Tales from the back of the pack – Is an honest account of life as a weekend warrior and my homage to the trials and tribulations faced by the majority of ‘ordinary’ riders out there.

With the majority of us having to achieve a sensible work/cycling balance, getting fit for racing and putting the hours in can be tough.

4th Cat. and Proud

4th Cat. and Proud

With me being a 4th cat racer, we’ll be following (vaguely) my progress and all that happens in between to give some sort of insight into the life of a ‘regular’ racer’. After blowing up at a local crit 2 weeks ago it was time to travel down to Spalding to have a go at their town centre crit, which was run in conjunction with their annual flower festival. This gave me 2 weeks to train and get my strength back after a disjointed winter of training and social engagements.

Preparation (2 weeks to race day)

Sadly it was time to give up wine during the run up to the race, (apparently) there is no point in training hard only to go and negate the benefit on these warm summer evenings with a nice glass of red. With an OK  base fitness, I planned to ride everyday and taper off slightly the couple of days before the race. The race was a 3/4 cat race and only 30 minutes long plus 5 laps. This meant it was basically a sprint from the start!

With it not going dark until at least 20:30 here, there is plenty of time after work to get a comfortable 2-2.5 hours riding in. I was lucky with the weather and the first week went well, riding each night on varying routes and with different people to prevent me from getting bored and tired of it all. By the weekend when I was planning to put some longer rides in I was starting to feel the effects, empty legs from the beginning and a slight lack of enthusiasm – luckily nothing that a bottle of High5 extreme couldn’t conquer. The continuing good weather meant that I managed to get out, but some encouragement would be needed for the next week of riding.



The motivation from some excellent recent classics racing, a new pair of shoes and plenty of pretty girls out on MTB’s, did their best to keep me focussed. With the crit being so short and on a short course, now it was time to start riding hard and try to get a feeling for the constant accelerate – brake – accelerate nature of the race. This could mean only one thing……….INTERVALS!!!

Love them or hate them, intervals make an unbelievable difference in your performance. You really should give them a go and see the benefits.

1 week to go:

On Monday I went out and tried some 30 second intervals with 20 off in between. As I’m sure some of you will be thinking, these are far too short and yes they you would be correct in thinking that, as they are. With just 30 seconds I was constantly clock watching and never really got into a rhythm and a quick rethink was needed, though they did up my average speed nicely!

On Tuesday I took a nice ride up to the top of Kirkstone pass, which is local climb and is 454m and 1 in 4 at its steepest. We took the nice (easy) route up through Troutbeck and over, coming back down the ‘struggle’ with a howling headwind. The last 10 miles were done solo and again I tried some on/off riding on the rises and had a real good 53/16 ‘attack’ on a climb trying to drop a local rider before finishing. He was of course dropped and I then had to do that awful… ‘just bust a gut to get past you and must continue at this pace so you don’t catch me up and pass me in an embarrassing heavy breathing frenzy’…type thing! Pride can be a great motivator!

Thursday night was my final bout of intervals and this time I used the turbo to really go all out, especially as the weather wasn’t great! Instead of the 30 seconds, I did 5 minutes of a big gear with medium resistance and spinning at around 85-95rpm with 3 off. After 5 lots of these I was done, feeling stronger and so glad to have the Friday off and just an easy spin on Saturday to finish of the preparation.

Race day

The day was cold and very windy which surprisingly didn’t seem to put many people off racing. This meant that there was a full field of 40 riders all trying to ride the same line through the first hairpin corner, where predictably a touch of mayhem prevailed. Luckily no crashes occurred and only one or two mechanicals made for a good days racing.

As always a good breakfast of porridge and orange juice gave me the slow release carbs I needed and in the run up to the race I sipped on High5 energy source and just before the race had a caffeine gel which was raspberry flavour – very nice indeed!

I expected the race to be hard and from the off and it lived up to my expectations. Each corner was followed by a sprint back up to full speed and I don’t think I used the top half of my cassette at any point in the race. The 30 minutes flew by and then came the bell for the final lap. Somehow I’d managed to stick with the leading pack and into the last corner (which was very tight) I wanted to be 4 or 5th out, but just didn’t have enough left to ride around the pack and slot back in. Starting the sprint in about 1/2 way down the pack, I gave my all and made for 12/14th (results yet to be released). Position here is slightly unimportant, as finishing in the main pack after slogging it out was the main achievement.

To top it off while returning my race numbers and kicking my bike around I gained a chainring imprint on my calf which refused to wash off in the shower. Classic 4th cat!

I’ll be keeping regular blogs of my exploits over the season and you can revel in my ‘normality’. On a serious note though, this type of racing is the mainstay of the cycling industry worldwide and without the support of an army of volunteers, organisers and willing participants, they wouldn’t exist. We can’t all be professionals, but we can enjoy the thrill of a race, even if it is from the middle of the bunch!

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