Where to hang in the pack

Hi Everyone,
I’m a newbie road racer. I’ve got a big road race coming up next week and i’m driving myself mad trying to work out a game plan. I’ve done about 10 races in the past, each of about 1 hour with about 20-30 riders. This one is 100km with maybe 100 riders on a 20km rolling road loop with some decent climbs and only about 2 sharp turns.
I have 4.3W/Kg to play with (Thanks TrainerRoad), I’m a pretty good climber and i’ve got the endurance to not worry about staying the distance.
What i don’t know is where to stay in the pack. I’ve not got very much experience in large, fast groups and i want to stay upright and injury free as i’m not a youngster anymore. I know that you only sit in the wind if you’ve got a really good reason for it and the goal is to conserve Watts. I’ve read good and bad things about staying at the back as you get an easy draft and stay out of the gnarly parts but you get a concertina effect and you’ll never know what’s happening in the real race up front. Whereas staying at 9th wheel means you’re in a good place but you’re in the washing machine and it’s likely to be mentally draining.

Realistically I am not going to threaten a podium but it’d be nice to think i had a Proper Race rather than a group ride. I know it’s a different game if you have a team, but i don’t.

Is a viable plan to stay at the back for the first 1 or 2 laps and wait until it thins out slightly and then move up? Should i stay with the leaders for as long as possible until i run out of steam and then drift back?

What’s a good plan to take into this?

As far front as you can get without getting cycled to the front. On the inside of every corner without someone pinching you off.

Easier said then done.

There are some factors to take into consideration before determining where to slot yourself. How comfortable are you with riding in a pack? Are you a bigger rider or smaller climber? How are your bike handling skills? How experienced are the other racers? What are road conditions like? Looking purely at your power to weight, I suspect you can stay towards the front of the race. Staying off the back on a hilly race will put you pretty far back, especially if the race gets strung out. You’ll then expend a ton of energy trying to move-up. If the group is riding more than 2 abreast, try to stay to the inside or outside so you can bail if things get hairy…of course if there is a cliff on one side you might want to stay to the opposite side…

I try and position very near the front even on the front in technical sections. Always lay off in corners and accelerate out is easy to do up front. You have to brake and react too much further back as a result power spikes are higher.

Not being a super light weight I try and position very near the front at the bottom of climbs and sag climb and/or surf wheels to not surge power too much.

If gaps open and I’m near the front I tend to work with tailwinds on flats and descents to make others (smaller guys) use more energy. In a headwind especially on a climb I stay protected at all costs. If a gap opens with a headwind on the flat I will work. I rarely work on climbs. Just follow the best I can depending on the climb.

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Talk to somebody who has done the race before to see how it normally plays out, and find out what you can about the make up of the field. If there’s a spread of abilities then it sounds like there is enough climbing to break that 100 riders up into smaller groups pretty quickly. In which case you want to be near the front from the start to try and make the selection. Good news is that with decent W/kg it’s a lot easier to get to near the front when there are some climbs as gaps will appear. Much harder when it’s flat and nobody wants to let you in.

If it’s a well matched field where most of the group should stay together for a while, then still a good idea to stay near the front as it’s a much smoother ride, but at least if you find yourself in the back half of the peloton you’re in less danger of being on the wrong side of a split so can take a bit more time working to the front. 10th wheel is about the ideal spot in my view for a field that size with some climbs and turns, but much easier said than done as everybody else will have the same idea.

I’ve just been sent the start list and it looks like about 80% Cat 2 riders so I guess the quality of pack riding will be pretty high.

Does this change my game plan?

@RCC, I suggest you sit quietly near the rear until you feel the pace being uncomfortable or see gaps opening ahead of you , that is the signal to move up and use that quality W/KG by going with the leaders and trying to form a small group. It may be on the climb where you are in your element.
If that doesn’t work then go mid pack and wait for the next grippy moment. Repeat ad nauseam.
Riding in a small group will be a lot steadier and give you a lot of room to draft.

It’s hard giving specific advice, but this is how I approach a big race…

Firstly, I’ll look at the course and get a flavour for where any breaks might get away. This could either be a climb or an exposed section. I’ll try and be at the front near the bottom of any hills or any section that might be bothered by crosswinds. I’ll be prepared to ride really hard here.

I’ll search out the route on strava if I’ve not ridden the circuit before to get an idea of the length of efforts on the climbs, but will only really pay attention to the times that were obviously ridden in races rather than lone riders taking advantage of tails winds to go for KOMs! I’ll often then look at previous riders that I know Strava efforts for the races to see where it’s likely to be hard or any selection might be made.

Once I’ve got the start sheet through, I’ll have a look on the British Cycling website to see who is in form. (not sure where you’re based, but you may have a similar if not in the UK). I’ll then make a note of the riders numbers that I need to be alert for making a move. Also, if I see them sitting in the bunch, I’ll chill as well.

If the race is settled, I’ve no problems with sitting at the back. With a circuit like what you are describing, I wouldn’t be expecting a bunch sprint so I’d be looking to try and get in a move.

If you’ve only got 10 races under your belt and don’t have any teammates with you, it can either work in your favour or against you. You might be allowed to slip of the front unchased if the bunch don’t think you’re a threat, or chase you down relentlessly. Best way to get round that is to create respect for yourself by riding aggressively - follow strong riders if they attack, but don’t simply drag the bunch along every time. Be comfortable with allowing some attacks to go and others to do the work to drag it back.

The goal of a race is to finish first. If you can ride a smart race and climb well, why can’t you trouble the podium?