Rain-You have to Race in It to Excel at It

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Wednesday, I rode my bike over to Vail and back from where I was staying in Silverthorne Colorado. I felt like I might have been sort of acclimatized and was going pretty good. I got over to Vail with a 20.4 mph average, after climbing from Silverthorne up to Vail Pass and then descending down. The problem with the day was when I was returning over the pass, it started pouring down rain.

I see it as a problem now, because I don’t feel so great. Sick would be the word to describe it, but on Wednesday when I was riding, I didn’t really mind it so much. I had improved immensely descending the previous 10 days, but hadn’t been descending in the wet. I didn’t much like it on clinchers, but I was going okay down the bike path to Copper Mtn. considering the crazy headwind and thick rain.

I’m supposed to be heading to St. Louis in a few hours to race the Gateway Cup Criterium weekend. But since I’m feeling under the weather, I think I might skip today and head over there tomorrow. Trudi just got back from being gone a few weeks and could use the day at home to decompress too.

Anyway, no matter how hard I went down the descent, it wasn’t close to as hard as I would push it if it was a race. The only way to improve cornering in the wet is to race in the wet.

It is supposed to rain pretty much the whole weekend in St. Louis. The remnants of hurricane Isaac is going through. It is weird how often we race here in the Midwest in the aftermath of a hurricane that goes through New Orleans. I don’t get why it doesn’t come through more on the weekdays and not on the weekends. I’m not looking forward to racing in the rain, but you can’t be skipping races because it is going to be sketchy.

The problem with racing in the rain is obviously the risk of falling. That being said, again, you shouldn’t be not racing because you think that there is a high chance you are going to fall, especially because of it being wet. I know a lot of people out there will disagree with that statement, but it is true most of the time.

You have to have the ability to corner fast in the wet if you are going to be a great all-around bike racer. There will be too many important days in your career where you’re going to need that skill. And the earlier you learn the skill, the less you’ll be laying on the ground later on because of the rain. The reason for this is because a lot of the time you fall in the rain is because riders in front of you fall. You’ll fall less because you are riding much further up in the field because you have the ability to ride faster because you are good at it. Thus, you’ll be riding with more competent riders, having better results.

I haven’t ridden many big criteriums recently in the rain. I went over to the NRC races in St. Louis a couple years ago and it was raining both days, but I wasn’t going good. I finished in the top 10, but nothing special. Nature Valley seems to have it share of wet races. The problem there is that they don’t seem to have the officiating staff to score the races when the weather gets bad. I won one race there after they cut the race short, but didn’t score the event and then a couple years later in St. Paul, the just stopped the race after a hour, when there were only about 20 of us left, because a motorcycle fell on a corner and they decided it was too dangerous.

That being said, it is better to start out in less important regional races to get you rain legs. It will give you more of a chance to improve, not being completely stressed out because of the competition.

I hope I feel better today laying low. You do need a ton of energy to deal with rainy condition. Especially day after day. I don’t have much energy right now, but I’m crossing my fingers.

A picture of my Garmin when I got to Vail. Here is a link to Strava for the complete ride.

This is from the Minneapolis Criterium stage of Nature Valley I won in 2006. I was going pretty good that day.

10 thoughts on “Rain-You have to Race in It to Excel at It

  1. Joe Orender

    I appreciate all of Steve Tilford’s columns. He writes articles from a cyclists viewpoint that we can relate to. He’s one of the great ones.

  2. Thomas

    Steve I need to word this carefully. You have a perspective of someone who can afford to take extra risk racing in the rain. When you busted your shoulder this spring i suspect you didnt call your boss and say well i was riding my bike and now i m hurt. It will be six to eight weeks before i can swing a hammer. That happens to me i loose my job. As a carpenter with wife and kid it does not make sense for me to risk my ability to make a living. It easy to judge someone else decisions. However You might rethink that judgement if you were in their shoes. Stay safe this weekend

  3. tilford97 Post author

    Thomas-I realize your position. I really do. And that is why I put “most of the time” in my post. There are times when you can’t afford the risk, I agree. Even if cycling is your profession.

    I’ve been told this before. Let’s not try to make one person profession different than anothers. When I get hurt at a race, I can’t do what I do, which is race bicycles. If I had a normal everyday desk job, most likely I could go into work on Monday, even with a Cat. 4 separation of my shoulder. But, I can’t race.

    That being said, when you clip into your pedal in any race, you are putting yourself a risk.

    I used this example in a post before- At the cross nationals in Bend one year when it was slick and icy, I heard a million people say, I took it easy because I didn’t want to take the risk of getting hurt.

    There was a guy there that fell and broke his hip pretty badly. And he might of been one of those guys that had a full time manual labor job that would have been gone if he hurt himself. And he might of been one of the people that said that he was not going to take any risk at all. And still, he has a broken hip. Maybe from no fault of his own, but all the same he is hurt.

    When you enter a race, or even go on a training ride, you are assuming an X amount of risk. Actually, most physical things in life you assume some risk of getting hurt.

    Most riders think that they have a higher chance of getting hurt in a rainy criterium. You might be more scared and apprehensive, but I don’t think the chances of getting hurt, hurt bad enough not to be able to work on Monday, is any higher than if it were dry. Actually, I believe it is less. I’m not saying you might not have a higher chance of be scraped up some, but I think you have a lower chance of being really hurt.

    I think this for a few reasons. One, the speeds are much slower. Another, when you fall, you tend to just slide . And lastly, you’re not racing against so many people. I just got a text from my friend Pat Lemieux,. He rides for Kenda. He said something like at least he’ll only be racing against 20 guys or so, talking about racing in the rain at night. So, 90 guys are taken out of the equation because they don’t have the capabilities to race in the rain.

    I never wanted to be one of those guys. I would hate to travel a long ways to race and then not have the necessary skills to compete. That applies to all aspects of the sport – road, MTB and cross. When I see something that I can’t do up to my standards, then I do put myself a some risk to attain the knowledge and ability to do it. That is the definition of an all-around bike racer.

    And eventually if you have the skill to ride a bike confidently in the wet, then ultimately you are taking much less risk and have increased your chances, immensely, of going to work on Monday in one piece.

  4. Greg

    I remember reading that Sean Kelly would ride rain or shine. He did’nt let the weather predict if he was going to race or not. It was a great lessen to me. I got to where I liked racing in the rain because you knew that only the people that had good enough skill would show up, and the fields were small. You could amost always walk away with some money.

  5. euro

    “It is weird how often we race here in the Midwest in the aftermath of a hurricane that goes through New Orleans”.

    Huh? The last hurricane of any note that came through New Orleans was Katrina, in 2005.

  6. Bill K

    One advandage of crashing in the rain, in a corner, is that you lose a lot less skin.

  7. tilford97 Post author

    euro – I guess I should of said from the gulf. And yes, I did race in Ft. Smith AR in the remnants of Katrina.

    Chris- I just glued on some Vittoria GC Pave tubulars. They are the best tires, by far, in the wet.

  8. Thomas

    Steve I like you and your blog because you are honest, insightful, and when we disagree you never put me down. There are lots of guys who would have blasted me and been a jerk about it.I hope to be able to shake your hand in st.louis this weekend. Good luck


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