Putting together your 2014 race calendar

by Robert Annis

A beautiful afternoon of racing in Ogden

It’s winter, and like many folks in the more snow-plagued parts of the country, I’m going through race withdraw. (It doesn’t help that I’m anxious for redemption after an unabashedly mediocre cyclo-cross season.)

So until the foot of freshly fallen powder outside my door melts, I can only ride my trainer and keep an eye on my computer as promoters begin to update their slate of events for this coming year. By the middle of February there should be enough races on the slate to start piecing together a tentative schedule.
In past years, choosing my races has been a bit more scattershot – “That looks like fun,” I thought, “let me try it.” That approach led me to the brink of exhaustion by the end of 2012, and had me racing hardly at all last year until September, when I hopped on my cyclo-cross bike. Unfortunately, my lack of serious training and race fitness became quickly evident.
For 2014, I decided to be smarter about my race planning and asked some coaches and fellow competitors for their advice.
Talk to your team
When you join a team, you’re typically obligated to race certain events.  Although the cyclo-cross calendar won’t be known until later in the season, my new Shamrock Cycles team captain has already informed me that I’ll be riding pretty much the entire OVCX series program. This makes picking and choosing races a lot easier.
Talk to your teammates about the upcoming season and try to pinpoint races to target as a group. Most of these will be a no-brainer; if your team’s sponsor is located in Greendale, you’ll want as many of your riders on the podium during the Greendale Criterium. 
Consider picking at least one or two races a bit further from home as well, and use those to build camaraderie and discover different roads and trails. For those events, your teammates can help defray your costs by chipping in for gas money and splitting lodging (if it’s an early or multi-day event). They also make traveling a lot more entertaining than just listening to your iPod for the entire drive.
Consider your goals for the season
Speedway Wheelman Adam Rodkey (Cat. 3, Road/Cat. 2, CX/Cat. 1, MTB) plans his schedule around his favorite discipline, cyclo-cross. His race season doesn’t start until summer, when he breaks out his mountain and time trial rigs. He uses the two to sharpen his skills for CX: 40-kilometer time trials to increase his threshold endurance and mountain bike races to sharpen his handling skills.
Although cyclo-cross remains his priority, Rodkey still aims to be one of the top overall competitors in the local DINO mountain bike series.
“I think doing a race series, as opposed to just a race, is beneficial,” Rodkey said.  “It keeps you training and more focused (leading up to and during the season).”
If you’re a newer racer, consider using the season to explore everything a USA Cycling race license has to offer. During my 2012 season, I tried nearly every type of event I could find – road races, crits, time trials, track and cyclo-cross. Although I did OK – some age-group top 10 finishes in CX, a few podiums between the road and track  -- I was able to discover the disciplines I really enjoyed, as well as the events I showed the most promise in. Just remember to schedule enough rest between races.
Consider family obligations
As you draft your tentative schedule, think about your marital or family status. I’m much luckier than many: my wife enjoys coming to my races. (I can’t decide which she likes more – seeing me in pain or hanging out at the Shamrock team tent.) If your significant other doesn’t share your passion for racing, some negotiation might be in order.
“The only rule my wife has regarding racing is that if I go somewhere warm or exotic, she comes also,” said Team Nebo Ridge’s Doug Wilcox. “So past trips to (small, local towns like) Mooresville or Metamora have been alone and with her blessing.”
When making your family’s vacation plans, always check for nearby races. I’m planning to race a crit in Evansville near my sister’s house, as well as the time-trial series in Kokomo, not far from my aunt’s place. Best of all, this gives your extended family members a chance to see you in action, rather than simply clicking like on your race photos posted to Facebook. If they’d rather not see you race, hey, free babysitter!
Have fun!
Unless you’re one of the few cyclists who actually gets paid to race his or her bike, this is a hobby. You’re supposed to be having fun, and once you start feeling exhausted dreading the next race, it’s time to reevaluate your plans. Just because you have an event penciled in for August doesn’t mean you actually have to race it.
“If your body is blown and the mind is saying no, the best thing you can do is just take a breath and just take a break,” said my teammate Will Sherman. “If you try to race but are blown, you'll only make it harder to recover for a race you do want to do well at, or you'll make yourself so miserable that you won't want to go to the race you really wanted to hit.”
Take a break, start pedaling your bike just for the sheer enjoyment of riding, then start again.