Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Racing - CCAP Tuesday Night Race, May 27, 2014

So we did the first race after the slew of posts on how to race.  The chronology goes something like this:

1. We raced on May 20th and my teammates told me that none of them really every figured out what they should do during a race. One told me that his mantra was simply to "get to the front". The result? The team used a lot of energy during the race but collectively had nothing left at the finish. I know they're really strong because I can't do a lot of what they did during the race. Unfortunately they exhausted themselves by race end and couldn't follow moves on the last lap.

2. I wrote a post asking if racers wanted feedback. At that point I already had a few asking for advice, but I felt it best to put the advice out there in public so that all newer racers could benefit from it, not just Expo ones. The post had four main points. I chose those points because those are the things that the Expo guys mentioned, both directly to me as well as indirectly (I was eavesdropping on some post race discussions).

3. Point One - How not to get lapped. More accurately, how not to get shelled.

4. Point Two - How to draft.

5. Point Three - How to corner.

6. Point Four - How to go fast. This last one combined a few thoughts so it's a long post.

How did it go? Well it went really well. I told someone after the race that the team transformed from one week to the next. No one chased a teammate down, they waited patiently when they needed to, and they weren't afraid of going to the front when that was necessary as well.

Utimately a group got off the front with one Expo rider, and the rest bided their time for the sprint. Up front the one Expo rider (Nick) survived with just one other rider, a non-Expo, and so it'd be a two up finish.

Unfortunately the race got rained out - it was sprinkling lightly one lap, no problem, and the next lap it was a downpour.

This is how it went down.


With showers forecast for the entire day just a few days prior I thought that the Expo BBQ night would get rained out. However by race day the forecast changed to a slight chance of thunder showers but no substantial rain until later in the evening. It was hot for us, 80 degrees or so, and very humid. The front coming through was supposed to drop the temperatures about 30 degrees so it would be a doozy when it hit.

The Missus and I have honed a system to get to the race earlier since Junior's schedule is such that I can't do the later A race. Therefore I pack the car and I get as ready as possible. I pin the number (same number each week), I wear my cycling shorts, I put on my heart rate strap, I even pump up the tires on the race wheels before I put them in the car. I just have to put the wheels in, stick the helmet on my head, start Strava, and get my gloves on, and I'm ready to race.

This day I packed the Expedition. I wanted the extra room so I could change and I also thought it would be better if it rained on us - more room for dry air means less humidity in the car. A side benefit is that Junior can actually see out the side of the Expedition (he really can't in the Jetta or Golf, the seat's too low), so he peers intently out while he's in it. He loves watching things passing by the window, pointing out trailers, trucks, tractors, stars, whatever he sees.

We got going earlier than expected and hit the first highway only a few minutes after 5. We got to the course at 5:20 instead of 5:45-5:50 which was our expectation. I got my bike ready, paid my registration, and met up with some of the Expo guys.

The skies looked threatening but the clouds weren't moving very fast. The sun beam part of the sky was creeping towards us and the dark clouds seemed to be moving away from us. I hoped that the rain would hold off and we'd be able to race. Plus Expo was running a BBQ that night so it'd be fun to hang out after the race instead of rushing off to feed Junior.


We all lined up, a decent number of us. One team was noticeably absent (I think a bunch of them are 3s) but otherwise I think most of the regulars were there. Expo was missing both the 3s that would normally do the race, Joel and SOC. We got our instructions and just before they sent us off on a couple neutral laps Aidan (the race boss if you will) asked the Cat 3s to raise their hands.

One person raised their hand.


All Cat 3s raise their hand. Just one hand went up, mine.

I was pleasantly surprised when I learned the whole field consisted of Cat 4s and 5s. This meant the whole field was racing for the win, minus me, and it meant that no one could hide behind a "but that guy is a 3" excuse.

I liked that Aidan asked the question because it clarified exactly who was racing and who was not (the 3s approach the B race as training/mentoring, the 4s and 5s are trying to do well in it).

We started off and two laps later we were racing.

Major crosswind from left.
I'm sitting in the best wind sheltered spot, relative to #398.
Everyone to the left is hitting massive amounts of wind.

