The handicap system that is in place for cycling races, i.e. racing with those of a similar ability, is in place to make sure that everyone has a fair chance at winning, or at least everyone will be able to finish a race. This perfectly adequate system is thrown out of the window for the Club Champs, the St Kilda Club Champs to be most specific. For some reason, for this competition, it becomes an age based thing. I guess to determine who is the best! There are no handicaps, just an open race—the main event—and then masters races, for different age groups.
Masters age starts at 30, so if I want to enter these Club Champs, I’m going to have to thrown my hat in the ring and race in the open. I do want to enter, I have entered, so I’m racing in the open race.
What does this mean? Okay, so I imagine a few of my non-cycling friends read this blog… Perhaps not, I know my mum does though, so for this is for her benefit. In the handicap system, I am still in D grade—I think I should be C grade though personally. The best cyclists in the area would be in A grade. This can, and often does, include ex-pros and current pros, domestic pros and basically anyone that is bloody awesome and strong as.
Then you have B grade, which is still full of big hitters, those that are super strong but perhaps don’t have the sprint in their legs to win races—they can, however, sit on the front and burn everyone out. Then there is C grade, which is full of strong riders that are fairly experienced but haven’t been able to make that big jump up to B yet. The jumps between grades are pretty big.
How you progress: You start as a starry eyed D grader, thinking you’re pretty strong and it’ll be no time before you’re racing at A grade, and then off to Le Tour de France. It can’t be that hard, right? It only takes about 20 minutes of racing at 40km/h, chasing down attacks, attempting to break away and generally just hanging on to a highly volatile peloton before realise how much of an idiot you were back when you thought you’d be in A grade soon (that's purposely long sentence to give you an idea of losing your breath).
So, when you finish your first race, and are ecstatic about finishing with the bunch, which at SKCC is a decent feat for a first time racer, you realise that you’re basically shit compared to even C graders. You look up to them and wonder how the hell you’re going to get there. Then you work hard, train a lot, race a lot, and eventually start winning some D grade races. You get promoted and whaddya know, you’re back to the bottom. You’re hanging on for dear life again, wondering the same about B graders. How on earth do I get up there! I’m sure it’s even bigger of a gap from B to A.
When you think of how your ability progresses, too, it’s not a straight line. It gets harder and harder to make gains the better you get, so the improvement takes longer and longer. They say it can take between 5-10 years of solid riding to reach your potential. I’ve only just done my first full proper year of cycling. Who knows what my potential is? Maybe I've hit it. I hope not.
To compare this to another sport, let’s use football (real football), D grade is like your local team’s second squad, C grade is like their first team. B grade is like an English division 2 or 3 team. A grade is like a mix of division 1 and championship teams, with ex-premier league players in a few matches. Yes, riders that have, or still do, race on the World Tour sometimes race in A grade at SKCC crits. Ex-World Tour riders regularly take part.
Back to the Club Champs then. I will be playing with the big boys. This will no doubt be the hardest race I have ever ridden in. I will no doubt be spat out of the back after a mere few laps, but if you are in town, and want to watch this spectacle, watch me gasping for air and gritting my teeth, come down and cheer me on. Who knows, it might help. It’s on this Sunday at Whitman Street in South Melbourne and starts at 10am. A reasonable time by anyone’s standard.
P.s. This isn’t even an April Fool’s