I started out a mountain biker long before I ever touched a road bike. I met someone who told me he knew a lot about bike racing and said that I should pick up the road bike because that’s how you get really fit. I did my first road race, which was actually a stage race, in Las Vegas wherein the categories for women were so small that all the categories were combined. So, as a cat 4, I lined up for my first criterium next to a few pro’s that had quads twice the size of my trunk and I thought…’they’re gonna eat me for lunch’. Not only did I survive and finish with the group my first criterium, but my love for road racing began and I quit racing mountain bikes and never looked back.
I upgraded within a season and 1/2 to a Cat 2 and so thought I’d better join a big elite women’s team if I was going to go anywhere as a bike racer. I have learned a LOT since then. I had a lot of natural ability, dedication and willingness to sacrifice and stay focused that helped me upgrade so quickly but getting my Cat 1 was the most difficult upgrade to earn for lots of reasons, most of which I talk about here, here and here; but I also believe that part of it was the complex dynamic of bike racing as a team sport. It is the only team sport where individuals win. As a result, the natural human condition to compete, jealousy, self-entitlement, selfishness and basic survival come to the forefront more than they do in other sports.
My first season as a Cat 2 on that team, I DNF’d (did not finish) more races than I actually finished. I spent a lot of energy doing what I thought I should do as a teammate to those who were more veteran riders. Trying to ‘earn’ your spot on a team as a member who the team is going to work later isn’t so cut and dry. Also, this wasn’t a professional team, so I wasn’t getting paid a salary to do ‘my job’; and yet I still felt all this pressure to work for other teammates. I think this is because of the nature of women in sports. Women feel a larger obligation to other women, we want to be liked and we also want to be asked to return to the team the following year. I believe though that a healthy balance can be made between racing as a teammate while working towards your own goals; although it can be difficult. Some things that I learned over the past several years that may help:
Some of these I learned quickly while others took me YEARS. I hope that this helps you learn how to approach this season as a teammate and an individual athlete.