My cyclocross season begins three weeks from today and I am full of enthusiasm for it. Training is going well: I feel strong no matter which bike I’m riding. In the last couple of weeks I have posted very good times on the mountain bike at New Fane and on the road bike at my Trenton time trial course. The first two cyclocross practices at Royal Oaks Park were confidence builders from both a fitness and a bike handling perspective. And I have a lot of miles in my legs, a deep reserve of endurance that allows me to recover quickly between hard efforts. My weight is at its lowest point so far this year and I might be able to drop another couple of pounds before the season opener at Sheboygan on Sep. 6.
What do I want to accomplish when cyclocross season arrives? It’s simple: I want to upgrade from Cat 4 to Cat 3 as quickly as possible. I will begin the season with 1 upgrade point already in my pocket. I earned it last year at Sheboygan in what should have been a good ’cross season for me, but the following morning I broke my collarbone in a mountain bike race. So, this year I need to pick up 9 points as soon as I can. With 10 points to my credit, I can choose to upgrade; I would be forced to upgrade at 15. Points are earned according to this matrix:
Moving up to Cat 3 comes with the enormous disadvantage of putting me in with some guys that I might never be able to beat, but the advantages are compelling.
One advantage is the longer race duration. Cat 4s race for only 30 minutes but Cat 3s race for 45, and in my case longer is better. Late in the race I generally gain positions rather than lose them. Getting over the initial shock of the start can be a problem and I need to do a better job of warming up before the race begins. But if I have a chance to settle in just a little bit, then I am more durable than many of my rivals.
The biggest advantage is scheduling. The Masters Cat 4 race is the first race of the day. Going through registration and then pre-riding the course before 9 a.m. is a drag. Sometimes the course is still being set up during the pre-ride period. And it’s cold. Doing the Masters Cat 3 race would push my start time out to 2:30 p.m. when the temperature could easily be 10-15 degrees warmer. My pre-ride window would be 12-12:15, and there would be opportunities to observe—and to learn from—the early races.
I have never raced later than Nov. 5 and for the most part that's because of the weather. If I can move up and out of that early morning start time, then this year could be different. I have ridden as many as 330 miles in November and as many as 175 in December. It isn't that I don't ride at that time of year; I just prefer to ride at the warmest part of the day!