NRS Guys and Girls racing club races - Is It Fair?
This is something that I have been hearing more and more recently; people feeling disadvantaged when NRS riders turn up to their local A grade club race. In all honestly, I can’t think of anything better. Why? Well, for me it is always a positive to have guys at the top-end of the domestic race scene riding in the local weekly race, especially for those new to racing. It is even better when these riders, who compete at the highest level in Australia, are racing on the same track, often at the same time as recreational, masters or junior rider.
This is fairly unique to our sport and what is so awesome about domestic racing; how close you can be to the top level. I can't think of another sport where the elite riders compete at their local races, support their local clubs, and contribute in such a tangible way.
Now, back to the question of fairness. Some people are calling for an extra "A Elite" or "A2" grade to level the playing field. I don’t like the idea, and here is why. I feel A grade should remain A grade and exist for those riders who are at a very high-level to compete, not only against each other, but also, to pit themselves against the NRS guys. It should be a hard race.
Looking at the numbers for the first BOTB race might help illustrate my point. This was a flat course and the guys had a normalised power of around 4.2-4.9w/kg for the race. These aren’t massive numbers. As we outlined in the previous post, elite riders often do at least 5w/kg to hold on during the longer climbs in an NRS race.
This means it was possible for plenty of non NRS A grade riders to compete at that first BOTB, especially if they were smart when they used their energy and cornered well. In fact, it could be argued that skill is the point of differentiation, and what better way to improve on skills than by competing against the best in the domestic field.
So, another element to this question, or issue number one, is whether A grade races are now harder than they were before.
To answer this I am going to do an N=1 study of myself and go back to the archives to what we will call B.C. (Before Crash). Back in 2012 I started racing A grade for the first time. I will take you back to 2xLACC (my club at the time) A grade races. Now, I would be guessing, but I would say I was between 75 and 78 kg at the time and competing relatively well.
Race 1: 55min around 41km/h avg power 278W NP 315W – some somewhere around 4.1w/kg for not the highest level of racing.
Race 2: 1h01m 40.5km/h avg power 260W NP 318W
Race 3: 56m 41km/h avg power 275W NP 326W Peak 3min 420W Peak 10m 330W
So what does this tell us? Pretty consistently power needed is somewhere close to that low 4w/kg mark normalised and, as always, some races are harder and some are easier, but all are roughly coming out around that 320NP mark.
Now to examine performances post-crash in 2013 when I next raced A grade. I know I was around 78-80kg here (I was dropped at the first race, full disclosure, the others were LACC races (Tour of August races) and while I cannot recall the results, I know I was not too far off the pace there either.
Race 1: 28m30s 41.1km/h avg power 300W NP 321W Peak 3min 384w Peak 10min 320w
Race 2: 1h:01m 40km/h avg power 283W NP319W Peak 3min 383W Peak 10min 346W
Race 3: 1h:20m 41.6km/h avg power 285W NP 310W Peak 3min 410W Peak 10min 338W
Very similar in difficulty to BC, though racing slightly bigger races with bigger fields you can see the pace is a little faster.
Fast forward to today. I am not back to A grade level so I am using DRC who is a similar weight to me in the past.
Race 1(BOTB): 51m 42.9km/h avg power 285W NP 312W Peak 3min 363W Peak 10min 310W
Race 2 (LACC): 59m 38km/h avg power 245W NP 305 Peak 3min 366W Peak 10min 282W *Admittedly this was A and B combined so a softer race but looks more like a B grade race based on 2012 power there was big 1min power to take the win.
Race 3 (Heffron Sat): 55m 39.7km/h avg power 300W NP 315W Peak 3min 366W Peak 10min 335W
Race 4 (SUVelo Heffron): 53m 41.8km/h avg power 272W NP 300W Peak 3min 335W Peak 10min 287W
Given these numbers, can we argue that A grade today is harder (or easier) than in previous years? I would say no. There is the odd harder race for an event like BOTB, but power comes out surprisingly similar, in fact BOTB was easier than DRC's other A grade race because he was on bunch duties rather than in the break.
A second issue, is the impact on grading.
If people grade themselves appropriately then I strongly believe 4 grades (which most clubs have) is enough to cater for riders of all abilities (I should note that I am not including the new Women’s only grades which are a fantastic development, and so awesome to see the increased participation in women's racing).
D grade caters for newer riders and occasional riders, averaging around 32-36km/h.
C grade has some more serious riders, just training a few hours a week averaging 36-39km/h.
B grade has a contingency of strong riders often training around 8-10 hours a week (where I am at the moment) averaging around 38-41 km/h.
A grade caters for the more serious rider, these often average 40+km/h. Now A grade always will have a ceiling effect in that guys don’t have anywhere to go as they get better. However, if you aren’t quite at the top level of A grade you can still race smart and get a result.
Sometimes, as mentioned, the point of differentiation is not always strength, sometimes it’s more about skill, bike handling and wasting energy. Another big one is strategy; maybe you were doing work when you should have been saving your legs, or you just weren’t sitting on the wheel well so you were doing too much work.
These NRS A graders are not necessarily much stronger than non-NRS riders and overall, racing hasn’t really changed in the last five years.
The positives of having these riders compete at local A grade races, from my perspective, outweigh any of the negatives. Riding in a variety of A grade races and not just race the same race every time, should also provide opportunities to improve on skill, as well as get some results. Next time you see a NRS rider around come up and say hi! They love a good chat. Especially Chris Miller. If you want to know more as always fling us an email.