Last season, for whatever reason, I decided not to race in Ottawa at the Dandelion Grand Prix. A open crit race around a fast 5 corner circuit. However, I put myself in the team car for the Real Deal Racing team with the thought of taking photos and video of the race for the team. For them, it was a 90 min crit which they had a plan to win.
After the race, I was invited to sit in on the team meeting. The race didn't go down as planned, and team lead, Ed Veal, was looking for reasons why things happened the way they did. Everyone wants to win and there are usually only three places on the podium. It didn't happen for them that day, and Ed and the team went through the post-mortum of the race.
For me, while they didn't get the result they wanted it, became a great learning opportunity. I followed the Real Deal guys around a fair amount last year learned alot from them. It seems some guys have the natural horse power to get on the podium, and others have to learn how to use what they have to get there. I'm the second category.
What I learned from these guys on that day was the following:
1) You have to believe that in any race you belong there.
That means, regardless of the category you are in, you have to believe you are as good as anyone else at the start line. You have to believe that you can sprint as well as anyone, TT as well, corner as well, etc.. Without that confidence, you will not succeed. You will get dropped. You will second guess yourself. You will fail. You will give up, etc..
2) You have to believe you can win the race.
It is not good enough to show up and ride around. You have to take calculated risks. You have to believe that that attack off the front at the start line in a 75min crit will succeed. You have to believe you can get into the break. You have to believe you will get on the podium. Until that happens, the win won't happen. You have to have the confidence to make it to first place. Until then, you will finish 4th, 5th, 10th, 30th, etc..
Last season I worked on #1. This season I am working on #2.
I would like to add one more item into the fray that would I say I learned this year:
3) You have to enjoy racing. It has to be fun.
If it's not fun, why do it? Fun can mean placing DFL in almost every race. Fun can mean DNF in some cases. Fun can mean driving 2.5hrs to New York state to drop you chain in the first lap of a race (Yes, that happened). But, if you show up to start line because, well, it's the "right" thing to do, or the team expects it or you signed up a month ago, I say just stay home. You have to enjoy the challenge. The pre-race gitters may never go away, but once the race starts, you have better want to be there.
I've actually done that a few times this year: stayed home. Taken a weekend off racing. Did some rides with the old club in the B group because it was fun to socialize for a change.
Racing this year has been fun. Last year, not so much. I realize that some experience is required to race in the higher Cat's to be able to win. I'm not so worried about not winning. In my mind, the only race of the season that actually matters it he provincial (state) or national championships. Everything is just "gravy". Yes, there is some value is winning races to get experience racing, but I figure that will come in time.
So, in the mean time, I'm trudging along as a mid-pack rider in M2 in Ontario and CAT3 in the US, having great time racing while learning probably the most important lesson to learn: to believe in myself.