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2016 It all pays off!

The post below comes from Michael Burke regarding his methods to reach 1st cat racing licence.
“The second half of 2016 is really where the hard work from the early part of the season paid off. At this stage I had enough points in the bank that I just needed a couple of big results and then the smaller results or band 5 races would be able to make up the rest. Not having experience in achieving this amount can make it difficult even if you have greater ability than the field. The amount makes it so much so that you have to race a lot to get there no matter how well you ride.

Following the break and string of road races were programmed in over the weekend and the Mallory Park Series would be somewhere I would go to during the week to race. This was a low points haul, in the band 5, but what you find is if you ride enough of them they all add up to quite a lot if you can score regularly enough. It was enough to be getting in a constant ‘points income’ pretty much every week where by if I missed out at the weekend I would have an opportunity in the week and vice versa if I needed to get something over the weekend. Racing like this is very particular and leaves little opportunity to train as it is mostly race and recover, it almost makes for a points or category specialist rider really.

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Mallory Park, June.

The first big result though came at the Leisure Lakes Road Race at the back end of June taking 4th in a band 3 race. That’s 17 points and I knew at the time that taking it to 122 total and if I could keep the smaller results coming in one more big result should do it. At the time this sort of thinking makes you do forecasts on when you think it should be done depending on how you have done over the past, constantly updating it to the latest results I had achieved.

It’s a really long winded way of doing things but even at this level some riders are still really good and as yourself and training goes you have to peak at some stage. Not many riders really come through being so much better they are able to just turn up and ride.

So if I was to do it another way and peak at a certain time in the season saying I will put all my eggs in one basket (ie a period of time) and I will get everything at these races it carries greater risk if something goes wrong which could be anything. It’s something I tried in the previous year and it went wrong. My method carries much less risk but can take all season rather than potentially finishing in June or July or if you are really good, May.

Come July I had got the result I was looking for. Another 4th. It was in the Equipe Velo Road Race which was part of the NCRA Scratch Race Series. I raced differently to the rest of the year though and this time got into the early break which went just after the first lap. We stayed away the whole race and at later stage after being joined by some other riders we contested the finish on what was and up hill drag.

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The Finish of the Equipe Velo Road Race. Liam Davies won the kick up the hill.

I was now on 165 points. The bulk of the work done and I had to just steer it correctly to get over the line. Momentum is everything when your doing it this way which I still had afterwards but I started to pick up only the smaller point hauls. Two here five there and so on. It also did not help that in August it can be typical that most races break up and large groups will disappear up the road. People are tired at this stage and a new influx of riders moving up from lower categories can confuse things so its easy to miss things.

It felt like an age when I was actually doing it because you have done a lot of the work but you still need to get points so it can be hard! It came good though!

After a 15th at the Upton Cycles Road Race which took me to 185. points. I had a 3rd place around a midweek race at Milton Keynes Bowl and that weekend managed a 14th in a Nat B, the John and Dulce Walker Cup. 201 points and that was it.

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After the finish of the John And Dulce Walker Cup near Great Milton, Oxfordshire.

I really did feel happy with the achievement after this and writing this now I look back and think I really did work hard just to get this far! Even this level is hard graft!

Until the next season though races were just to be fun and one was the Finsbury Park Road Race. I do remember thinking that I am just going to enjoy this and if there is not a big result on the cards at the end there is no reason to take risks. As it turns out the the win was up for grabs and the finish suited me a lot. I knew from the previous year after finishing 3rd where I could maybe improve on my position and maybe better judgement on where to put the power down. It was a great day and a fantastic win to finish off the year!

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Finsbury Park Road Race Finish 2016.

The remainder of the season was now just enjoy, have some cafe rides. I did some Hill Climbs, a bit of Track League and a couple of races. All of which were very nice just to turn up to knowing I had achieved what I wanted to for that season! They were nice moments and make the most of the success until the next years preparations started.

Analysis of the year:

Above is an achievement which cannot be taken lightly and my notes for the year were as followed. Unless you have prior racing experience in cycle racing it can be a mammoth undertaking. I have seen riders go straight through from 4th Category to 1st Category in a season and a lot drop straight back down when they get found out on the National Scene. Some riders carry on and make it but they will either have prior racing experience as a junior, mountain bike racing or if not will more than likely have someone available with experience to them to give them guidance.

Before the beginning of the season whilst preparing I had two templates to follow in my mind. I had learnt this from the previous year whereby I had not managed to get this far. I was lucky however that I knew two people that had managed it and set about it in different ways.

Way A: (James Moore’s 2015 way) – James got his 1st Cat licence pretty much done at the end of June and scheduled races and all his training around specific events where he was intending to go well. A lot more risk and fewer races to do but this way means you have to work really hard to make sure that you will be in a position to achieve these goals.