The wind hit the field from the left after the first turn, and as we all rounded the second turn it hit us head on. I'd say the wind was almost as powerful as it was last week. Based on the weather forecast that didn't surprise me - it was supposed to drop about 20 degrees in a few hours so that meant that some system was moving in. Nothing moves for free so it meant we'd see some wind for a while.

I drifted to the back of the group on purpose, to try and help the younger riders earlier. I realized last week that helping them after they'd gotten gapped didn't make sense. They were already blown so they didn't have the power to make the jumps necessary to stay on the wheels.

I decided that this week I'd sit back there, sit in the wind, and tell whoever wanted to listen to sit to my sheltered side. This race, on this night, it meant getting the others to sit at my 4 o'clock (behind and to my right) after Turn One and then sliding behind me after Turn Two.

I intentionally sat to the left, trying to give more sheltered lanes to the right, but I think some people misinterpreted that as an example to "stay left". As the races go on I think we'll see some improvement with Wind Management, but it seemed a lot better than even last week.

Someone had commented on the "danger" of overlapping wheels. It is technically more dangerous but when you're drafting in a crosswind there's no way to avoid it. In a headwind, or in "no wind" (i.e. the wind is from the speed of the riders, not nature), it's not ideal to overlap a few inches, but to sit to someone's side is not bad.

Of course I still saw racers leaving gaps and such. It's only normal - even in Cat 3 races you'll see racers do that. However overall I think people tended to be a bit closer exiting the turns, they followed lines better, and I felt like the field was more under control in the turns. Last week I saw many, many riders take different lines in the middle of the field. This week just one rider stood out.

Also it seemed that racers were quicker to close gaps and a bit more reluctant to take big but meaningless pulls. As I mentioned above I posted all my race advice for Expo on the blog so any of the competitors could read it. Good bike racing is fun, and racing with a bunch of racers that know what they're doing is even more fun. It's like playing a game with someone that is as skilled as you are, maybe chess or something like that. It's no fun playing with a brand new player just as it's no fun playing with a Grand Master. But get two evenly matched opponents and it's going to be a good game.

An example of Expo guys waiting.

In the above picture you can see two Expo riders waiting patiently near the front of the field. At least one Expo is off the front, although I'm not sure which attack this was so I don't know if there are one or two. Last week I might have seen two or three Expo guys actually pulling. This week they were all waiting.

I realized that my basic race craft stuff didn't incorporate any advice once things went well. One Expo, Nick, went off the front in a group of four and ended up staying away for the rest of the race. I realized that we didn't have any way of knowing if he felt good or not, and for Nick, on this day, it was a legitimate concern. He'd done three massive days leading up to the race (big miles and volunteer work Saturday and Sunday and then a big ride Monday) so he admitted feeling a bit fatigued before the start. Although he ended up feeling great in the race we hadn't figured out a way to communicate that. I worried that we'd see him drop back to the field after Expo had shut it down. This we'll have to work on for next week.

A gap that I didn't close.

At a different point a group of four rolled hard into the crosswind section (note to self: also need to give advice on when/where to attack). I rolled hard to keep the pace up but literally could not keep the gap closed. I eased and let the next rider through, and it was Vickie who pulled through hard and closed the gap.

As the laps wound down and Nick seemed to be gone I started thinking about the field sprint. I had no control over what happened up the road but as long as Nick wasn't suddenly in front of us it was okay, and even if he did blow, it was still okay. There was plenty of race craft we could work on in the field.

Rain started sprinkling lightly, a refreshing mist if you will, but I was a bit surprised. I started thinking about really pushing hard because if the race got called we'd want to be in position to sprint or something. We got into the last 5 laps so the race was almost over anyway.

At this point one Expo had rolled off the front. Two more were soft pedaling, trying to encourage someone to pull through.

Expo waiting.

Again, although minor in terms of "race moves", this was a great example of the discipline and control (and knowledge) that the Expo guys had learned over the course of one week. Even though the gap was just 15-20 meters it was still a gap and they practiced their race craft.

