Let me set the scene. This race was a 25 lap (~111km) circuit around the famous Philip Island motorsport race track. It was tight, fast, lots of corners and changes in direction and basically flat (well,there was one little speed bump). 188 riders from all levels of experienced started the race which always makes everyone a bit nervous at first. Only about 50 finished.
These types of races always start out quite similar. Everyone is pumped full of energy and wants to say up at the front so they either stay out of trouble or avoid getting dropped. In my opinion, getting dropped in the first hour is the least of anyone’s worries. Staying out of trouble is the main priority. Everyone is nervous and is needlessly jockeying for position.
Staying Up At The Front
The most obvious way to stay out of trouble is to stay near the front. Of course not everyone can do this. It’s actually very easy to race in the top 20-30 of the peloton but there’s definitely a pecking order. Not everyone will be able to maintain a position up front. I don’t mean to be elitist, but if you’re up at the front and you don’t look like you belong there, I’m not going to let you have the wheel I’m sitting on. It’s too dangerous for me and I don’t want to have to close any gaps. Everyone is thinking the same thing so naturally the more experienced riders keep their place at the front.
So what to do? Unfortunately if you don’t have the experience or fitness to be positioned at the front, all you can do is sit in the back, watch and learn. This is where a adequate grading system should play a big part. “Experience” and “fitness” are relative terms, so if races are graded properly you should almost always be capable of racing at the front.
Position, Position, Position!
A race with constant changes in direction along with strong winds will always wreak havoc. You ALWAYS need to be aware of the wind direction and make sure you anticipate your position based on where the wind is coming from. Riding in the gutter at 50km/hr behind some imaginary draft is no fun.
How do you change your position? Well, the first rule is to move up in the pack during a lull in the pace. No sense wasting a bunch of energy moving up when the pace is at 60km/hr. Another rule is to avoid jumping out of the comfort of the pack and moving up alone in the wind. Find some other sucker to help move you to the front. There will always be someone sticking their head out into the wind and it’s best to follow him instead of wasting your own energy.
If You’re Not Moving Forwards, You’re Moving Backwards
The peloton is a fluid beast and if you’re simply content on staying in one position you’re going to end up being last wheel before you know it. There are riders constantly moving up and if you’re not doing the same you’re effectively moving backwards Staying near the edges of the peloton much of the time (away from the wind) is also a good idea. This allows you have room to maneuver if there’s trouble and it lets you to catch the swarms steaming by so you can jump in and move up with them.
Use Your Energy Wisely
Bike races are won using only a few bursts of maximum effort. You have a limited amount of hard efforts in your legs and knowing which situations require using these efforts is crucial. Sometimes you need to burn your matches in order to stay in the race (making it over a hill, closing a gap, etc), but most of the times you can avoid wasting energy by simple positioning. You should be conserving your energy for the offensive moves (attacking, bridging to a break, etc). Recognizing the crucial moments and knowing how to read a race is an art form that even the best cyclists still get wrong. Rarely does the strongest rider win. That’s the beauty of bike racing.
I could go on and on about positioning, how to read a race, tactics, etc. They’re all things that are easier said than done (I made many mistakes this weekend), so the more often you get out there and give it a crack the quicker you’ll learn.
I’m rapped to see so many photographers coming down to the local races and taking such phenomenal pics. Here are just a few of Saturday’s race at Philip Island thanks to Veeral Patel and Leigh Schilling. Love your work guys.
Check out the photographers website for more galleries.
Veeral Patel: blog.onev.com.au
Leigh Schilling: www.leighschilling.com