Clydesdale ethics - did I sandbag?

I live and race MTB in Colorado. I’m a big, strong rider at 6’1’’ and weigh anywhere between 195-208 lbs. depending on time of year, training load, diet, etc. I post an FTP of over 320 when trained, with some variation depending on time of year, work stress, and other factors. I have some real limitations in my training and riding - I’m in my mid-40s, have three kids, a demanding wife, and a busy and sometimes unpredictable job.

My training can never be perfect and despite my best efforts, when actively training, I’ll ride a mix of structured indoor training and outside training 3-6 days a week and log around 6-8 hours a week, with occasional opportunities to ride more.

As noted above, I’m a big guy - I could probably get down to 192 or so, but that’s not without cost - I’ll feel irritable if I sustain that for more than a couple weeks, my wife will tell me I’m “hangry,” and my body will naturally gravitate toward being around 200 lbs. I have a bit of a gut, but most folks would not consider me fat. I love riding and racing MTB, but I am built more like a big, strong alpine skier than a cyclist.

Because most MTB racing in Colorado involves a lot of climbing, I know I won’t be competitive against top racers and I’ve come to accept that I won’t be able to compete against a 150 lbs. rider where I live. I’m okay with that - I don’t race to win, I race because it’s fun and the competition makes me a better rider.

A short while ago, on race day, I weighed in at 206 lbs., and decided I’d race the Clydesdale category (200+ lbs. here). This was the first time I raced in the Clydesdale category. I won with about a 10 minute lead in a race that lasted just over 2.5 hours. My time would have placed me about 6th out of 21 starters had I raced my age group in the Sport category. (Experts and Pros raced a different distance, so I don’t have a reference beyond Sport racers in my age group.). So, my performance was solid, but there were stronger riders that I wouldn’t have been able to catch had I not raced Clydesdale.

I was welcomed by my fellow Clydesdale racers who were in the front of our category and really enjoyed the experience. I think my presence helped push some of the other riders in the Clydesdale category to ride harder and I think my presence probably made the race more fun for some folks.

When I relayed my experience to my wife (a non-cyclist) and some friends (also non-cyclists), they chuckled and questioned my decision to ride as a Clydesdale. I was, without question, eligible - my weight (and gut) qualified me for the category, but I could have simply raced my age category. I was happy to win my category, but winning isn’t really the reason I race.

All that said, I think my participation in the Clydesdale category raises an ethical issue that is best answered by the cycling community - and especially by those in places like Colorado where MTB races are almost always determined by climbing ability. What are other folks’ thoughts on the ethics of racing as a clydesdale? Did I sandbag? Did my participation add to the spirit of recreational competition or take away from it?


No, you didn’t sandbag. Be glad you had access to races where you can be competitive.

At roughly 3.5 watts/kg you’re pretty the exact type of racer that Clydesdale racing is for.


I don’t think you were sandbagging. In such a small field, it isn’t uncommon to see wide disparity in talent. In my book, you did everything right. At 3.4 W/kg = 320 W/208 lbs you certainly weren’t packing 4.5+ W/kg power in a “bigger package”.

For the future, I’d ask myself: do you want to race for time or for placement? If you want to race for time and you are going to compare yourself to people from your age bracket (or even the entire field), then I’d just start as an age grouper next time. Perhaps the added competition will motivate you to dig harder. Otherwise, you might meet your match at the next race. Personally, I’d go for whatever challenges me more.


Provided you were honest about your weight (and any other criteria for category) then not sandbagging at all. Not an issue in my view. However next time you race think about which category YOU would rather race in for a challenge/to push yourself. That may well be cylesdale again or the open category. Either would be fine but no sandbagging here in my view.


Lol, I was ‘today years old’ when through google / wikipedia that I found out sandbagging isn’t just what I would associate the term sandbagging with (deliberately under performing) but could also be applied to someone ‘who competes in an event in a series below their level of expertise to finish high.’ I would call that person a ‘Bandit’; one who deliberately sets out to rig the ‘Handicap’ system in their favour to win. It doesn’t sound like the OP set out to deliberately manipulate the system to win, so there no sandbagging in that sense.


You’re lucky to have a Clydesdale cat to race in, I could do with Clydesdale 2!

If 200lbs is the line in the sand and you’re on the right side of it, go for it. Someone has to win! But if I were you and was regularly thumping the competition with times that would get me top 10s in Sport (I wish), I’d race the Sport cat.


Not at all. As a fellow rider whose weight and build sounds very similar to yours, I would appreciate it if you raced in the same field as me. I’d rather get second to someone who weighs the same than get first and not go against the best competition (easy to say knowing I will probably never win a bike race in my life :slight_smile: ).

I totally understand your dilemma. At 220 pounds right now after two surgeries in six months, I’m 10 pounds over my ideal race weight. 208 if I am starving and look gaunt. Compared to a lot of Clydsdales, I am thin and tall, but when you hit those long, steep climbs whether MTB, road, or in the run on a triathlon, I just can’t hang until we hit the flat again.

On one hand, I don’t feel like a clydsdale, but then I do when I hit a climb with some of my 135-145 pound friends which I will never keep up with on a hilly course.

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It really does seem like a dilemma. I don’t race a ton these days - maybe 5 races a year. Some of those races are gravel races out in Colorado’s eastern plains that are relatively flat. In those races, my power is more of an advantage than my weight is a disadvantage. In that context, I’m a relatively fast cyclist. Racing gravel, I don’t think about the Clydesdale issue, in part because there generally isn’t a category and also because my weight doesn’t really present any real disadvantage.

