When To Start Racing?

This entry was posted in Comments about Cycling on by .

I’ve always liked to race a bunch.  I’m not sure why.  Maybe training becomes mundane or something, but that isn’t it.  I guess I figure that if I’m riding enough, why not test myself through races.  Races are never the same.  Races nearly always create a small life experience. Plus racing has been the only way for me to get to a higher level of form, which is always sort of a goal.

So I’ve raced a lot.  I might be the first guy to really race year round.  Cross Nationals used to be towards the end of December and the first road races would be the end of January or early February, so there wasn’t much time for an off season.  Not that I wanted one.  I like the lifestyle and routine.

That was back when the European pros used to take a few months off over the winter and then try to ride a little before heading to Sicily to race into shape.  And by racing into shape I mean riding long races really slow.  No one showed up in shape, they just rode into form.

We’d used Tour of Texas for the same thing.  I remember heading down to Texas one year with maybe 400 miles on my legs.  I was in no shape to race.  I think that was the first year of “the new” 7-11 team.  Those guys had been down there riding big miles for a few weeks.

They were pretty much in race shape and the rest of us were in off-season form.  It was ugly.  The first road race I got into a break with 5 guys from 7-11, me and Thurlow Rogers.  I was dying in a sidewind, hardly able to pull, but knowing if I didn’t they would just gutter ride me off the back.  There was a final corner, maybe 5 miles from the finish, and then it was going to be strong tailwind.

I had that corner as a goal.  Just make it to the tailwind, where I could rest.  We turned the corner and probably less than a mile later I was dropped, riding by myself. The thing with strong tailwind is that you don’t get much relief from drafting.  And I needed relief.  I couldn’t believe I was dropped in tailwind, but I was young and naive then.

The best thing about Tour of Texas is that Richard Degarmo, the promoter, knew it was a good place to train and the races were set up around the training, sort of.  It sometimes lasted over a month and we’d race on the weekends, sometimes a midweek training criterium, and then train the rest of the week.

After a month in Texas, we’d all be up to race form.  It was really easy to slay riders that didn’t have the ability to flee the weather early season.  It started the season off on a good note.

Now it is way different.  Many, many riders have the ability to flee the weather.  Or they have moved somewhere that has good weather all year round.  Or their teams are doing training camps that allow their riders to get early season form.

I got thinking about this for a couple reasons.  I was riding in Sand Diego with Robin Carpenter, Holowesko/Citadel Cycling Team.   He said that their first race would be at Joe Martin.  That surprised the shit out of me.  We were riding in January and he wasn’t going to be racing until nearly April.  That is pretty late in the season considering guys have been racing since early January.

Plus it got me thinking when I was a junior, I probably didn’t even think of riding outside until the end of February.  That was back when winter was really winter.  For some reason, that is great for riding, horrible for the planet, winter isn’t really winter anymore in Eastern Kansas.  I would first start riding in a down coat, with tennis warm-up bottoms tucked into my socks, so they didn’t catch in my chainrings.

That’s not the case now.  Yesterday it was nearly 70 again.  Today is going to be closer to 50, but still alright.  Early season here the problem is wind.   It can be crazy windy.  That is the cast today.  It is supposed to be blowing over 30 all day.  That isn’t good for lack of form.

We’ve got a gravel ride planned.  That is a way to avoid wind some, since many of the gravel roads, especially east are sheltered some.  Still, it is gonna be ugly.

I was in a race in Iowa, a few years ago, and in a break with my team mate, Bill Stolte and two other guys.  We were going pretty well and after an hour or so, one of the guys asks me if he can sit out a few pulls.  He tells me that it is the first time he has ridden outside that year.   I said to do whatever you need. The other guy says that it is the first time he had ridden in shorts. That amazed me.  It was late April.  Bill and I had already raced at least 10 races, hanging out in Austin for a least a month.  They both were going pretty well, considering.  We did drop them a little while later, but we had better form.

Okay, if you don’t have the ability to ride outside, don’t stress.  Trainers are better and there are races all year round.  Eventually form comes.  Just wait for it.  Don’t let the internet, showing all the results, from throughout the world, freak you out.  Just enjoy.

The women’s race at Tour of Texas had the best women from throughout the World.




19 thoughts on “When To Start Racing?

  1. David

    I guess I wanted to ask if you have any earlier plans or a goal to race earlier or wait until the local season starts.

  2. Rod

    Is that photo from the Flagpole Hill race? All uphill or downhill. A real beast where
    there was no place to rest. I think Thomas Prehn won that race when he raced for 7-11.

