by Bart Egnal
As my loyal readers know, 2016 was a good year for me at my local criterium series by the Midweek Cycling Club. By May, I had already won a race and had several top-five finishes. I was feeling pretty good about my ability to animate a crit and take some chances. Then, I got an email.
“It is the decision of the Midweek Racing Committee,” it read,” that based on this year’s performance, that you be upgraded to the WorldTour. Please contact Jonathan Vaughters for your new kit.”
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OK, that wasn’t exactly the email. Instead it read, “You will be upgraded to the late race. Please see registration for your new bib number.”
With that email, I felt simultaneously excited and nervous. I was excited because I had proven that I should race with the next level up in the more advanced later race on Tuesday nights. But I was nervous because I felt I would go from attacking to just hanging on to the back of the pack.
It didn’t turn out to be as bad as expected; I actually got fifth in my first late race. That result, however, was an early mirage: I spent the rest of the season just fighting to conserve energy in the hopes that I could move up at the end of the crit. I abandoned the thought of initiating breaks or attacking early in favour of getting used to racing with a big, strong field that averaged about 4 km/h faster than the early race. It also races for some 30 minutes more. But challenges aside, by the end of the season, I knew I could race with these guys – and that I’d have to get a whole lot fitter if I was to be at the tip of the spear.
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I also had a decision to make about whether or not to request an upgrade to M2, Ontario’s second of three masters categories. For the past few years, I’ve finished in the top 10 of the M3 standings, but have not been forced up to M2. One reason is that I haven’t won a race yet. The other reason is that due to family commitments, I never do more than three or four Ontario Cups, making it tough to earn the requisite points. When talking with an Ontario Cycling Association official, he told me that I should just call and would likely be granted a move up. So should I?
The reasons why I should are many: I know I can race at the level of M2. After all, I have raced with many of the guys there at the Midweek crits or when they were in M3. The level of racing in M2 is a bit higher, which means people tend to know how to handle their bikes a bit better. There are more tactics at play, which can make for a more interesting race. And, I won’t lie, it would feel great to tell people I’m in M2 as opposed to M3.
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But there are reasons to stay put. If you can believe it, the logistics are worse for me in M2. With young kids, the early-in-the-day M3 races allow me to be back home (usually) for most of the day. Then there’s the challenge of pushing myself to race aggressively in 2017 and doing well in the lower division, before I move up and find the racing tougher going. Unlike many, I don’t aspire to race M1, the highest level of masters racing. The races are long and my training time is already maxed out as I strive to run a company and be a good father and husband. So there isn’t really a desire to get into and then out of M2 quickly. But perhaps the most important facet is the whole principle of it: I feel it would be shortcutting the line by not earning an upgrade, and unfair to those who won the races they needed to move ahead.
After considering the decision for awhile, and consulting my sponsors (or lack thereof) and the directrice sportive (wife), I’ve decided to stay put for now. My goal will be to race hard and aggressively this year, but also to do as many O-Cups as I can so I can earn that upgrade. It helps to know that anytime I want my ass handed to me next year, I can just toe the line in the Tuesday night crit series and watch someone’s wheels disappear past me in the final lap.