The MTB racing here (and gravel racing in the mountains) presents a totally different issue. I can’t make up much time on flats (because there aren’t many) and there are not enough downhill sections to give me much room to catch folks after a 1500 vertical foot climb.

I am over 200 lbs. most of the time, but realistically, can dip into the mid 190s. On the race day at issue, I was at 206, but some of my competitors could have been 220 or 230. From the perspective of those guys at 230+, I can’t help but wonder if they felt the deck was stacked in the same way I know I can’t win against a 140 lbs. climber.

I don’t think you sandbag but you did crush them. If you think you could have placed 6th in your age cat, then it might be more fun and a better challenge to compete in that race than another Clydesdale in the future


No way, Clydesdale was built for “big” people rather you are tall and thin or short and round. I can race Clydesdale and I am only 5’9" and most riders in that class typically are at best a 3-3.5 watts/kg riders.

The question you want to ask yourself is, well I won this class and I don’t seem to have much competition. Do I want to keep going at it and encourage other Clydesdale to get faster or do I want to jump in another class to try and improve my own racing.

I always told people that Clydesdale is a funny class because you can have a D1 athlete fresh out of college that is just pure insane lean muscle show up and just shred haha.

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Clydesdale is an opt-in weight class and should be treated like any other sport with weight classes. Weight classes in wrestling or boxing or weightlifting allow lighter athletes to have a shot at placing in a sport that would otherwise be dominated by the heaviest athletes. The same applies to Clyde in endurance sports which are dominated by lighter athletes.

It only speaks to bias in the endurance community to think of Clyde as a “fat” or “unfit” or “amateur” category. Heavy people also want a chance to compete. Increasing the popularity and competitiveness of Clyde is a good thing and will get more bodies on bikes in the long run.


In these days of power meters everywhere, maybe we could have W/kg categories instead. Might not work for those without a PM though.


Samus, that is a really interesting point, and addresses a very real and serious issue in the cycling community. My wife, who is not a cyclist, but has been to a few races, has noted repeatedly that races are mostly filled with skinny, middle aged, white guys, with enough disposable income to pay for a race bike. In someways, she is right.

This past summer, I “raced” SBT GRVL. For me, finishing the black course was all about participation and a personal goal. I had no delusions that I would do well, and just wanted to survive. I finished within my goal time and was happy. At that race, my wife had a much different perception of bike racing. The race organizers took special care to partner with organizations to make the race more inclusive. For example, All Bodies on Bikes had a significant presence, as did Ride for Racial Justice. There were also significant measures to increase participation by women and non-binary athletes.

I will admit, I approached the idea of racing Clydesdale with a hint of shame. And, I’m sure I’m not the only racer who has experienced that kind of hesitation. I am still not sure whether my decision was right, or whether I will race Clydesdale again. But, I do think it raises issues that are well-suited for the cycling community to address.


I was thinking this same thing earlier - there are enough artificial calculators out there to give people a general idea. its a verbal agreement anyway when you say you are over 200lbs

Maybe with a caveat that organisers can move you up or down a cat if they feel your result isn’t realistic (sandbagging or overreaching), or if you are consistently at the top or bottom of the group (plateauing).

IMO, no sandbagging.

But if you do this several times and find that you would rather mix it up with other racers for a top 5 than winning by several minutes in the Clydesdale, then go do that. It would be totally up to you.

Several years ago in college, I started biking again. I think I had done 1 crit at this point and gotten dropped super hard. A couple months later there was a nearby MTB race. I signed up for the ‘Beginner’ category since it would be my first MTB race and it was much shorter so I could make it back for tailgating at noon. I thought I’d be racing a bunch of adult beginners. But I showed up and the next oldest person was like 14 (I was 21 or 22). I felt super super silly beating those kids by like a minute or so in a 30min race but they didn’t make it that easy for me.

So your situation sounds much much better than mine.

First time you are not sandbagging, you are just checking out the eligible categories.

Now, if you win the Clydesdale event 10 times in a row, that now is sandbagging

100% not sandbagging. It’s the whole reason categories exist. Although :us: seems to have more than most countries :rofl: (Social media makes it feel like there’s enough cats across enough disciplines that everyone in America has a national jersey :rofl::rofl: )

I wish we had Clydes cats here!

I wouldn’t even say “win and move up” either as you could easily get beaten another day (plenty of 200lb/400w ftp guys around!).

And as the TR guys have said before- winning well takes practice too!

But maybe after 2 or 3 easy victories, you should challenge yourself in a different cat.

Zwift is the perfect illustration of why w/kg categories do not work so I definitely don’t think that’s the answer.

Definitely not sandbagging to race a category for which you naturally qualify for. Organizers offer those classes for a reason.

But as others have indicated, competition isn’t much fun if it’s too easy. So if you are winning Clydes by a ton, you can always choose to put yourself into a harder group. Or not, depends what you are racing for and what gives you fulfillment.

Category selection can also be situational. I have a couple colleagues who are, or were national class riders and are now masters. They will often ride local events in the Open Men or P/1/2 because the 45+, 50+ or 55+ groups don’t offer them a challenge. But at Master’s Nats or Master’s Worlds they will race their age class and go for a top placement.

For an amateur, you might race locally in the group that offers good solid competition but if you go to a larger regional or national event then race your class.

The important thing is you are riding, racing and enjoying.