Once the gap closed I rolled forward.

A rider in white obliged and quickly closed the gap. At that point I went to the front, completing an Expo wall of sorts. We weren't going that fast, we weren't strung out, but the rain was just a touch heavier and I thought that maybe we should just drill it from here in case the race got canceled.

I figured the race would be called soon so I went to the front.
Note that the pavement is still basically dry and that the tires are dry.

We rolled by the start/finish area and I think it was 3 to go. We had Expo jerseys all over the front and as the token Cat 3 I felt that I should go to the front. The boys lined up behind me and let me dictate the pace. With three laps to go I knew I couldn't go really hard so I toned down that leadout speed and wondered what I could do to get the team to the finish in some kind of organized fashion.

The rain started pelting us pretty hard by Turn Two, and by Turn Three I went way wide to try and get everyone else to take a nice, wide line. I didn't want anyone crashing by going into the turn and trying to turn really sharply.

Approaching the line the race got called.
I sat up and looked down - note the raindrop on lens, wet gloves, wet tires.

My gloves were soaked by the time we got to the start/finish and they called the race. It's the smart thing to do, the safe thing. Yes, it would help to race a bit in the rain, but it takes just one slip for someone to crash, and it takes just one crash to get screwed up. I agree with the "call it if it rains". The promoters waited until the rain was heavy to call it - during the laps of the sprinkling rain it was all okay.

I turned around and went back to the start/finish area.
It was quite wet already.

The rain really picked up in the minute and change from 3 to go until I returned to the start/finish (I didn't take a lap, I just turned around at the end of the straight). Water poured off the tent sides and everyone was soaked, and the poor grill wasn't doing much to help. It felt pretty cold too, the wet combining with the wind and the dramatically lower temperatures.

The Missus had taken refuge with Junior under the tent, but he was cold and wet so she took him to the Expedition.

In the meantime I had some post race talk with some of the guys. The race went really well, a huge improvement, and you could see it in everyone's faces. They were happy with their races. They worked smarter, not just flailing away at the front. They'd started thinking like bike racers rather than bike riders.

Now we just have to continue the trend.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Tactics - Struggling With Peak Speeds

Peak speeds. One racer, after my leadout on Tuesday, said something about how fast Cat 3s can go. Really, though, anyone can do it. I'm no pro and in fact a strong Cat 2 could do what I did for many laps at a time. So what's the secret?

There are a few things you want to think about, to execute. I alluded to the possibility of a fifth post but I incorporated two things into this post, position/aero and peak speed workouts.


First is your position on your bike. If you look at a picture of a Cat 5 race you'll see a lot of racers up high, hands on the hoods, torsos upright, racers that look like parachutes.

Then look at a pro race, or even a reasonable Cat 3 race. You'll see racers much lower, much more aerodynamic.

2012 Keith Berger Crit, Cat 3 race, from my post here.

The above picture is a nice example of some random corner in a random crit. The Expo rider to my right is a former New England Crit Champion (I was in that race and he and his leadout man just rode away from the front of the field, super impressive). He's been racing for eons. The rider in front of him is also a long time racer, I think he won the Cat 1-2 Killington Stage Race one year (and he's won all sorts of minor races). Both are on the drops, in total control, low on the bike, aero, efficient, and comfortable.

(I thought of putting a Cat 5 picture up but I think that a racer would take it personally if it was them, and every picture of a Cat 5 race out there are pictures of racers who are people. Therefore I avoided putting up a Cat 5 example picture.)

Low Position

That lower position isn't only more aerodynamic, it's more powerful. Think about how you pedal when you're climbing a hard hill. You lean forward, your nose to the stem. You're doing this instinctively because by leaning forward you can recruit more of your major muscle groups.

The same "lower position" obviously happens on flatter roads. By leaning forward more you recruit those same muscles, increasing power, but now there's the added benefit of aerodynamics on the typically-higher flat road speeds.

Last Tuesday I did a big effort on the last lap. I averaged about 450 watts for about a minute. The power level is in the realm of possibility of many of the riders in the race. You may be able to do it for 20 or 30 seconds but if you can do that then the power is there. More importantly that means the speed is there also.

