On the Rise

This week we’ve got a guest post from Catalyst athlete Landry Bobo!  As a relatively new cat 2, he discusses what he’s learned in making the jump from cat 3 to doing some races with the pros.  Enjoy!

It’s the 2012 Morgul Bismarck—my first ever road race. I’m about to line up for a 30 mile course in the Junior Men 15-16 category. As I ride towards the start area, I pass the Pro-1-2 Men’s field that is already lined up for their race.

“Wow, that’s the pro field,” I remember thinking to myself. I remember seeing on the race flyer that this group is supposed to race 80 whole miles! I look down at my blue aluminum Trek Alpha and my skinny, hairy legs. It was hard to fathom racing with those guys.

My race that day didn’t go too well. I was dropped the first time up “the wall” as the entire field rode away from me. I managed to finish but was completely emptied after the 30 mile race. However, after that moment, I was hooked. One day, I wanted to see what it would be like to race 80 miles. One day, I wanted to compete against the pros.

Fast forward 6 years and I am lining up against a small, but fast Pro-1-2 field at the Front Range Cycling Classic. A few places to my left is Isaiah Newkirk, who would go on to finish top ten at the UCI Tour of The Gila just a week later.

It’s intimidating knowing that I’m racing against guys that are on another level, but 2 hours later I am in a breakaway of four with all really fast guys. I’m hanging on for dear life, suffering like a pig up each climb and trying my best to pull through.

On the penultimate lap I get edged out on the top of the climb as my legs start to lock up. At that moment, I realize I’m bonking. In the 3s I could have gotten away with maybe just a bar and a couple of gels—but the Pro-1-2s is definitely not the 3s, and I’m paying for my inexperience. As the power drains from my glycogen depleted legs, fragments of what used to be the peloton pass me, one by one. I roll in for a mid-pack finish.

If I’d have finished mid-pack and bonked out of the winning move in the 3s, I would have been pretty disappointed. But the P-1-2s, was a whole different ball game (er…bike race).  After several years as a cat 3 I had become accustomed to being one of the strongest climbers in the race. This allowed me to race like an idiot and attack at my whim.

In the P-1-2s however, one must carefully decide where to expend energy as any wasted energy will come back to bite you later on in the race. As a newly minted cat 2, I’ve quickly realized that it’s not my job to attack, sit in the wind, or pull back any breaks.

In just a few races as a cat 2 I have already learned so much. Here are some of the things that I have learned:

1.     Pros are FAST. Let them do the work. All you have to do is hang on.

2.     Every race is hard. There are always attacks. In the 3s, most races everyone would just wait around for the final miles of the race. In the Pro-1-2s, there are guys with nothing to lose who are more than happy to put everyone in the hurt box to try to make a break.

3.     You have to eat a lot more. I recently completed Tour of the Gila in the 1-2s. I was amazed at just how much food I would eat during a 100 mile stage. It was a challenge just to fit all of the food in my pockets.

4.     The races are much safer. This is definitely the biggest upside to racing in the Pro-1-2s. Everyone knows what they are doing and there is a mutual trust between racers. I saw more sketchy moments in 1 race as a cat 3 than I have in 10 as a cat 2.

5.     The races are a lot more serious. There is a lot less chatter. In the 3s everyone would be joking around or whining about the course. In the Pro-1-2s there is a lot less talking and a lot more watts.

6.     Positioning is much more challenging. If you’re not constantly fighting for wheels, you’ll find yourself at the back pretty quickly.

One of the biggest changes racing as a cat 2 now is that I also have to change how I define success. Success as a newly minted cat 2 means more than just the results. I have found that I need to focus more on my own development and less on what others are doing. You can’t control who shows up to your race, but you can control your training, nutrition, and preparation for the race. For now, as I begin racing at this next level, success for me is defined by two things:

1.     Did I do my best? Did I really give my all out there? Not being the fastest one in the pack means that you will be faced with a moment where it hurts so bad that you want to sit up.

2.     Did I learn anything? Whether it’s pack riding skills, descending, or nutrition. There is always something we can be learning.

Racing as a cat 2 has certainly been a humbling experience so far, but sometimes the best way to improve is to just go out there and get flogged. I am always excited by a new challenge and I know that as I continue learn (and suffer), I will be a lot stronger because of it.