Some of you might have noticed, I’ve been in California for a few weeks for work. While I was there to promote my new book, Innovation Wars, I went out of my way to enter every race I could. Over the period of three weeks, I completed ten races across the South and East Bay areas.
My goal is to accelerate my racing experience, while under the watchful eye of my coach, Joe Stranfell of the Inspired Training Centre. All the events, excluding the SJBC TNC, were held under the NCAA in alignment with UCI regulations. I was able to enter using my Singapore Cycling Federation Licence with my UCI number. The races I entered were:
- Berkeley Hill’s Road Race
- San Jose Bike Club, Tuesday Night Crits (x2)
- Cat’s Hill Classic (x2)
- Red Kite Criterium (x2)
- Modesto Downtown Criterium (x2)
- Modesto Road Race
Unsure of where I’ll fit in, I had to experiment a bit with my grading. Initially, I tried Category 3, but eventually found myself competitive in Category 3/4 races. The grading system here encourages riders to race often to develop skills, fitness, and more importantly, learn how to race safely. The development of a rider is controlled by a grading system that recognizes participation, placing, volunteerism, and club involvement. It works brilliantly. I’m currently drafting a separate post as an open letter to event managers and the Singapore Cycling Federation on how to develop the sport. But for this piece, I’ll focus on my experiences as a racer.
As I’ve touched on in a previous post, bike racing is more of a mental game. It is testing your knowledge of yourself, your body, your bike. It’s a discovery of how a peloton works, use of power buckets, strategy, and more. Getting ten chances in a condensed period of time in theory should help develop the mental skills to race stronger, smarter and faster.
I want to be up front. I encountered one challenge that was consistent for me, the weather. While the majority of the time was a pleasant 70+ degrees (21 celcius), the early morning starts were typically as cold as 50 degrees (10 celcius). Even with arm warmers, this tropical boy was freezing and is struggling to warm-up. Fingers crossed, the tables would be turned if the Californian riders came to the heat and humidity of South East Asia. Each race, I take a trainer with me to do a warm-up with a series of leg openers.
The criterium format was common right across the state, with races only requiring roughly 1.5 to 2.5 kilometers of road. Thus, making it easier for a club run event. Yes, the majority of races here are lead by clubs. At each race there were dozens of race categories, mixing both Categories 1 through 5, and/or age group. Most of my races were in Elite Category 3/4, or Masters (35+) Category 3/4. Moving up across categories is being determined by the upgrade points system, where a rider needs a minimum of 10 starts in twelve to gain the experience to be promoted. This is great for creating a level playing field for all racers. Each category race start will have between 15 to 40 starters.
Most races cost USD40, with a discount for entering multiple categories on a day. Prior to this, a rider must have club membership and a NCAA (domestic UCI) license. And most clubs would have their own local training race nights, like the San Jose BC Tuesday Night Crits, to give people a chance to learn how to race. SJBC does a great job of putting mentors in the field to help develop riders from beginners, through to Category 1/2.
The frequency of races means they have a real ‘race season’. And races are on offer EVERY WEEK. The interesting part though was there are races that are far less of ‘big events’. When an event is run by clubs, it’s more low key – no timing chips, no bike labels, no paid marshals, and best of all, community driven. Marshals are volunteers organized by the club. Race entry only includes a single number and a waiver. Riders need to place their number on the side of their jersey for the camera that captures the finish.
The frequency also meant I had ample chances to experiment with my body and strategy; everything from sprint finishes, breakaways, and more. The result, I learnt a tonne. I now know more of my capabilities and how best to use them. Best of all, it gels the community. Everyone here is so supportive of each other’s development, and the sports development. Local businesses support and get involve. It was great. There is a lot to be said for grassroots level racing.
Many of the event supporters were local politicians who helped with the council regulations in getting an event approved. Local small businesses too would extend support either with prizes or by helping boost the value of the event for riders and spectators. The event in Modesto had an entire bike festival, and a Farmers market. All events had categories for kids, pros, and amateurs.
Racing in California has given me a huge boost in my skills, confidence, and most of all a new perspective on bike racing. Same time next year, I’m aiming to arrange a small group to come back to California as a development camp. We’d stay in San Jose to race and train in the area with the goal of developing stronger racers, and gain further feedback to develop the sport in Singpaore. Let me know if you’d be keen. I’d love to lobby the SCF, and other supporting bodies to join the trip. That way, we can also develop the strength of Singapore’s event management.
Express your interest in a California Development Camp in the comments below.
In the coming days, I’ll also post a piece for each race, along with a post focusing on the event management side of the sport. If you have any questions you want me to respond to, also put them in the comments below.