Dropped at >360w NP - crit race advice

I raced my 4th crit at the weekend - 2/3/4 Lee Valley (London) - and got dropped after around 27 mins. NP 363w AP 348w. The zone breakdown below suggests inefficient riding… 40% of time above threshold >370w and 27.7% above 422w. Any advice for riding smoother and staying in the mixer? Drills/sessions/approach/etc. (More details below)

Strava: 22.6 km Ride Activity on February 3, 2024 by Henry M on Strava

I positioned myself towards the front 10 riders for the most part (field of 40), then followed a bad wheel round the corner into a headwind, lost position and couldn’t catch back on into the wind. Lacked the repeat-ability to keep going into the red.

My feeling at the time was that I spent too much energy fighting to stay up front with the strong cat 2/3 guys; a friend who sat near the back said it was pretty easy taking his own line through corners and he finished with NP~290w. That said, it should be smoother and safer being near the front so I’d like to focus on riding smoother and following better wheels as well as improving my repeatability. I was aware many times of putting in some hard pedal strokes to stay on wheels which subsequently slowed and forced me to slide wider or consider a dab on the brakes, obvious wasted energy. Not sure if you’d consider the circuit technical - it’s the only one I’ve ever raced - it’s possible to pedal around most corners but opportunities to move up without burning matches feel limited.

This was a 2/3/4 race and the first for me in a field that big. I have done 3 races prior and am 4th cat. The 4th cat races are fine intensity wise but of course any efficiency/skills gains will help across the board. Thanks in advance.

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Did you just quit when you were dropped?

I kept riding with a couple of other guys who also got dropped, didn’t catch back on

How tall are you, and how much do you weigh? How is your bike position? Are you staying very aero? There’s a massive aero penalty for being tall, heavy, and sitting upright.

How much crit racing have you done? It sounds like you know that you are riding inefficiently, which is totally normal if you haven’t raced crits a lot (or recently). It probably takes most folks at least 10 races to not be terrible and a lot more than that to get decent. Sometimes you can ride poorly and make up for it with fitness, but at some point that will not work. A good way to get better is to jump on the wheel of a smooth/experienced rider. One specific thing I always have to remind myself after not racing crits for a while - pedal as early as possible coming out of turns. I always make it a point to be pedaling before the guy in front of me, almost/sometimes overlapping wheels and running up on them (very hard to get gapped with this dynamic).

And fighting to be near the front isn’t always a good strategy, especially if you don’t know how to do it efficiently.

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I wouldn’t be super hard on yourself - this is pretty standard power requirements for a UK 2/3/4 especially near London.

Most of the 1st and 2nd cats I know can shove 400+ np for an hour comfortably, and plenty of third can as well.

The problem you might be having is lacking a clear plan. Are you wanting to win by a breakaway, reduced bunch, or in a bunch kick? The “be close to the front but not at the front” can often persuade people to spend a lot of money moving up in awkward situations and also follow every little acceleration of someone feeling fresh at the front and kicking; especially if it’s all going to come back.

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On the Strava you shared, it seems like that’s not a crit that would matter much to be in top 10th whole time, so long as you don’t want to make it into a breakaway. I’d try to maintain position 15-20 and move up in the last quarter of the race. The trick is to make sure you’re recovering when everyone else is and putting down your watts in sync with them as well. I had this issue my first year of CX racing (I’d be hammering away when others were recovering so I ended up always hammering and not winning races as a result). When I tapped into the ebb and flow of the ‘good guys’ I became one and started to win

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Well that’s discouraging.

400 watts for an hour would have me at 5.7 w/kg which just seems bonkers.

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Thanks for the responses.

@lee82 It’s my 4th race, i’m 6ft3, 85kg, not particularly aero but not upright

Great advice on getting back on the power early @grwoolf, simple but effective; I’ll try that for sure.

