Reader Question – Struggling Cat 4

I received a question recently and wanted to give it a public answer.  The question in pretty in depth, but gives enough information to give an in depth answer that I hope you will find interesting.

First of all, great blog and your story about your progression from Mr. Slouch to a CAT 1 racer was somewhat inspiring to me that I decided to give racing a try.  I rode for about 3 years on a recreational level, mostly doing long weekend climbs etc…  But finally wanted to experience another level.  After one year of racing however, I really feel I am at a wall so to speak (my license # is ACA XXXX, and you can see, my results were fodder material).

I was lucky enough to participate in a study sponsored by Specialized, and my stats were measured at the Boulder Center for Sports Medicine, and this is what they came up with in Sep-11 in two different tests:

Weight:  142
Age:  34
Height:  5″9′
Vo2Max:  4.5L or 69.86
Power at Vo2Max:  377
FTP:  245 on trainer at BCSM (although bike outside with Quarq always send me to around 260, so I guess all relative)

Overall Question
I know I will never be a CAT 1 racer, but I saw how quickly you progressed, and see your Lookout Mountain climb stats near 17 minutes.  Currently, best time this fall is 24:58.  Am I just limited by Vo2Max?  In an odd way, if you were to tell me your Vo2Max were 80, I would at least get why I seem stuck, especially against my peers and when comparing to someone like yourself, who makes it seem so easy (I know – it is not, you train hard).  But in another way, if you were to say closer to my level, it would somewhat also give me some sense that I just need to train more, and am not hitting a genetic wall so to speak.

Look – I know…some do not like to release their data, but you have always been so open with your data, that I figured perhaps you would be open to it.

Well Rob, you’re in luck.  First of all I am open to publishing any data I have, and secondly I happen to have a friend in a very similar position to yourself (a struggling Cat 4 with near-identical numbers), so I feel like I can give you some advice.

June 2008

First, let me address the ‘Mr Slouch to Cat 1′ progression.  I’ve always been a big eater and come from a big family.  I’ve always had a propensity to put on weight.  I have been on a long-term yo-yo for a lot of my life.  I topped out at 208 lbs (6′ tall) in mid-high school, and spent a few years riding it off and later raced at 165 in college.  After my hiatus from riding described in my bio, I exceeded that at a maximum of 228 lbs in 2008.

December 2010

Although I weighed a lot I wasn’t entirely inactive.  My weekly activity was low, but I would still be out on the weekends.  My family may be big people, but we always were out in the mountains hiking and fishing.  I’ve talked with a local coach that believes that ex-fat folks who stay active have particularly well developed aerobic systems from hauling all that weight around.

My data (from March 2010 as a soon to be successful Cat 3)

Height: 6′ 0″
Weight: 165
FTP: 330w (4.26w/kg)
VO2 Max: 5.1L – 68.5 ml/kg/min
Power @ VO2: 400w
Body Fat %: 11.6

The data is somewhat old, but that is the only complete snapshot I have.  More recently (summer 2011) I was weighing 158 and my FTP was 360w.  Assuming my absolute VO2 remained unchanged, my relative VO2 Max would be 71, still quite close to yours.

Your power at VO2 Max is quite high.  I would perhaps double check that 375w is the wattage that your O2 consumption peaked (correct VO2 power) and not the wattage at which you stopped the test (which is perhaps 50w higher).  Either way, your VO2 Max overall is very good.

As for your FTP, I wouldn’t expect much of an overall difference between 245 and 260w.  The difference is significant, but won’t make the difference between being off the back and winning the race.  According to the ever useful , a power of 245w would get you up Lookout (4.5 miles at 5.4%) in 24 minutes, so I bet your FTP measurement is pretty close.  245w would be 3.8w/kg, which is actually close to the top of Cat 4 on Andy Coggan’s .

So the good news is that your numbers show that you’re already quite fit, with adequate FTP and good body weight.  Your high VO2 Max shows room for further growth as well.  I’ve answered your question on face value in this post, but in my next post I’ll give you some specific tips and considerations for next season.

