For two turns.
By the third turn I was off the back, about half a mile into the race.
One Way Not To Get Lapped
In most normal weekend races if you get dropped you'll get pulled so you won't get lapped. I suppose that's one solution to avoid getting lapped four times (which is, by the way, an arbitrary number I just made up, it's not an actual one). If you get pulled you can't get lapped even once, unless the officials miscalculate and you get lapped just before they pull you.
So the real goal here is to avoid getting dropped.
Why Do Racers Get Dropped?
There are two conflicting ideas most racers experience in that last-gaps, hanging on for dear life moments just before they get shelled.
1. "Wow, this is hard! I can't do this for much longer!"
2. "If I keep going this hard another 2 minutes I'll blow up so I might as well save something so I can keep going after I get dropped."
The first thought leads to the second thought.
Unfortunately this is a huge mistake.
Once you're out of the draft you're going to be doing oodles more work than if you stay in the draft. It doesn't matter if it's the first lap or the last, once you're out of the shelter offered by those in front of you your power usage goes skyrocketing.
Basically no matter how hard it is to stay with the pack it's the easiest way to do the race. Easing up and getting dropped makes it much, much harder.
Why Stay In The Field?
You should stay in the field because you can do a number of things in the group that are literally impossible to work on when riding solo.
1. You can work on drafting better.
2. You can work on cornering better in a group.
3. You can get used to the idea of going faster than you ride when you're on your own.
There's another slightly less obvious benefit also. When you're drafting you can make substantial changes in speed without a matching substantial change in effort. I mean, okay, if you go from 15 to 30 mph then yes, you'll have to make an effort, but if you're bouncing around between 22 and 27 mph in the field it isn't a big deal. Doing the same thing solo would result in huge power spikes.
The reason your effort levels even out is that when you draft you reduce the effect of wind resistance. The power required to go a given speed isn't the square of your speed any more. This is why some riders will motorpace to hone their fitness. Motorpacing involves following a dedicated motorized vehicle, usually a small motorcycle. A rider can sustain substantially higher speeds, hovering at the edge of blowing up.
Why don't they do it solo? Well because if you're riding on your own at basically your limit and you have to go up a slight incline, you might have to shift down or push a bit harder, either of which take you out of your red zone. For example if you shift down even one gear you might drop down significantly in power or heart rate. Behind a moto the effects of easing or pushing harder are less significant, so you can ease a bit, slow down a couple mph, and you won't fall out of the red zone. Likewise a couple mph acceleration might not blow you up immediately, whereas if you were solo you'd go off the deep end pretty quickly.
I don't have good wattage numbers, i.e. no comparisons of me riding in the wind and then tucking into the draft on the same road in the same conditions, but my average wattage is pretty telling. I can average as low as 160 watts in a crit where I can place at the finish.
160 watts is about the equivalent of riding 15 mph on a flat road, give or take. On the trainer (I have a CycleOps Fluid trainer) it's in the 13-14 mph range. Yet I can maintain the same average wattage and finish a 23 or 24 mph race.
So what's the trick?
There are a few, but the most critical one is to stay in the draft.
How To Stay In The Field
Look at the two thoughts that I listed above. The first relates to the amount of effort required to stay on wheels, the second relates to "saving oneself" for the rest of the race.
Here's the critical part.
If you're getting shelled from the race, THERE IS NO REST OF THE RACE! Your race is done, over, finished. You're no longer racing, and in fact, if I'm shelled on a Tuesday race, I'll sometimes do some laps but I get on the sidewalk or in the parking spaces when the field rolls by me, because my race ended when I got shelled.
So don't focus on saving yourself for the rest of the race that isn't a race. Go all in while you're in the race. I'd actually say that if you can keep pedaling after you get shelled then you didn't try hard enough before you got shelled.
This is why you'll see more experienced riders come off the back and virtually come to a standstill. They used everything they had to try and stay in the race. Once out of the race they were done.
Here's another anecdote. When I pulled really hard at the end of the Tuesday race last week, I averaged something like 475 watts for a minute. That's substantially above my 160-200w average I typically hold during a race. However I only went about 30 mph.
I say "only" because in the Tour of Somerville in 2011, as a Cat 2, I averaged something like 175 watts to average 27.5 mph for virtually the entire race (I got caught behind a crash on the last lap).
In other words I was using enough power to ride along at about 16 or 18 mph but I was averaging 27.5 mph.
If I lost the draft and had to catch back on I'd have to go faster than 27.5 mph by myself. Based on the work last Tuesday it's pretty realistic that I'd have had to average in the 475 watt range to go 30 mph to catch a field going 27.5 mph average.
475 watts is a LOT more than 175 watts.
It's much, much easier to go 175 watts.
Therefore it's much, much easier to fight to stay on a wheel instead of letting it go. It may be easier at that moment to sit up, because you're absolutely redlined (and trust me, I know all about that), but the reality is that no matter how hard it is to hang on that wheel, it will become soooo much harder once you lose it.
So fight to hang on that wheel.
The Battle For The Draft
The battle for the draft isn't as the wheel in front of you starts to move away. It's before that also. I could (should) write a book on all that it involves but basically you want to have a few riders around you so that if you find yourself in a bit of trouble you can ease or rest a touch while you gather your breath. It's actually useful to get further ahead in the field if you have a chance so that you have a fall-back plan if you can't immediately respond to a move.
In this clip I have just enough in reserve to not get shelled, but I was hovering on the edge for virtually the whole race.