Recently completed my first 2 races of the 2011 season and had a blast. It was a time to catch up with old friends and make new ones. I saw amazing people giving it their all on and off the bike. From beginner cyclists, organizers, team management, officials, families and fans.
I also saw things in others and myself in these races I did not like. It sounded like this article sounds like it was starting of positively . I just want to share with you one of my core values: Learn from others mistakes.
Twitchy/Sketchy Pack Riding
In early races at the beginning of the race season competitive cyclists especially at the beginner’s levels can be very nervous affairs. Those that can manage their anxiety in high-speed pack riding are more likely to finish strong. Anxiety leads to all kinds of physical problems such as a lack of flexibility and muscle tension. Being tense in a race will wear you out fast! So what are cyclists to do about dealing with anxiety in race scenarios in the off-season? In an effort to become less anxious in an early race I expose myself to fast group rides. These will start as small groups of similarly fit cyclists and progress to larger and faster groups. Over the course of the first couple of months of racing you will find that you are more relaxed after exposing your self to smaller amounts of what is causing your anxiety. If a cyclists anxiety persists through out the race season then its time to look into other help. I will be writing an article on this subject in the future.
While there can be quite a bit of laughter and teasing in the peloton there is also cussing, name calling and really bad suggestions. I really enjoy the banter and humor in the peloton; this is sadly something spectators will never have the joy of participating in. The flip side that comes with anxiety and sketchy riding is the cursing, shouting and even name-calling. We joke about “what’s said in the peloton stays in the peloton”. We need to grow some pretty thick skin and realize that what is said is born out of fear and anxiety and are often a knee jerk reaction to something that wasn’t expected. So how should a cyclist handle the negative banter? Do not internalize it and take ALL comments in the peloton with a grain of salt. If you keep hearing the same comments directed at you about how you are riding then you do need to evaluate if you are indeed doing something incorrectly. In the lower categories of races you will often find people yelling passing, slowing, on your left, breaking, hold your line! Guess what? That’s banter from club rides not races. In the upper categories we may yell up to a teammate for direction or the next move but rarely will we use club dialogue to communicate. When communicating in a large field of competitors in the upper categories we are bit subtler, at times. We will tell each other got your wheel, we may even put a hand out to the next person if they are moving into our line or even tell a competitor that we are drifting back or moving up.
Radical Line Changes and Cornering
Falling back to the earlier topic of anxiety, as the cause to poor riding behaviors is true for more unpredictable riding. Riders making Radical Line changes due to others behaviors can amplify the action ten fold and cause a pile up in the peloton. The key here is to be predictable. We do not race with rear view mirrors and as such we, as racers are not directly responsible for the racer behind us. However if you change your line and cause competitor behind you to tap into your rear wheel you both could go down! When taking corners you want to be aware of what space is being occupied around you and where you want to be when getting through the corner. This doesn’t mean that you should make a line change in the corner! Instead it means you should pick your line in advance set up for it and roll through the corner SMOOTHLY! By all means attack the corner in and out but do not make drastic changes while cornering. Be predictable.
It is common for a cyclist to blow up in a race and not a problem until the one blowing up gets in the way of other racers. In short course events in Road Racing namely Criteriums and Circuit races the rules state that riders who fall off the pace and rolls behind the peloton may be pulled from the race for fear of causing accidents when being lapped. If you find your self about to be lapped and an official hasn’t pulled you out of the race you need to move over as the peloton passes you. The peloton will be riding the best line out of the wind so the individual being lapped should move over into the wind and not reengage with the peloton but instead regroup with others also off the back. Please tell race officials that at the end of your race that you were lapped. This really helps everyone involved with score keeping.
Blowing up in glorious fashion
If you find yourself at the end of the race in the top 20 or 30 riders and its the last lap you may be tempted to position yourself better in the field for a higher placement behind the sprinters. This is a great way to expose your self to extreme pack handling skills. If you are strong at the end and you are an excellent bike handler you could clear several racers! But more than likely what you are going find is a traffic jam of the dead and dying. As the stronger teams set up in the last laps of the race they will use teammates to set pace and protect the designated sprinter. These teams will also use the racers to form a lead-out train for the sprinters. These hard working teammates are usually more than spent when others are trying to make it through the top 20 and 30 positions. Be aware that these hard working cyclists are oxygen deprived, moving slow and feeling like toast. You will need to keep your head up, but in the seat, and hands in the drops and be prepared for lots of line changes that will have you looking everywhere and no where. By all means finish strong but DO NOT stand and sprint off the back of the top 20/30 filed. You stand a very strong chance of wrecking and taking others with you!
At the end of this article I hope you take away a couple of key points such as being predictable, bike handling skills are critical and that communications are critical to staying safe in a race.
Here is to a safe and successful season of racing!