There is an adage in racing that suggests in order to get faster, you have to ride with people faster than you. So many are chasing down the win on a lower rank races, never actually getting there, to work on speed. One has to be able to just hang on "to the big boys" perhaps in a category or two above, in order to win one's own category.
To illustrate the point, I got a funny look when I picked up my race number for the weekly series here in Toronto, the Midweek Crit. I moved up (by request) last season to the second faster race and I requested the second race this season from the start. I'm sure the thoughts were "Don't you want to win the first race?". Nope. Don't care. I want to be challenged, brought to my limits repeatedly, endure repeated attacks, be able to attack, etc. in the second race, maybe not finishing a few, all in the hope that I could get use to the higher pace so should I return to the first race, finishing in the top 10 because it is almost easy.
This season I also whined my way up to the Master 2 category in Ontario largely for the same reason as well as never having to hear "Hi Mark! It's my first race ever!". Grumble. So, that meant a midpack finish at the first season's race, and a DNF on the second season's race. Both races, I consider C or B races, but not A. To me, it is all part of training for track provincials and nationals in the fall where I need to bring my A game. That worked last season. I had some good results in Cleveland Velodrome, the International Velodrome at Bloomer Park, and at the Track Provincials at the Forest City Velodrome. Of course, it mean a lot of tough racing, finish DFL, and DNF on the road.
So, I look at road racing as little more than training. It is about being put into situations that are hard to duplicate in training. While I never read about doing this type training anywhere, it just is what makes sense to me. Last year, I did some racing from Speedweek in the US as a test - and failed miseriably. That motivated me to change what I do in training and put more effort into training on the road bike.
Of course, today, I feel somewhat vindicated. Ed Veal, a local CAT1 bike racer, from Real Deal Racing, is currentlly in Belguim. He is on the Canadian National Team. I read this statement in his most recent "Veal Report":
"I’m away racing in Belgium for 3 weeks with the National team. The idea is to do some training and racing to push our fitness to the limits. The coaches are looking to overwhelm us with some very fast events so we do stuff we might not be able to mimic in structured training. In short they want us to eat sh*t and see who can handle the work load."
So, the national team is being tested in races that might be beyond them. Works for them.
What I need to work on is the mental aspect of the sport. Hanging in there and sticking with a race, when all I (or everyone else for that matter) want to do it quit.
Again, a quote from Ed:
Day 3 of the Arden Challenge was the toughest so far. It was insanely fast from the gun and the wind had us all 270 of us in the gutter. Tired and sore I thought it wasn't going to be my day. 100kms in I got caught on the wrong side of a split and into the crushing wind I chased for what seemed like forever. As other riders yelled "no chance" I plowed on. I eventually caught the group and it woke something in me. I was emotional at first. It was so hard and seemed so hopeless for so long, but If I could do that and catch then I wasn't haven't such a day day after all. It was a slap in the face to wake the F-up. I attacked and fought from that point on.
It is that drive I have yet to find. I had it at one point in my life, just have to find it again. Even with there is "no chance", I have to learn to fight on because you never really know until you cross the finish line. When I do find that drive, I will be finishing races a lot more consistently (even races I don't care about). But again, it isn't something I think one can do racing within yourself. You have to push you limits. Fail repeatedly. Test yourself. Learn from your mistakes.
You can follow Ed Veal and his quest for a National Team title on twitter at @realdealveal or on his team's website at http://www.realdealracing.ca. While I am sure there are other great examples of people pushing their limits and succeeding, Ed has been working with me for some time and we get regular updates from his efforts. Thanks Ed for keeping me (and the rest of us) in the loop. We are rooting for you.