By getting aero you gain more power and you reduce the power required to go fast.

One major aero rule - an angled surface, like an angled forearm or an angled bike tube, is LESS aero than a similar shaped vertical surface, like a vertical forearm or a vertical bike tube. This is why TT bikes have vertical seat posts - it's more aero than having a 75 degree seat post (or whatever non-90 degree angle).

Likewise it's more aero to have your upper arms vertical and your forearms parallel than to have your whole arm at an angle. Finally, relating to your bike on a Tuesday Night Race, a bottle in your seat tube cage is more aero (vertical) than the same bottle in your downtube bottle cage (not vertical).

Now I'm not saying you should be sitting upright so your torso presents a vertical surface, but if you're down low, you're struggling, and you have a choice of hand positions or bottle positions then you can make a more educated choice.

With that in mind let's move on.

Position Basics

Some position basics:
1. The most aero position is where you have your forearms parallel to the ground, which usually means the hoods. However your drops give you more control. If you're in the field then you want to be in the drops to retain more control. If you're at the front, if you're willing to gamble your collarbone that nothing will happen for a bit, then the hoods are fine.

Note: since it's a gamble to be on the hoods I prefer to be on the tops. Much of my riding is either on the tops or the drops, even in races, except when climbing. The tops offer no illusion of braking ability so it's a more honest position. It's a real gamble to ride on the tops in the field, but that's what you're doing, in a sense, when you're on the hoods in the field. Either way it's a gamble. I tend to gamble on the tops more than most people. I can ride on the hoods, I've ridden a lot on the hoods over the years, but the drops are my safe choice.

Note: in a related safety related thing I always wear long fingered gloves. It took one fall for me to skin my finger tips before I wore them all the time. Any glove helps absorb the scrubbing energy of pavement, but those with finger tips will save your finger tips.

2. Elbows in. There's no reason to have your elbows splayed out like chicken wings. You'll see some sprinters do it in the sprint but even they tend to keep their elbows out of the wind. One of the most amateur things you'll see in the lower category races are elbows out.

3. Knees in. Unless you have a physical problem (typically a hip problem), there's no reason to have your knees splayed out like chicken… wings. Their knees don't splay out so anyway...

4. No hip rocking. It's easier getting low when your saddle is a bunch higher than your bars. However your saddle-pedal relationship is sacred. You need to make changes relating to aero/position up front. Raising your saddle and making your hips rock is not the way to get more aero. When you fit a bike you start at the cranks/BB, go up to the saddle, then forward to the bars. If you need to change your torso angle etc without major changes then you need to do it using the front end of the bike.

There's a great piece on position, equipment, and aero drag somewhere, and for the life of me I can't find it. Basically someone did a test on a rider (I think a pro rider, and I think it was on a track). They had the rider use different positions and different equipment, from riding a road bike on the tops with a road helmet to the other extreme of riding a TT bike on TT bars with every aero bit of clothing available. Each set up had a power number next to it, telling you what sort of power you needed to put down to go a given speed (40 kph? 45 kph?). The numbers fell dramatically, from something like 400w to somewhere in the 290w range. That's huge, and it drops the power numbers from pro-level to Cat 3 level (and I daresay a lot of Cat 4s and 5s as well).

*edit - I sort of found it thanks to Mike R in Texas - it's in the German magazine Tour and it's from 2006 or 2007. The pertinent stuff is below and I can't find the original page/link for credit:
They put Uwe Peschel on a normal bike:

Needed Watts for Speed = 45 km/h :
Stevens San Remo bike with normal handlebar 465 Watts needed to go 45 km/h
Same bike Hands down the drops: 406 watts needed
Same bike Easton Aeroforce bar: 369 Watts
Same bike Triathlon position (5.5 cm lower bar, saddle forwards): 360 Watts
Same bike Triathlon position (5.5 cm lower bar, saddle forwards) and
carbon Tri spoke wheels front and rear: 345 Watt