About Russell

I have been racing bicycles for a decade. This blog will chronicle my efforts as a Category 1 road racer lining up with the pros.
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10 Responses to Reader Question – Struggling Cat 4

  1. The next level says:

    • says:

      This link is to an in depth article by a source much more qualified than myself.

      When I get a chance to read it I may make a comment to its applicability in this case.

  2. says:

    There’s a bit of a gap in the story here in that we don’t know what kind of races Rob is entering, or the quality/quantity/consistency of his training, etc.

    To me, with a VO2max of 69, a seemingly respectable p/w ratio and the other associated power data, the answer to the pack fodder results lies somewhere other than in the numbers. IMHO amateur racers these days put too much stock in these numbers and not enough stock in the 10 other things it would seem make for a decent result, like racing smart and knowing when and how to suffer like a sow to create or make the selection.

    Only the truly talented breeze through the lower categories. Most people have to commit to paying their dues and learn through trial and error. So keep it up, Rob!

  3. butterkist says:

    hey. I was thinking of asking you about the article posted above.
    this year will be my first year racing and I’m designing my training plan using the cyclist training bible. in this you just pick 4 things to train once a week. force, muscular endurance, speed skills, endurance, anaerobic endurance…….. is once a week how you train these things? or do you do some more like the article above that says to do threshold work 3 times a week? which i would assume to mean 2 threshold work outs and some mixed in to a longer weekend ride.
    or just posting how you design your later base and build weeks would be great. I don’t want to copy it as I know everyone needs different things, I would just like a look at how many things you fit in and how you pick them.
    lastly on another post about carb loading and nutrition you mentioned doing another post about caffeine. I’d be really interested in reading that!

    • says:


      You can certainly train the ‘six abilities’ as often as you wish. The Training Bible doesn’t go into too much detail in combining workouts (I believe this is for the sake of clarity), but this is often done, especially by more advanced athletes. An example might be Yesterday’s workout (linked in the twitter feed), which was a 3.5 hour ride with nine five minute climbs ridden seated at tempo pace. (Working on Endurance, Muscular Endurance, and Force – I am in Base 2)

      The training regimen suggested in the linked article focuses on only one ability. Muscular Endurance (FTP) may be the most important ability for road racing, justifying the focus, but keep in mind that many beginning athletes will be well served by becoming well rounded.

  4. says:

    btw, you baby is super cute and so happy…just wanted to mention that not related to the post :-)

  5. Mat S. says:

    I would recommend reading the power article from the August 2010 Road (Journal of Road Cycling and Culture) magazine and pick up the training with power book by H. Allen and Coggen. Seems like you have a pretty good VO2 Max. I would focus on bringing your FTP up and get a power meter if you don’t already have one. You can purchase past issues of Road Magazine on their website. The article from Road Magazine is titled “What is the next level?”

  6. Mat S. says:

    I just noticed the article from Peaks Training Group is the same article as the Road Magazine. Hunter Allen is a regular contributor to this magazine. I would recommend picking this magazine up.

  7. Jonathan Cavner says:

    Wow, it seems Rob has a ton of potential. He’s at the sweet spot with height, weight and VO2 max to be very competitive at an amateur level. I was in the same spot as he is a few years ago when I started racing. I had a great VO2 Max from running, but hadn’t developed the force needed to be a good racer. It took me a couple years to get used to racing and figuring out how to train. Last season I started the off season off with weights (dead lifts, squats and plyo). Then when preparing for racing season I did big gear climbing intervals. The next season I was killing it in CAT 3 with nearly all my races being in the top 5. I got my CAT 2 upgrade and am now at a 325W FTP weighing 145lb. In summary, work on force. That’s likely your limiter. Also, don’t neglect balance, core and flexibility training though. Also, it takes about 3 years as a racer to really develop. Don’t be discouraged just yet.

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