Prior Warning: May contain traces of fragile ego. So don’t go complaining if you end up coming down with an allergy.
Before we tuck into the meat of this hefty, self-indulgent auto-paean, it’s worth starting with a bit of context.
When KONM launched initially, one of its (too) many aims was to document this earnest blogger’s attempts to dip a toe into the mystic river of amateur bike racing. This was to be done via the medium of a light-hearted series titled The Worst Rider, an ill-fated enterprise partly responsible for KONM disappearing from the blogosphere for nigh on six months.
The problem was (and, look, I’ll be honest with you here: the words you’re about to read are a gigantic, dirty humblebrag) that it soon became apparent KONM was anything but the worst rider around. Not because of KONM’s superhuman physiology, alas, but rather because of the reality that most Cat 4 (known in Ireland as A4, the bottom rung of the ladder) riders are, well, not great.
This made a mockery of the whole TWR undertaking, the point of which was originally to serialise what KONM presumed would be a desperate struggle to cling on to the back of the Cat 4 peloton.
But it didn’t really turn out that way – and so TWR has been revisited as L’amateur, a series celebrating what will likely turn out to be a grimly mediocre “career” rather than an entertainingly atrocious one.
In the meantime, and in anticipation of future tales of abject middle-of-the-packery, here’s how a first-year racer ended up unexpectedly winning a Cat 4 race and earning an upgrade after barely a month of open racing. I promise you, I was as surprised as anyone.
At the beginning of 2019, neo-amateur KONM dabbled in the gateway drug: club league racing. The league in question is a 21-stage, weekly competition restricted to members of a single club and subdivided into four categories.
There are time-trials, a hill climb, criteriums and road races, all fought out by approximately 100 competitors, some more serious than others. Although the league is stratified, there are still Cat 1s and 2s racing alongside Cat 3s and 4s – and indeed entrants who don’t compete in national open races – so it’s generally a high standard.
KONM was moderately successful over the course of the season, finishing 10th overall and earning a few podiums. This resulted in enough confidence, eventually, to take on the national open road races in mid-August, as many others began to wind down their seasons.
As a first-year rider, you start at the bottom, which in Ireland is A4, AKA Cat 4. In order to earn an upgrade, you need to reach 13 points or more, with points earned through race results.
KONM’s first Cat 4 was a short road race run around a circuit, the Kilmessan GP. It was undertaken purely for trial purposes, to gauge the strength of the opposition. KONM attacked six or seven times and rode at the front of the group for a large portion of the race before rolling over the line somewhere in the mid-20s.
Here’s what the Strava file showed afterwards:
What was notable about this race was that every break was dutifully chased down in its infancy by a Praetorian Guard of larger, more “anaerobically inclined” riders. The message was obvious: we want a bunch sprint, don’t mess us around by making us work.
Afterwards, KONM was assured that this is essentially how every Cat 4 race tends to pan out, unless a significant climb is involved. Duly noted.
At the next race to which KONM pitched up, that lesson was taken on board. KONM mostly sat in the pack for the duration in the knowledge that a looooonnng, flat run-in to the finish would lead to a mass gallop.
It was a thoroughly chaotic final, with hundreds of riders barging and nudging for position. Somehow, despite KONM considering himself a climber and therefore unlikely to make an impact among the fast-men, a third place and some upgrade points were secured.
That’s KONM, dead centre, with head down in the white jersey, black shorts and yellow socks:
As you’ll see, it was a big, big field, so KONM was fairly shocked at getting onto the podium in a pan-flat sprinter’s race that, in theory, did not suit what I perceived to be my main attribute: climbing.
Doubts emerged, given KONM had always fancied himself as a punchy climber whose only chance of winning would be in races with plenty of elevation. When you’re starting out in racing, it’s hard to know what type of rider you’ll be – perhaps what you want to be is far removed from what you really are.
Had KONM been wasting his time building FTP and dropping weight when he should have been focused on becoming a muscle-bound powerhouse?
Two weeks later, that question really crystallised in KONM’s mind after another points finish in the first stage of the Charleville Stage Race, a two-day, three-stage event. KONM registered a max power of 1,511W (race weight: 66-68kg) in getting up to 7th in the bunch sprint.
Again, this came as something of a bombshell, especially when KONM followed it up with more points and a 6th in the stage 2 time trial (4th in GC), which took place a few hours after the sprint. I’d never really been interested in measuring max power, so obsessed had I become in my maiden year with developing as a puncher/climber. And yet there was KONM, mashing away with the TT boys and the sprinters. What to think?
The third stage involved two long climbs and was the one KONM had identified in advance as the one where upgrade points might be earned. But it was an unmitigated disaster, with KONM succumbing to a calf strain on the final climb and having to crawl home. I still don’t know with certainty if that strain was due to tiredness, lack of fitness or a bad position on the bike.
Once again KONM was assailed with doubts. I’d registered another 1,500W+ max power on the stage – presumably during an attack I had launched on a short climb – but had failed to make an impact on the only climbing stage I was likely to be presented with until the following season.
This is a very strange state of mind to be in: not really knowing what type of rider you are. Things got even more confused when, less than a week later, KONM won a pan-flat sprinter’s gallop after another race in which no break got away.
There was even time to almost fall off the bike during a post-up, which is much more akin to the level of incompetence I expected to display this season:
So, there it is, promotion to Cat 3 (A3) secured after four races in the period from August 11th to September 14th (six if you include the individual stages of the stage-race). This is not something KONM had envisaged achieving at the start of 2019, when the only aim was to avoid humiliation.
Cat 3, of course, promises to be a different kettle of fish. In 2020, the aim is little more than to scrape a few points and come back as a potential upgrader in 2021. KONM wouldn’t be surprised in the slightest to emerge from next season entirely pointless – it’s unrealistic to expect a sophomore season to end in glory.
After the highs of actually winning a bike race, the stark reality of returning to also-ran status is hanging over KONM this winter. A long off-season awaits, made all the more intimidating by the belief that major improvements will be necessary in order to last the pace at a higher level.
Still, KONM is up for the task and is working hard. In truth, I’m surprised to have made it this far in such a short time. Anything that goes my way in 2020 will be a bonus. I’ll give it a shot and I hope you’ll come along for the ride.
One thing’s for sure: you’re guaranteed fewer self-fellating post-race reports. I have a feeling next season’s going to be all about dealing with failure.