Cervelo + Tri spoke front 328 Watts
Cervelo + Tri spoke front + disk rear wheel : 320
Cervelo + Tri spoke front + disk rear wheel +Giro helmet: 317
Cervelo + Tri spoke front + disk rear wheel +Giro helmet + speed suit: 307
Cervelo + Tri spoke front + disk rear wheel +Giro helmet + speed suit +
saddle 3 cm further back: 293 Watts
What I found interesting is that if you skip the major illegal-for-mass-start stuff (TT bars, aero helmet) you end up with a substantial amount of potential aero savings simply by changing position, using aero wheels, and using a few select pieces of cycle wear. This means that you can realize significant savings on your road bike when you compare a "not very low" position to a more aero position. In fact, by going to the drops the power requirement drops almost 60 watts, or about 13%! It's the largest savings of all the possible ones, and obviously it's cheap because it's free.

By the time you get to the bottom of the list he's down below 300 watts to hold 28 mph. That's closer to a mortal wattage.

In a related thing there was some article (that I really can't find) about Colby Pearce. He's a compact rider, a former domestic pro in the US. His claim to fame was his extraordinary time trial efforts. He wasn't that powerful for a pro - he could put down 311 watts for an hour for real - but he held the US hour record at 50.191 kph or 31.3 mph (that's when he did the 311 watts for an hour).

You'd think that going 31+ mph would take massive wattage but he did it at a touch over 300 watts. That's a very sane number, something that some Cat 3s could probably hold. The trick was his aero-ness, if you will. Holding 311 watts is one thing. Holding 31.3 mph is another. To put it in perspective he spun a 55x14 at about 100 rpm for that hour.

Also if you read some of the articles carefully about this or that aero bike, you'll see that the front-facing products (bars, head tube, front wheel, front brake) make the most aero difference. In fact I saw an interesting tidbit when Bontrager introduced their aero drop bar - the bike they showcased (a Trek 7-Series Madone) was supposed to save you something like 120 seconds over a 40 km time trial but the bars alone were responsible for 23 of those seconds (drag reduction 14g). The integrated brakes saved a bit more, 16g of drag, and the frame 60g. Although I don't fit a Madone, although I don't have a bike that can take an integrated brake fork like that, I can install a Race Lite Aero bar. I haven't, but it's a thought.

A final thought on aero stuff - if you want to use just one aero wheel, a front one gets you more aero benefits. However most aero wheels compromise your bike's handling a bit, so you have to think about that. I used to race with a front Tri-Spoke (aka HED3), a front wheel that's acknowledged implicitly to be the fastest front wheel you can get, at least based on all the Tour riders that use them in time trials even if they're not sponsored by either Specialized (the original wheel rights owner) or HED (the current wheel rights holder). My rear wheel was a plain spoked non-aero wheel for a year or two, the only 10 speed wheel I owned at the time.

Pinning Your Number

The racers that know me joke about how many pins I use on my numbers but there's a reason. I read somewhere (again, I don't have a link) about how much drag a flapping number generates. It's huge.

More importantly it's absolutely and totally preventable.

You know how I keep harping about using the drops? It's so that you can reduce the chances of losing control of your bike, at least compared to being on the hoods or the tops. If you know that in, say, every 1000 times you have to brake hard on the hoods you'll crash five times and but you'll crash only once on the drops, why wouldn't you just use the drops all the time?

Likewise if you know that your flapping number is worth 20 watts or whatever, then why don't you take care in pinning your number? It's free power and it's available every single time you pin your number on.

My number from last Tuesday.

I pin the number on the jersey while it's flat on the ground (or the grass in this case). Start at one corner (I like to use the spot where the pocket and side panel intersect, in this case the lower left part of the number). Starting at that point I know my number will be visible to the sides as well as from above.

I then work my way along the edge (lower edge for me). I start adding pins in the middle, to keep the number from ballooning out. I put those in the black part of the number so they don't screw up any kind of finish line camera.

Finally I finish with a row of pins at the top.

You'll notice that one pin ripped, probably while I was getting the jersey on.

