I come from timed event sports. Track and field, and bobsled. Drafting doesn’t exist in these sports.
When you’re the best athlete in the field you might still have a bad day or do something tactically or strategically foolish, and end up 3rd, 4th, or maybe even out of the top 5.
If you’re the best cyclist in the field but you make a strategic error, you might end up 24th, 56th, or DNF’ing.
This is not to say to try to avoid strategic errors and develop an unhealthy fear of failure.
It’s to say that you should expect your placing in cycling races to be much more highly variable than in sports where drafting doesn’t play such a major role. The best cyclists in the world don’t win all the races, and when they don’t they’re often DNF’ing, or well outside the top 10 or 20.
It’s a bit like baseball. The best batters in the world still only get on base just less than 40% of the time. They fail disastrously more than 6 out of 10 times.
The difference between 24th and 1st is MUCH slimmer in cycling than in track and field. It’s years of development away in track and field. The difference between 24th and 1st in cycling is often just picking a different wheel to be on in the final sprint or choosing a different tactic.
The reason I bring up all the sport comparison’s up is that if it weren’t for having played baseball in my youth, and watching the TDF avidly, seeing sprinters go from winning to total obscurity and back to winning every other stage, I’d be just like my wife was when she started cycling… REALLY down on herself when she finished 15th, even though she was literally one smart move away from winning everything.
Recommendation: try lots of different stuff at every race and learn from every failure and every success. Keep trying lots of stuff and learn from low-fitness racers or wily masters racers who seem to find away onto the podium every so often.