Thanks @Neuromancer - there’s definitely some strong guys around. Honestly my focus in this race was just staying in the bunch and keeping safe, given the 2/3 guys there I saw it as more of a training opportunity but was disappointed not to hang in there. In this race most top 5 finishers put out low 300s NP for the full 50 mins. The guy who did the most work by far was in the high 300s NP but in the wind a LOT, he’s usually forming the breaks. I’m hoping with a bit better racecraft I can manage without a new pair of legs :wink: Clearly work required on positioning so I don’t have to work so hard just holding position. My max sprint is only 1200w for a few seconds so breakaway/reduced bunch would be my preference once I’m strong/smart enough to get that far.

@KWcycling out of interest why do you say it would not matter being near the front? I’m probably not there with being ‘tapped in’ but vaguely aware of the sensation, helpful advice

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You just need more reps/races to figure things out. When most folks start racing crits, they are in reactionary mode, which just doesn’t work in crit racing. If you aren’t on top of things and anticipating where gaps and hard sections happen, it’s just a snowball effect where one bad corner makes the next one harder, and so on. Once you get some racing under your belt, you’ll be able to anticipate things before they happen. That results in better use of momentum, less use of brakes, better understanding of sheltering in the pack based on wind direction, etc. I remember my first few crits where I was constantly on the back foot and getting spit out the back with stupid high power numbers. After racing for a couple years, I’d be in that same field very relaxed on 100w less power with zero chance of being dropped. I’m far from being a good crit racer compared to some, but light years better compared to where I started. Another 5-10 races and I’d bet you will be getting pretty comfortable. Once it starts to click, the progression is rapid.

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It’s more helpful being near the front on very technical or narrow courses where the pace is slowing down and accelerating a lot and those changes get accentuated through the pack so the riders at the back are having to brake and sprint until they pop off. Lee Valley is more of a flowing course, riders on the front should be pedalling pretty constantly so you can sit on the back and have a fairly easy ride, shouldn’t be needing to brake much if at all if you anticipate well. And field of ~30 isn’t too large either, so even at the back you’re not too far from the action and there won’t be big surges. Being near the front can also reduce chances of being behind a crash, but it can also be a pretty scrappy place to be if people are fighting for wheels so sometimes you can be safer at the back as at least you mainly only have to worry about what’s happening ahead of you and not somebody moving up from behind and cutting in on you.

Of course the other reason for being near the front is if you are looking to get in a break, or working for a team mate and looking to close breaks down. But as a cat 4 in a 2/3/4 race I would say you’re best off just hanging in there and practicing being as smooth as possible and trying to save energy. Learn skills in those races and then use them to target podiums in Cat 4 races where the field will be much weaker. Looking at the power numbers of some of the other guys in that race they were a lot lower than you so unless they’re unusually small guys then you’re wasting a lot of watts somewhere.

And don’t fret the numbers - even at Cat 2 there won’t be that many racers capable of putting out 400W NP for an hour at this time of year unless they’re pretty big, and though you do get those riders at Cat 3 and 4 they tend to move through to cat 2 or higher pretty quickly unless they’re big and unaero riders or have really really bad racing skills (or just do a handful of races a year so never get enough points). 360W at 85kg should be more than enough to not be getting binned if you use those watts wisely.

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For what it’s worth, in the USA, that would definitely be a technical circuit – the majority of our crits are basically big 4 corner rectangles.

Here’s the course the OP rode:

How did you feel in terms of bike handling and riding in the pack? 363W NP is pretty big, which makes me think your fitness is where it needs to be, but perhaps the bike handling isn’t.

You mentioned putting in hard pedal strokes to catch up to wheels that would then immediately slow down. One thought there is to just allow the gap to exist and roll into it as you approach corners. No need to jam on the pedals just to jam right back on the brakes. That wastes a ton of energy. If people fight and try to take the spot, just let them – they’ll be wasting energy while you’re just coasting/taking it easy. Use your brakes as little as possible and use momentum to your advantage as much as you can.