As a promoter I bring my own pins, sometimes a box of them (1440 pins when the box is new). Since I'm using my own pins I don't have to worry about taking a lot of pins from the promoter, plus I reuse the pins. The trick is to keep them dry so if my jersey is wet I immediately unpin the thing. Rusty pins ruin your jersey so toss them in the metal recycling bin before you resort to using them for some reason.

Other Clothing

Although not a factor in most summer races, if you're wearing some cold weather gear - a vest, a jacket, stuff like that - make sure it's not flapping around. You give away power hand over fist when you do stuff like that.

At the 2014 Bethel Spring Series I wore a jacket in the first race. Not a big deal I thought, it's cold and I want to be warm. I noticed a lot of other racers used jerseys and vests. Then I saw a picture of myself with the jacket on. It had flattened out in front, turning into a huge wall of fabric.

I decided that I had to avoid wearing the jacket. It fit a bit loose and I needed something a bit more snug. I decided to wear a rain shell under a long sleeve jersey. That handled the wind (brutal when it's cold) and the long sleeve jersey snugged everything up. I raced warm and a bit more aero from then on. I happened to do a bit better but I think there were so many other factors that I can't give credit to my slightly more aero clothing.

Note: Motion attracts attention like nothing else, at least for humans. Humans see motion, color, then shape. Therefore when I train out on the road I try to use my blinky tail lights (mine have a super bright LED in the middle), I try to ride properly, and, if the weather is under, say, 70 degrees F, I wear a vest. I don't zip it up until I actually need it, which is more like the 50 degree F range, but I wear it if I can bear it. It flaps nicely in the breeze and helps attract motorists' attention. I got this tip via a motorcycle and bike riding EMT/fireman who once had an absent minded driver (he was thinking of his tennis game, this in the age before cell phones and such) ram full speed into a fire truck parked next to a burning house, firemen all around, and hoses and such leading to the burning house. I figure the flapping vest helps me train a bit harder even in my "always low always aero always riding in the same position as I race" training rides.

Um, Power?

Okay, so that's all great you say but you were going to tell me about how to go really fast, how to deal with peak speeds. What about power and all that? I mean, don't I have to pedal the bike in some special hard way to go fast, to hit those peak speeds?


Okay, yes, you do, but it's a pretty straightforward process, at least it seems to be based on the feedback I've gotten on my technique detailed below. Basically you can do it now, it's just that you haven't practiced, you haven't done it fresh, so you don't know you can do it. Remember the power number I rattled off somewhere before? 450 watts. Everyone can go 450 watts, it's just a matter of how long you can go at 450 watts. For me it's about a minute. For Taylor Phinney he can do more (488 watts) for a touch over 12 minutes. Whatever it is for you, that's what I did to go "really fast" that last lap of the Tuesday race last week. You can hit that power and more and often it requires no actual training, just some practice when you're fresh.

It sounds a bit odd but it actually takes practice to sprint really fast. If you don't believe me then try sprinting when you're descending at 45 or 50 mph. It's really hard to apply power to the pedals at that speed without losing control of the bike. Likewise if you're used to topping out at 35 mph then responding to a 40 mph tailwind attack will take you into foreign territory. You need to familiarize yourself with those speeds so that they are at least familiar to you if not second nature.

The basic idea goes as follows:
1. Determine your Maximum Optimal Sprint Speed. I'll explain in a bit but basically this is the fastest you can go on a flat road in optimal conditions.
2. Compare your MOSS to various race pace numbers. I'll rattle some off to help you out. Average speed, 25 mph. Attack speeds, 28-32 mph. Normal fast sprint speeds 36-40 mph. Very fast sprint speeds 40-44 mph. I'm not going to go into the hyper fast sprints that you see on training rides, which can exceed that 44 mph mark.
3. See where your MOSS lines up. Ideally your MOSS will be in the normal sprint speed range, 36-40 mph. If it's below 32 mph then you need to work on it.

The problem is if your MOSS is low, like 30 mph. This puts your optimal max speed within a normal attack speed, a speed that even I can keep up for a lap at the Rent. That means that if someone attacks hard you'll struggle to stay on the wheels.

Your goal is to increase your MOSS as much as possible.