Way B (Joel Lewis’s 2015 way) – Joel took an approach very similar to mine and raced a lot. This way is way more spread out over the year and carries much less risk in the sense that if something goes wrong, in the time when your meant to be going well, there is always another opportunity next week. You are likely to pick up far less points in races though and you’re in it for the long haul.

Both got their 1st Cat Licences so the end result is the same. For me it was about learning from both and apply which way would work for me. I had tried Way A twice and once it worked very well and the second time it backfired on me dramatically. So for that reason I went for Way B.

Using this approach does carry less risk as described however things to be considered around this are:

  • The Regional Riders – Typically if you are in a position and strong enough to move up people will notice, especially in your region. This means once you get over 100 points there is a great potential to be marked out of the race. In fact this normally will always happen if you are not willing to travel or not in the right team that will ride for you and basically neutralise what is going on behind. On this particular year I deliberately spent all of my early season outside the East Midlands until June when Mallory Park started. I was not seen by local riders at all apart from any that may have been at a National Event which meant I was fairly elusive when I did start to ride inside the region again. Nobody knew how well I was going unless they looked me up. This would not be a problem for James the previous year because he had almost come and gone by the time it was relevant as he was able to do it in the space of a couple of months. He would also have based all his training around those couple of months so would have had the legs to make sure he got away. My peaks were more spread out and had less specific training involved due to the race programme so I forethought this was going to be a problem. I made sure that I was never around to much to get noticed but it does mean more travelling around the country.
  • Money – Races cost Money. Again Way A will be cheaper and Way Bmore expensive. Not just because of more races but a lot more traveling and hotels if required. Logistically Way B requires just as much planning as Way A but in a different way.
  • Planning – Things were planned way in advance sometimes 4 months. I knew what I was doing every weekend up until that far way sometimes even down to the training session if it could be fitted in.
  • Sacrifices – There are many things you have to give up and planning that far in advance did make me unavailable for a lot of things. It is hard graft even at this level and without lying there were some tough moments where I could not attend one thing or another because I was not available.
  • Other Riders and Circuits – This is something that cannot be underestimated because it is so important. Knowing circuits, the wind direction on the day, who turns up can all be pivotal to the result of the event. One massive benefit of Way Bis that you get to know other riders around the country and see how everyone rides (Each region is very different from another). Also once you are a National Rider you will also face these people in other regions as the pool of other riders gets smaller. Despite all the travelling it paid off quite a lot once I had moved up as I already knew most people.
  • Diet – In Britain we don’t have too many big climbs like the alps so no king of the mountains. More like king of the rollers. Power is king so it can be more important than weight. However it is still good to keep on top of it a bit and don’t let things get to out of hand. Others do keep an eye on it and things like the myfitnesspal app make it much easier than it would have used to be. Long rides require calories so apps like that help to fill in the missing parts. Most riders will think of over eating when racing but under eating can be a very bigger danger to health. No calories no riding!
  • Recovery Way B makes training difficult. I was relying on races for that which is not the best practice. It worked but its not easy. Travelling also requires recovery so I was limited. I would typically commit to one training session per week which was based on around 5 minute power output or 1 minute power output. I used a recovery software called restwise alongside trainingpeaks to help make sure I was recovered well enough for the next session. I am a lot more clued up about recovery now than back then but at the time it was very useful.
  • Teams – One big benefit of not being in a Team and being part of a club is that I always had people around me to help, whether it was Phil Rayner for guidance. Help from (Martin) Websters Cycles when I needed Mechanics. People like James who had done it the previous year and when I needed to talk to him. Or just others in the community that know things. It’s the main reason I have never joined a team. It’s not just why I was not in a team though. Teams at this level typically like riders to ride in the same races together and there is usually a dominant rider or riders who will choose what those are. They might not necessarily suit some else because mainly the circuit or the event might work to your disadvantage. I was in full time work and every minute is valuable so committing not just to events that I didn’t want to ride in but team commitments such as meetings etc. were just not going to work. It only works for the ones leading the show and provides others with less opportunity. Usually they are the ones that put all the work in to set the team up as well so it can be warranted but I did not want to set a team up. I wanted to turn up where I wanted, pick which race I wanted to do and race how I wanted with as little interference as possible. That way I only picked events I thought would suit me and where I could maximise those results which did work out a lot of the time.
  • People – Having a support network around me was key. I was lucky that everyone around me supported it.

Writing this has made me think how hard me and Kathryn worked at that time to make it happen. It was throughly enjoyable and feels great to write it now however it is definitely a reminder of the work we put in not just this year but in the previous and following years also”.

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