Seeking helpful tips from those who’ve experienced things of a similar nature and overcome them (process goals I can apply myself to).
Basically I’ve noticed that in racing (short course UK criterium races) there is a definite pattern whereby in the earlier stages of a race although I’m intending / planning to keep out of the wind / away from the front and just ‘hang’ mid pack I seem to always end up at or near the front rotating with the faster riders.
This undermines everything else because:
I’m big and not very aero (working on it) and so being at the sharp end hits me hard
my FTP / w/kg / body weight / general fitness is at best average for the category I’m currently competing in (4th category) so any hard efforts or matches burnt mean I put myself in a hole (I’m working on all the aforementioned areas)
on the occasion when I’ve managed to ‘hide’ reasonably well I’ve performed an awful lot better so I’m aware of the impact on the overall outcome
Self reflection leads me to conclude its not just over exuberance or inability to know where I am (spatial awareness) and that instead I’m just lacking in the ability to effectively manage my position in the pack compared to others
As I’m a big dude I also notice people tend to try and sit on my wheel for a ‘rest’ etc
I also feel like I get intimidated or pressured by other riders to close gaps so wonder if that’s just a lack of confidence in my own ability and / or maybe something else?
Finally - I’ve noticed in the races I’ve ridden, not just this year, but previously, that for the most part, after an initial frenzy, the pace settles to a much more manageable level and I can then ‘cope’ pretty well and apply myself to the last few laps with confidence.
So what top tips do people have for me that I can look to apply that will help?
I know practice makes perfect and the more racing I do the better I will get if I apply myself but any specifics to look at will be super helpful.
Example below of (perhaps unwisely) racing in a mixed 3/4 cat race where 90% were 3rd cats and ending up doing a few laps between 2nd and 5th wheel, then a turn on the front which led to me going POP and getting spat out the back like a dead weight.
This is probably your absolute biggest issues - you need to go into that race with the mentality of IDGAF if a breakaway makes it or not because “you” are not chasing it down.
You need to hide, short rotate and fall back as much as possible during the first half of the race and the only gaps you should cover are the ones where your either trying to go from mid-back pack to front-mid pack or if you somehow have to catch a wheel.
Don’t show off your matches unless you absolutely have too or you feel its for a race winning (break winning) move.
There’s no shame in getting dropped! It can mean you risked a move and failed and learned something along the way. It took me four races to not get dropped! And a long time to score points/upgrade.
IMO, 3/4 races should be banned in most circumstances. The keen 3’s try and get away to prove their ability, but of course they struggle to drop a gang of mid-pack 3’s who in turn drag the Cat 4’s along WAY out of their ability. When I used to Blog about my Crit racing, it was a running theme that every 3/4 race would end in a crash or a near miss- I’d call it beforehand and sure enough, it would happen.
If you’re that close to the front then it’s probably a good sign that you will start getting points soon- as you’re clearly there in fitness terms.
Basically, you’re still riding like it is a group ride. Just remember that bike racing is not generally a drag race, it’s more like a nerdy University fuel-efficiency challenge project!
Do everything you can to save your energy unless it’s either A to stop you losing an important position or B to hurt someone else. That is what the people pressuring you to close gaps are doing- they’re abusing your ego to their ends, welcome to chess on wheels!
My friend Darren made a great set of process goals to tick off on your journey up through the categories- which actually go someway to answer your question too.
I nicked them and made a vid here:
The great thing is, you can learn to race whilst ticking off the goals, that way you can have a successful event despite finishing ‘nowhere’.
I’m just getting back into it after a few years off, so my sole aim last week was just to get off the front to tick off one of the process goals:
Also, I’d say, don’t be in a rush. Even if you upgrade, you’ll be racing the same people at the same venues for years to come. Enjoy the process and try all the tactics- even the ones everyone says don’t work- it’s about fun and personal growth unless you’re whizzing through on your way to Cat 1
Which course(s) are you racing on? There are crit courses where you definitely don’t want to hang near the back because they’re technical and/or narrow and/or have a hill steep enough to split things and so there’s a high likelihood you’ll get caught the wrong side of a split and not be able to respond. And there are circuits (typically the aerodrome or motor racing ones) where they’re wide and not too technical and sitting near the back is a viable strategy for saving energy with low risk of missing any big splits. Sitting near the back on those courses is also a good way of spotting who looks strong, who’s struggling, etc, which all helps.
