the college degree.

I joke that as a cat 4 you had your warm-up dialed down to the exact second with exact amounts of time spent at exact efforts in an exact place along the course where you arrived at an exact time and have your pre race and post race food exact. As a ‘veteran’ cat 2, you look up the directions to the race after you’ve already started driving and when you get there you squeeze your tires a little to make sure they’re full. I admit, that’s a little extreme, but I say that to illustrate that it takes time to dial in all the pieces of the puzzle and for most of your training & preparation to become second nature so you have more band-width to spend on more important parts of racing, like how to win.

During my 7th year of racing I learned more about tactics than I did in all the previous 6 years combined. I added all that knowledge to my already built physical engine and by my third race this season I had finally earned the points for my cat 1. I surrounded myself with far more knowledgeable coaches, racers and athletes than I ever had before. I learned how to balance my personal, work and bike racing life. I studied, tried different things on and off the bike to fine tune my training and tactics and then I was brave enough to risk failure to succeed. I see and notice more things in a race than I ever did before and I see now why I had such a hard time upgrading. I wasn’t making the right decisions at the right times to put myself in a position to win.

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It’s not just about watts. It’s about knowing as much as you can about everything going into that race so you can make decisions as fast as you can when you need to.

And learning all of that takes time.

Listen to your body, study your craft, surround yourself with experts you trust, never stop asking questions, reflecting, recording, watching for patterns, recover harder than you train. Be absolutely dedicated, honest and learn to live in the moment in order to see success and improvement for what it is. More importantly, believe in yourself.

I probably have some genetic ability, I’m smart and I just keep getting stronger; but more than that, I believe in myself.

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