Monday, July 28, 2008

How fast is a race?

I get asked frequently how fast races are. It's a tough question to answer. It depends a lot on the terrain, weather/conditions, what's at stake for the riders, etc. One of my favorite quotes regarding bicycle racing is from one of the old masters of the sport - Jacque Anquetil.

I can't find the quote online so I apologize for butchering it but it was something to the effect of:

"Funny people these bicycle racers. They believe that a racing bicycle is built to go fast. It is not. It is only built to finish first."

The essence of that statement is the essence of bicycle racing - the race is not always about who is fastest, rather it is about who crosses the line first. There is a difference. It speaks to the core of tactics in a bicycle race.

I often find this is the hardest part of cycling for armchair football watching couch jockeys to understand. As Americans we believe it is all about who is the fastest - most in shape. We tend to not understand or appreciate the nuances of the racing itself.

...Actually I also think, as a fan, that a lot of those tactics have disappeared due to over specialization, extensive use of race radios, the Lance era, etc....but I digress.

So how fast are entry level Cat 5 Crits? My usual response is, "Faster than you have ever gone before. Faster than you could ever go until you do it once." I still stand by that.

I never had data to back that up until recently. I ran some numbers last night to see. I remembered that in the bensenville 4/5 race I was dropped about 6 laps in. Then I was lapped around lap 15. I could see the exact moments on my Garmin file because of things I remembered doing at that time.

I was basically thinking, "how far off was I?" I was turning in a tremendous effort solo and still got lapped in like 6 laps on a roughly 3/4 mile course. The math just didn't add up....

So like any engineer I fired up the datafile and excel to see what happened. Turns out it works out perfectly. I'll post the exacts later but basically the group was riding at a 26-28mph average. I maintained that average until I fell off the back. I then went to a 21-23 mph average alone. The differential in speeds accounts for the quick lapping. The pack actually maintained that 26-28 average.

Other data I have seen from recent events shows about the same kinds of speeds. These are short 3-4 turn flat crits with courses under 1 mile with wind. Can you say, "ouch".

So if you're thinking of racing the next time you are out on a ride just try to accelerate up to 26-28mph and hold it. Sure it's different in a pack, but if you can't even do it momentarily then how will you ever bridge that gap back to the pack if they gap you on a corner.

Then when you're comfortable find a stretch of road that is open and try to do 10-17 miles at an average of 23-25 slowing to about 13-15 every 0.10-0.2 miles and then re-acelerating. When your heart gives out and your legs start to tremble as you stand to accelerate then you might have an idea what your first crit may be like.

hmmmmm.....maybe I should stick with distance riding.....


Anonymous said...

Is that all you got kid?

Eric Cox said...

I wish you hadn't posted that. My hypothetical racing has been going so well of late.

Psimet said...

That is indeed all I have gramps/alien. I suck. You know this.

....I am sucking less every day though... shhhhh...don't tell.

ec - Sorry man! It sucks....for everyone.

recursive said...

My thoughts:

That's high for a 5 race. Definitely believable, but definitely on the high side of speeds you'd encounter.

If it's any consolation.

Pavement, turns, wind, and hills are confounding factors for any sort of general average speed analysis.

The range of average speeds I've seen in races is ~20mph to ~27mph. That's including categories 5 through 3.

If you find yourself comparing your average speeds to these numbers to find out whether you should race, just do it. The numbers don't tell the story at all. It can be both harder and easier because of drafting, accelerations, etc.

Go race!

aham23 said...

all this racing talk lately.......

im not saying. im just saying.