If it’s a circuit where you do need to stay near the front then doing so while conserving energy and not actually going on the front is a skill that is pretty hard to master, especially for a big guy. I would be inclined to settle for now for the next best thing which in my view is taking the occasional turn but keeping it short and controlled. I.e. If you find yourself on the front then don’t panic, just do 20-30 seconds at around threshold which should be enough to keep things ticking along without burning matches or pushing you into the red. Then flick the elbow and move to the side. If you’ve done a decent little pull without putting anybody else on the limit then normally next guy will be willing and able to pull through and you can then focus on getting back into the pack without dropping too far back. This is where your size should help as people should be happy to let you in and then get the draft, but you do also sometimes need to be fairly assertive I.e. Spotting a bit of a gap, pointing at the back wheel you want to move onto and then just move before the guy behind gets a chance to try and close that gap if he wants to defend his position. I tend to try and avoid inserting myself in between 2 riders from the same team as people can get aggro if they think you’re taking “their” wheel, but others who don’t mind a bit of niggle will have no issues doing so!
People do sometimes play silly buggers and refuse to come through, though quite often when I see this happen it’s actually because somebody has hit the front and smashed it and the riders behind are either unable or unwilling to pull through as a result, so don’t be that guy (besides which there is no benefit to you doing this, you’re just tiring yourself out and towing everybody along behind you). So if you flick the elbow and move and the guy behind just eases up and follows you then you may need to sit right up (don’t brake) and slow down enough that if he doesn’t pull through then somebody else will.
I also tend to find that if people know you’re willing and able to take the occasional turn then they’re more likely to let you into the line and be ok with you loitering near the front. Especially at lower cats people can have more of a sense of “fairness” and feel that if you’re not working you should get out the way. They’re wrong, it’s a race and conserving energy if you can is fair game, but equally a few short pulls at threshold isn’t going to significantly hurt you so may well be the least bad option.
My view point on this: Would you make a bad move in a different sport if your opponents were trying to pressure you?
In general, opponents want you to do things that will improve their odds of winning. If an opponent is pressuring you into a move, it is probably a sign you shouldn’t do it. Even further, you can probably view an opponents frustration with you as a good thing.
I’m also new. Assuming I’m not in a breakaway (in which case I’ll do short pulls with the rest) my goal is to pretend fifth/sixth wheel is the front.
so I’ll rotate from 10th-12th wheel up to fifth to sixth then slide back into 10th-12th. If I end up further back I’ll use the next low output available moment to move back up to around 10th.
I can still keep an eye on the front, but also happy to let a break go if need be. I’m probably too conservative but as someone who doesn’t have a decade in my legs I’m almost never going to close a gap. That’s a choice I make before the race and then stick to it. My mantra is When in doubt let it go. Until the final few 100m. Then if I’ve made it that far it’s a different story.
One thing about covering breaks - you don’t have to be the first one to go. Often breaks will form when one or two folks get a little gap then there are attacks from the field by a few riders to bridge. Often the best place to be is one of the last folks to latch on and follow the last successful bridge. If you want to do that its actually better to be back like 10th -15th so there are some (suckers!) to tow you up to the break.
Another strategy is to mark a few racers who you are reasonably sure a) they know what they are doing and b) are not likely to let a potentially successful break get away from them and stay on their wheels. They’ll tow you up if things go well.
Finally, if you race locally often you’ll start to notice that the crowd at the front at the beginning of the race is often quite different than the group of folks who are up front as the end starts approaching. Recognize those successful guys who always just seem to appear out of no where with a few laps left. Stick with, or at least take your guidance from those guys.
Agree with this, with the caveat that at Cat 4 (and to an extent Cat 3 and even some of the higher cats) many of your opponents don’t really know what they’re doing! And that in the UK race scene at least you tend to bump into the same people over and over again at races so there is also an element of playing the long game. I.e. there are times when frustrating your opponent is a good thing, there are also times when it costs you little or nothing to be helpful, and doing so may just make you some allies who will be useful later in the race or in future races.