Thursday, 19 April
I'm confused—so I’ll venture onto the controversial end of the blogging spectrum and stir up trouble.
Compare two comments about local women’s racing last weekend. Allison said this about Seward Park: “I found the tactics of some other teams a bit shady, so that made the race frustrating….This is the problem with women's racing….cattiness.” And one of her teammates said this about Kings Valley: “Women’s racing in Oregon makes women’s racing in Washington look like NRC racing.” I have to say from the get-go that these two women are both in the top three among local riders I respect; what seems to be in question is what makes a bike race.
Women’s racing in Washington this season has featured rotating pacelines (when no one is off the front OR the back) and relentless attacks by riders who go 50 meters (or 50 feet) and sit up. If the “right” mix of riders get in a break, everybody else slows down to 12 mph to make sure it sticks and then just pedals around to the finish line. Is this “racing” or even “teamwork”? It sure produces a lot of cattiness and criticism, and you don’t hear anyone saying “good race” at the finish.
When I was a cat 4, all women raced together. That means, yes, that I did stage races with riders with world champion stripes on their sleeves, with pro teams with team cars and team radios—when I was a cat 4. Race tactics for me were simple: hang on for dear life. And sometimes I did. When I didn’t, it wasn’t because of attacks or catty teamwork. It was because of selective features of the course where my skills were not up to those of the elite riders.
Early-season races in Washington have a distinct lack of selective features. Or else we pretend they do. So Mason Lake and Tour de Dung devolve into training sessions where everyone can work on their jumps and “teamwork.” At Mason Lake, for example, the little hill after corner 1 has the potential to break up a women’s field—if you are willing to commit to a hard effort. But only one rider in the last race of the series used this to that advantage (and she proved my point). I can’t comment on Tour de Dung because I wasn’t there, but I heard very few positive comments about race conduct in the women’s peloton. The same reports come every year and, frankly, that’s one factor in why I don’t go.
Along comes Independence Valley, where the hills ARE selective in the women’s race, and suddenly there was an amicable, cheery front group at the finish that all reported a “good race” (in spite of the monsoon). Funny, though, that TST did not produce similar results. There, however, one team dominated at least in numbers and played the “teamwork” card. It is hard to imagine why Suz needed anyone “working” for her to win that race.
Switch to Oregon. The course at Banana Belt, their early-season series, has lots o’ rollers and one pretty good hill. I did the third race in the series this year, and the race was strung out single file A LOT. The girls from Bend attacked on the downhills, and the smarter folks pushed the pace on the uphills AND AFTERWARD. The race was harder and more interesting than anything at Mason Lake—and the field was bigger. Kings Valley has a reputation for being a hard course, but it has one of those climbs that’s only as hard as you make it. And when the 1-2-3s are started with the 4s, there is usually an unspoken effort to keep the race together for the first lap so that some poor 4 isn’t out there riding 2.85 laps by herself and hating bike racing for the rest of her life. And, just as Suz predictably won TST, the two women duking it out in the sprint at Kings Valley would’ve been my picks at the start line. The difference? Suz’s teammates apparently pissed off some of the field by their tactics during the race, while at Kings Valley I think everybody was happy except the Washington rider looking for an NRC race.
No, I’m not a rah-rah sisterhood “let’s have a happy race” kind of person. On the other hand, I don’t think there’s much point in short, squirrelly attacks for naught that seem only to annoy the competition. If you want to race that way, don’t expect to see me much at the front; it’s better value as entertainment from the cheap seats at the back than as good, hard racing. And it’s great if cat 4s get some experience riding in a bigger group and develop confidence in their skills. I won’t say that’s why OBRA has three times as many members as the WSBA, but it can’t hurt.
Back to my question on what is racing. Is it just teamwork? The winner of the men cat 1-2 race at Kings Valley abided by the teamwork concept for most of the race, but his teammates really didn’t play a part in his drive from the pack, through the break, and on to the finish line. What is the point of an attack if your commitment to your effort lasts only 50 meters? At Mason Lake, I watched women push the pace up a roller, string things out, and then quite literally sit up and wait for the group to come back together. Huh? I also understand the point of blocking, but that makes you about as many friends as sitting in for the whole race and then sprinting at the finish.
You can rightfully ask why I don’t quit whining and just go ballistic and ride away from all this cat fighting. Lots of excuses: lack of training this winter, lack of ability to go ballistic, lack of confidence, lack of youth, and, sometimes, lack of interest. Apathy is a terrible thing.
The bottom line seems to be: give me a race with a hill in it. I’ll probably get dropped, like I did at Independence Valley, but at least everyone will be in a better mood after the race.