It is usually important to be up front on a course with a lot of corners, but if riders aren’t getting spat out the back and you had a friend farther back in the field who hung on and did much less power than you, it might be worth dropping back to the midpack until later on in the race. Unless you want to get in an early breakaway, these races are often a game of patience and waiting for the right moment to use your energy.

It also sounds like you catted up recently, so it’ll take some time to adjust to the speed and the new strength of the field you’re in. As @grwoolf said, though, once things start to click, you’ll make progress real quick!

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A great example that WATTS don’t win races!

:slight_smile:

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I dont wish to be rude but are you sure your power data is accurate? 360np around Lee Valley should be more than enough to stay in the bunch of the 2/3/4, I’d expect even be in contention at the pointy end.

From your strava it looks like you are 1. sprinting out of every corner (which is unnecessary as most of the corners require minimal braking) or 2. fighting for the front and effectively in the wind the whole time.

I would suggest going into your next race with a few thoughts in mind,

  1. always move up on the protected side of the field. (if wind is coming from the right, move up on the left)
  2. try to gradually accelerate out of corners, 20s at threshold is better than 10s sprint, your anaerobic capacity will thank you.
  3. find someone who looks relaxed in the bunch and you know got to the end last time, and follow them, see how they ride, try and learn from them.
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Plenty of good advice in here. You’ve got enough power at your height and weight to be comfortably in the bunch at LV 2/3/4s @henrymorecroft once you get into the ebb and flow of the race. Learning to race bikes takes real world practice for everyone and it sounds like you’re picking things up well already given you jumped into a 2/3/4.

Being aware of what’s going on. When to spend energy and when to sit back is key. You don’t need to always be at the front. In fact it’s often better to be near the back to save energy.

For those from further afield - Lee Valley isn’t considered particularly technical. It has some flowing corners but other circuits in the area are considerably more technical (Palace, Bovingdon or the nearby town centre crits)

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@ZackeryWeimer cheers. Definitely need to work on the smoothness rather than being so on/off, I could was aware of the feeling that many times I would naturally slide up with momentum that I was boxed in and unable to do so which was frustrated. I haven’t catted up actually, this was just a mixed field. Hoping to improve the skills and experience so I can ride better in the 4s and get some points.

@Majoeric exactly - the point being they’re not useful watts, just a result of riding inefficiently

@Bikes4Buns No offence taken. I’m confident in the power meter (assioma duo pedals) - they tally with my turbo and when I’ve used them on rentals with crank based pm’s. The point of my question is that I’m hoping that

but it’s about figuring out how to use the power that I have more productively. It’s partly a physiological thing too; my ability to go into the red and recover is not good enough. I definitely lost a lot of top end fitness doing an ironman last year and need to get that back, but I’m not gonna add 30w in a hurry.

@noahphence Cheers Noah. I think you’re right on the causes of the issue, thanks for taking the time to check strava.
I found the corners a bit slow and would have to ease off through the turn then get back on the gas - would the solution be letting the gap open a bit going into the corners? Any other tips on cornering in the bunch in general greatly appreciated. Personally it feels strange being able to pedal through basically all the corners going anti-clockwise at velopark.
The gradual acceleration point is v helpful - ironic that I was rushing back onto wheels due to fear of being dropped…

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My wife spends more gas than me doing the same route, same average speed. She pushes the gas too hard after traffic lights and breaks too hard again to stop.

I’ve never raced CRITs, but all the races I’ve ever done were the same. Watts doesn’t win races. Being economical, smart, and comfortable wins.

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yes, that’s the point of my post. I’m asking for help identifying how to be more economical based on the fact it’s an obvious shortcoming.

IMO Best answer was given by @grwoolf. Momentum.

There’s no post on a forum, it’s just ride. Get familiar, confident, and anticipate. Don’t push too hard, nor too slow.