My story is probably somewhat similar to a lot of cyclists.
Been riding for a few years now, have built some decent fitness, but I have largely stayed away from racing. Dabbled in my first local practice crit last night, and I survived(ish). I’m not going to lie, there were a few sketchy moments (undoubtedly by me, and also by others), and I spend the first 20 or so minutes white knuckling through curves and dangling off the back suffering from the “accordion” effect, and having to sprint out of every corner or rise. Finally, I kind of got my wits about me and settled into a bit more of a rhythm with about 2 laps to go, latching back onto the main group. I was all set to simply roll in and at least finish with the pack when a touch of wheels a few riders ahead of me on an uphill sharp curve caused me to grab brakes, bail to the outside, and essentially come to a full stop while the pack sped away. I’ve got a lot to learn, and I’m pretty sure I was “that guy” not holding a great line and scaring other riders around me for the majority of the race. Wasted a metric TON of energy, and learned that I have a lot of skills/handling work to do.
All that being said, I can’t decide where I stand on going back. On the one hand, I hate the feeling of being the newb/potential hazard in the pack. On the other hand, I know I will likely only get better (and enjoy it more) with experience, and pushing my comfort zone. So, for those of you with a similar story to mine, did you find you made quick improvements when you finally took the plunge and tried racing, or was it slow going and hard earned?? Do you ever wish you just stuck to group rides and fondos, or did pushing yourself to race give you more purpose and renewed drive for your training??
The newb gains when it comes to racing experience comes quick at the beginning, as long as you can recall the things you did right and wrong and can replay some parts of the race in your head and think about what you could’ve done. I say keep at it for a full season before you decide whether you want to keep going or not. Also, if you’re racing cat 5, almost everyone is a newb.
I always say keep doing practice crits and general group rides and fondos and charity events if you want to race. They all have something to teach you especially when new to it all. Learning to read the race, learning who and who not to follow, learning how to position efficiently etc…are hard to pick up unless you are in situations where everyone else is trying to exploit others in the same manner as you are.
With all that said, practice crits or any event that isn’t a race can be really difficult as you just never know (generally) who knows how to ride, who has fitness, who knows how to race and most importantly who is racing. I mean I’m way better figuring out what’s going on now than when I started. I waste so much less energy.
I think most have been where you are. Those with experience can tell what’s up and hopefully will help steer you in the right direction. Even being the new guy I say open yourself up to the more experienced riders. Ask questions if you don’t know what’s going on or if you think you messed up. Most experienced riders are happy to help. A few are a bit closed off so don’t get discouraged. There is a ton of etiquette riding group rides and maybe even more racing. Sort of have to just jump in. We need more who want to race. Keep it up.
Don’t be too hard on yourself. I can promise you that most of the pack are “that guy.” There are always a few people who yell at new and experienced riders alike because they have some fantasy in their mind about how a race “should” be. This just raises the tension, nervousness, and danger in the group. Keep racing and gaining experience and be kind to the newcomers once you aren’t one anymore. Confidence over caution and humility/curiosity over arrogance. Nice work!
As a racer who loves the Crit race format, I’m going to give you a tonne of credit. From reading your post, I get the impression that you were (a). switched on and learning from the experience and (b). able to read parts of the ride/race and understand why they happened. These are key aspects and will help you if you decide to throw your hat back into the ring, which I really hope you do.
For what it’s worth, I didn’t do practice ‘races’. If I’m honest, I’m not sure of the benefit. A field of 20+ riders moving in a pack (assuming there was a pack?) at 20+ MPH doesn’t fill me with confidence. I do appreciate that this format can serve as a taster but, I’m not convinced.
Do you have fast group rides in your area? By fast I mean smaller groups (6-10 riders) who’ll go out and literally knock lumps out of each other. This is how I learnt and I do believe that it’s (a). safer and (b). far easier to gain valuable experience and feel confident to ask questions after the ride. Yes, I got beaten up for first few months and I got dropped more times than I care to admit but, I kept going back and the guys who hosted that ride invested in me. True story but they were all better riders than me then and a few can still kick my teeth in now. What the ‘older’ (I use that word carefully) and more experienced riders taught me was invaluable and it’s gotten me out of more than a few scrapes.
All that said, I appreciate that this might not be available on your doorstep. You might actually prefer the practice format. If so, I’d encourage you to go back for more. Take what you learnt from the previous session and pick one or two things to focus on.
Reading your post, I’d say that picking your line into and out of a turn whilst being in a group is a key focus. If everyone else is lacking confidence, your ability to pick a line and hold it will shine through. Others riders will notice and your ability can make the whole experience more enjoyable and safer for everyone. As you gain more experience, you’ll see the same faces at events and gain confidence knowing which wheel you want to be on.
Good luck moving forwards
we ALL start here, no matter what anyone tells you. Keep riding in groups, any type of race, and you will eventually get more comfortable around others. Also, be able to bump shoulders with a friend; learn how to safely escape crossed over wheels; become more with the bike by riding it!
You’ll get there, and just keep going back. Always be moving up, the back stinks.