  3. Pete A.

    Wise words Steve, just finished a team camp in Leakey, TX and my 61 year old (racing age 62) legs are killing me. Stull trying another year i. P123. So many of the team are really fit and I was struggling. Kinda had me in funk, could I ever the speed/strength back……..

    Should have read this before then rife hard and spend time admiring the beautiful Texas scenery (same killer hills the TdTx hammered up). Just let the fitness come as it always does. Thank you my friend.

  4. Rope a Dope

    is that Rebecca Twig tightening her toe stap before Nailing the Sprint? I remember Matt sayin “7-11 must a been nuts to let Thomas go” early in the Philly 86 Pro RR! Was there helping Danny Chew who dragged about 20 guys the last 10 miles to the line! Tilly you are for sure THE Longevity King!!!

  5. paul boudreaux

    Always liked this quote from one of your contemporaries about the way guys used to get in shape back in the day. Kind’ve relates to your post from a few days ago.

    I’m still of the opinion the greatest racer ever was Greg LeMond. He could climb off the couch and win races. He could come back from the off-season soft and doughy, and within a week he’d be ripped. Hands-down amazing.

  6. KrakatoaEastofJava

    When I was a junior, it was the best . Winter was winter. We took time off. We started riding again after New Years. A couple races “could be found” in February, but no one felt serious pressure to be truly fit for those events. In March, you should have had reasonable fitness, and the season was in full swing through June. July was lighter on events due to vacations and nationals, and then August and September were fairly full. Oct-Dec was cross season (if you did cross). The rules were simple. During the off season, people rode a lot less, did weights, played other sports, etc. Maybe do the club ride on Saturday, etc. No big pressure. Good times.

  7. paul boudreaux

    At the low levels, whether running or cycling, usually guys with the least natural talent (like myself) would train their asses off during the off season to pick up some big early season wins. Maybe “try” and “want” still gets you some wins late, but Inevitably, the guys with the real talent would work their way into shape and win the big races that counted at the end of the season. At the high levels, I would guess there is absolutely no substitute for talent cause there are plenty of guys the entire package.

  8. KrakatoaEastofJava

    Great interview. ’84 nationals in Sunapee N.H. was the kind of course where a solo break was not sustainable. It was a full-on power-rider’s course. And it was all about being the first guy into the last turn (combined with having selected the right gear for that narrow uphill dash to the line. I hated that course. Gorgeous place, though.

  9. KrakatoaEastofJava

    Yeah. Also in the photo are Rebecca Daughton, Jeannie Longo and Sue Ehlers. I always thought Sue was cute.

  10. Steve Tilford Post author

    Rod-Think that is at White Rock and it might have been called Flagpole Hill. Thomas didn’t race for 7-11. He rode for Schwinn back then. Not sure who won that year.

  11. Larry T

    Yes, what’s wrong with a SEASON for a sport? My wife used to joke about “winter racers” who (in SoCal) were as fit as they were gonna get….in January. The smart racers would just let ’em blast off the front, knowing they’d be burnt out by the time the races that really counted came round. Those were the days of “no big ring until February 15” and “cover your knees below 65 F” but of course none of that makes sense these says where riders are on-form and winning all year round….uh, wait-a-minute….they’re not?
    The funniest thing for me here in Iowa is seeing a guy out on roller-skis on a gorgeous September afternoon when a bike ride is in order. Then the same guy’s burnt out on XC ski before that season’s over and flying off to somewhere warm to start getting burnt out on cycling!

  12. KrakatoaEastofJava

    Even the most talented go through periods of peak fitness, and periods of “not as awesome.” Lemond was not known for his early season awesomeness. But he did do extremely well from June through Tour of Lombardy.

  13. KrakatoaEastofJava

    Also, even though Sean Kelley was a champion’s champion (and was a threat in almost every race he entered), he was known as the “King of Spring” for a reason. Early season DOMINANCE. The rest of the year, he was merely great.

    Most racers I knew that had strings of multiple victories, usually only had them for 4-6 week stretches of time. And they only had them for that one period per year. They’d still do well at other points (and rarely did they do poorly), but it really had to do with the quality of training and racing during certain periods of time. I remember in 1985, one junior had had mediocre results (at best) for two solid years. Then as a graduation present, his dad sent him to Belgium for the summer. He came home with the ability to crush. Yet beyond that (absent spending periods of time in Belgium) he again had no results.

    It ain’t easy to achieve that super-high level of fitness, and it’s even harder to hang on to it.

  14. Sam Montag

    We will be down in the Hill Country (Kerrville) this weekend. We start on Thursday riding to Medina. I think that’s the hill you went down on and took out your wrist. We ride two other “hills” from the Tour de Texas days on Friday and Saturday. It’s short notice but you are welcome to come join us.


Comments are closed.