Do I think that there is elitism in road cycling? Sure, you’ve got all types of personalities in my favorite two-wheeled sport. However, I don’t believe that just because you are a Cat 1 or 2 you are a snob. Some of the nicest people I know will also just as kindly rip my legs off in a training ride. However, now that summer is coming to a close, road season is done, and the cycling vacations have been posted on Facebook – I’ve noticed that there IS a distinct difference between a Cat 3 or 4 vacation and one featuring our local Pros. Here’s a bit about why that difference is necessary for a Pro or semi-pro cyclist…
THERE WILL BE BIKING
First of all, you will see that the vacations for Cat 1 or 2 (and often Cat 3) typically feature cycling as the focus. Not just any old cycling either – epic sh*t. Cycling the highest paved road in North America, riding over incredibly hard mountain passes, crazy steep grades, cycling extreme distance, or maybe even throwing in a race during the vacation! You know: stuff that has you thinking “that is a freaking vacation??” Or perhaps you feel like: “Wow, some day maybe I can do that!”
Your Cat 3 folks, like me, will include cycling in vacations. Sure! However, we may not just focus on cycling and we might mix it up by throwing in a little hiking, surfing, beer drinking (that’s a sport, right?), mountain biking, or climbing. There might be some epic sh*t – but perhaps not as much in the epic department and more focused on just having fun.
DON’T DROP THE DIET
You might be thinking: “Diet, what diet – it’s a vacation!” … and that’s exactly what I think on vacation too, more or less. If you are a Cat 3 and you are worried about your race weight while on vacation: congrats, you are almost a Cat 2 and you don’t even know it yet. Those that aren’t Pro or semi-pro level usually aren’t worried about the diet so much when we are slurping down our third margarita and munching on our second dessert. Race weight can wait! It’s vacation BABY!
Your Pros and semi-pros however … well, they are still concerned about straying off of the training plan, even on a vacation. Ever vigilant, there might be a little fudging as long as they don’t push things too far from their program. After all, vacations end and more than likely there is a competitive event in the not too distant future. Coming back 5lbs heavier could be a disaster! So, they will probably stick to one margarita and pass on the dessert. Sounds like a sober bunch, doesn’t it?
IT’S ABOUT DISCIPLINE
It’s not that your Cat 1 & Cat 2 racers are uptight, it’s simply that the competition is tough. One little mistake can cost you. When one has worked that hard to get semi-pro or Pro status, you have to work even harder to keep it. Discipline is required to compete in Cat 1, 2 or Pro levels. This includes what happens when you go on vacation from what you do to maintain your fitness (or push yourself to be a better competitor) to your diet and including the off-season (what off-season??). It’s not that you can’t have fun – as long as you color inside the lines, so to speak.
On one hand, it’s fantastic to be able to compete in the top of your sport. On the other – it’s darn difficult too. Not everyone has the discipline to maintain the performance output required to be competitive semi-pro or Pro. So, if your top level cycling athletes have their own rides that will rip the legs off of any person under Cat 2 – that’s not elitism … it’s necessary. To a point. Even your semi-pros and Pros need a Zone 1 or 2 day. Cycling at that level is freaking HARD. It’s not for the feint of heart or those that can’t stay on plan and focused.
DO YOU HAVE WHAT IT TAKES?
Lord knows I asked that question when I got to Cat 3. Actually, it was more like: “Well, I did
it! Now what?” After about 5 whole minutes of deliberation I decided I like to goof off too much and love cycling for cycling’s sake more than I love to compete. It’s not that I don’t enjoy racing, but it’s not my sole focus in life. There is so much else to experience! In order to Cat up at 40+ I would need to embrace a sort of discipline that would consume most of my free time. I’m not willing to do that. I had to be realistic. If you can find that drive to focus on what it takes to compete as a Cat 1/2 – that’s awesome!
One of the things that hit me was, if I leveled up a Category, I would miss racing with my friends. I’ve been down that lonely road before racing with women I didn’t know and might never see again on a strange course. I didn’t like it much. There’s something reassuring about racing with folks you know and care about. I feel like I’m a part of something bigger, a part of a community. You can be happy that you put in a hard days work even if it’s your friend that’s on the podium and not you, but that’s ok. You aren’t racing to be #1 or nothing. It’s not as empty feeling if you don’t achieve top three.
If you have the discipline to make the grade, stick to your guns, and focus your life on racing – I think that is wonderful. It’s a tough life and it’s not for everyone. Each lady competitor that makes it to the top of her sport does it for her own reasons, and I hope those reasons are worth it. If you can do it – go for it! You don’t want to look back one day and wonder: “What if…?” The only advice I have is: on those Zone 1 and 2 days – do something that reminds yourself of why you started riding a bike to begin with. Don’t lose that joy. Don’t get to the point you want to hang your bike up. Always remember, at the end of day, you ride your bike because you love to ride.
Cycle on Friends!