Examples of What Not to Do: Safety in the Pack

05 Jul Examples of What Not to Do: Safety in the Pack

Bike Crash SignIn order to become competitive in your category it is important for you to understand positioning, where to be and where not to be. I am going to use a couple of examples to show what not to do in regards to positioning.

It was the third race in the Galena omnium, a criterium with a small field of about 14 riders. Half of these riders have gained points toward the overall standings by racing in the TT and the road race. These riders are now going for the General Classification win. Half of these riders were only racing in the crit and are therefore not a threat to the overall GC standings. It was important for me to be aware of the riders who were a threat to my overall standing of fourth place. I do want to move into third place; however, I also don’t want to jeopardize the position of my teammates currently in 1st and 3rd overall. Ideally I would like to help them improve their overall standings and help the Enzo’s team get the stage win. There was obviously a lot to think about during the race, which is why it is important for your bike handling to be second nature. You want to be able to focus on racing your bike not on your bike handling. This is similar to a hockey player; they never think about the technique of skating while playing the game, their skating is second nature. This is the same goal for a bike racer. Racers should rarely have to think about how to ride their bike but should rather be focusing on racing it. This lack of focus, and sometimes knowledge, can lead to poor wheel placement in the pack, which in turn causes crashes and reduces your chance of winning.

Let’s go back to the crit in Galena as an example of bad racing and poor wheel placement. The race had been going for a few minutes and everyone was settled into the pace of the race and the groove of the course. We were on the backstretch riding three abreast, as we were entering the narrower road after curve three, the group needed to go two abreast or single file depending on the pace. We were going low twenties and were two by each. The rider on my left, which was the inside line through the left hand turn was following the wheel in front of him while I was doing the same; this is normal. Then ten feet before the apex of the corner, this rider allowed his bike to drift into my line; which is not normal; this is one way crashes take place. In an effort to prevent a crash, I yielded and then asked him what wheel he wanted to follow. He looked at me in a confused manner. So I expanded and asked why he was switching lines in the apex of a corner. Mind you, there were only 14 guys in the race and moving up or around the field can be done easily. Again he looked confused which told me he was a rider that had no idea what it was like to “race” his bike with experienced racers. He is focusing on his skating versus playing the game. Luckily for this rider I had yielded my position preventing the potential for a crash. If this rider had attempted this move on someone like Brent Emery, his odds of staying upright would have been reduced substantially. Anyone who has tried to take a position from Brent knows he does not yield his position easily. Besides knowing all the tricks of the trade and being really tough, Brent knows he owns that space and that a rider drifting into his line is incorrect.

So what is the correct method in this situation? The rider on the inside has a responsibility to hold his line, which is determined by the wheel in front of him, thus the term following a wheel. I had compassion for this rider and the group by yielding to his error, making sure no crash resulted. This is a choice that I do not allow in big races, like ToAD, Superweek, Glencoe Grand Prix, and so on. Why did I allow it to happen in this race? In a small field it is very easy to move around the group using no extra energy to do so. In large races 75-100 racers, yielding could cause me to loose 10-15 places, having to use extra energy to regain that place, which could take a lap or two. This could be the energy needed later to win the sprint or bridge to the winning break. A calm state of mind and conservation of energy is a large piece of the puzzle, increasing your chances of higher placing.

Later in the race, I watched this same rider do this to someone else. This time he altered his line to jam his front wheel in between the two riders in front of him, overlapping both riders’ rear wheels through the corner. This is really a poor choice because any deviation of the riders line in front of him could force his front wheel to be taken out. The odds of this happening are twice what they were before; overlapping two riders at the same time is just kooky. I myself was not exposed because I made it my business to stay away from this rider after my first encounter. I also mentioned this behavior to my teammates as a precaution. They all seemed to agree that this racer rode like a… well you get the picture. This seems like such a simple lesson, but under the stress of a race, a rider with a high heart rate has more blood going to their legs and respiratory system leaving less blood and oxygen for their brain.

Aside from being at risk of crashing himself and others, this rider would not be able to win that race. Not having figured out the basics of pack riding in a race, I suspect he has not figured out how to win a race either. There is a normal progression of learning, and winning races normally comes after correct and safe pack etiquette.

Returning from the race weekend, I looked up the results and name of this particular rider. I also checked his ranking on USA cycling’s database and was not surprised at what I had found. This rider is a Cat 3 that has never won a race. As a coach I found this amusing since it was my initial assessment after only seeing him ride for 2-3 minutes. This does not mean he is incapable of winning races, but it does mean that he will need to learn some basics before this takes place.

Another mistake I see from many riders is what we call dive-bombing the turns. This is an advanced technique and needs to be used by riders with years of experience. The problem is, that many freshly upgraded riders see experienced racers do this and think they should do it too. But by doing this, they expose themselves to a rough ride often causing a crash. Then they usually blame the guy that did not yield to them, saying, “That guy did not hold his line and crashed me.” I will not talk about how to correctly dive into a corner on the inside because it is very difficult to perfect this move safely. However, I do want to caution you not to just assume you have the skills to execute this move. Try to learn how to race relaxed first; moving around the field calmly while slowly increasing your confidence. The more experienced racers will respect this style of racing. Then, eventually, you can start trying some of the more aggressive moves. Using an aggressive technique takes practice, skill, and confidence, assumptions of ones skill level is where problems arise. Do not be over confident, ask any racer that has a real resume, there are a number of local racers that were pros or national team members. It does not hurt to ask, it is free and these guys like to share a story or two.

I am going to use a rider, whom I’ve watched for years, as an example. He has this habit of dive bombing turns in the back of the pack, while rarely advancing his position more than 2-3 places. This is clearly a stupid move because he is exposing the group and himself to a crash for no reason. It is not until you know how to execute this move clearly that you should use this technique to move up to the front. There is a time and a place for this move, and if you watch long enough you will see good racers use it. You will not see them use it often because they realize it increases the risk of a crash for everyone in that area of the field. Remember we are mostly master racers and this is a hobby. Pros are being paid sometimes having to make a choice increasing the risk of crashing, which is part of their job. They are not trying to crash but advanced techniques are dangerous, no matter what level or racing experience you have.

It is important to race safely and realize that it takes years of practice to be a great bike handler and tactician. Do not be shy, go ask the opinion of Brent Emery, Tom Doughty, or Chris Halverson after a race sometime. These guys have all the high level knowledge and will share it with anyone that asks.

Next up, Kelley Benefit Strategies racer Mike Sherer talks with Enzo about being a first year pro.

Safe racing everyone,


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