For more on MOSS go here. I explain how to find your MOSS and how to train it.

For inspiration here's a video that I put together from a bunch of training rides while out in SoCal in Jan/Feb of 2011. It includes two MOSS efforts, both about 49 mph:

(Tip: for YouTube videos embedded in the post you can click on the YouTube logo to view it on YouTube. It's bigger and you can see more. I've reduced the embedded size to fit smaller browsers so it's not great to watch the clip in embedded form.)

More Power Stuff?

No, no more training stuff. For most riders they already have the ability to deal with peak speeds. They sabotage themselves without realizing it and end up getting shelled when they could have stayed in the field.

Remember the prior posts, some of the points made there.

First, don't work unless you need to work. If you do a massive 25 mph pull for a few laps, great, but when you pull off and someone attacks at 32 mph, will you be able to follow? If the answer is no then you shouldn't do that 25 mph pull.

Increase the attack speed to 35 mph. Will you be able to follow?

Next, if you can't follow at 32 mph attack, what do you do? Do you pummel yourself at 28 mph, losing ground at 4 mph, hoping the attacker blows up? No, you don't, unless you're one of the last few to react. If you're already spent then you need to rely on others to close the gap for you. It's not always about you.

Of course if it's a teammate then you absolutely do not respond, unless the teammate is your leadout man. Normally if it's a teammate attacking then you ease if you're at the front. You ONLY follow another non-teammate's wheel. If another teammate follows the first one to jump then you wait again. You want to have one teammate go with each counter, with any well placed teammates at the front acting as deadweight at the front of the field.

On the other hand if you look around and see that everyone else is looking around then maybe you'll need to work. Or maybe the attacker will blow up. Whatever happens it's good - you're thinking about it instead of responding like a robot.

Example of Fit + Tactics as Relating To The Rent

So does this all work? Well, I can't make it work every time but I do have an sample size = 1 experiment from the past.

A friend and now-teammate of mine (I refer to him as SOC in the blog, but most of you who race in the area know who he is) had hit a plateau at the B races at the Rent a few years ago. An obviously strong rider, he had trouble doing well at the B race. He got second a bunch of times but couldn't quite win. Until he asked for help I didn't offer it (because that's the way I was taught to do things), but when he asked I think he got a lot more than he realized. I casually mentioned that I might want to change his position a bit. I had some tactical advice as well, but that would follow the fit part of things - without the fit he'd be wasting a lot of energy.

Fit Changes

So we made a major, major change in his fit. We raised his saddle 17 mm, moved it forward 10 mm. We dropped his stem 25 mm (a full inch!) and installed a 12 cm -10? degree stem to replace his 10 cm -6? degree stem. I'm not sure of the angles, I'm pretty sure I was just looking for the longest, lowest stem we had in the pile of "borrowed take-off stems" from the local shop.

Those are some massive, massive changes, and in fact I played it a bit conservative because they were already getting so big. I think I vocalized the fact that I wanted to try a 13 cm or even a 14 cm stem (-17 degree), and if I didn't I was thinking it quietly.

We arrived at the fit just like any other fit - start with the saddle position, finish with the bar position.

I didn't want to change his saddle height much because it would screw up his legs, and by July he had a bunch of miles on his legs. I don't think we changed the height, we just moved the saddle around the arc of the circle defined by his saddle-to-BB distance. This keeps the saddle height the same (as far as the legs are concerned) but rotates the pelvis forward. I think we flattened his saddle out a bit, it might have pointed down more at the beginning. With the saddle position now set we could work on the front end.

(Keep in mind that since we didn't really change the saddle position it wouldn't really affect his leg muscles. There'd be soreness from the other changes but the legs would mostly be the same, except for the heavier emphasis on the glutes and related muscles. This means that any prior training would be applicable.)

For me the goal was to extend the reach so he'd have more weight on his arms while still allowing him to breathe and see normally. It wasn't just "slam the stem" - we actually thought about the changes. He felt comfortable, albeit a bit low, and once he started pedaling he had decent weight distribution between the saddle, bars, and pedals.

The lower and more forward bar position would increase stability in the turns by weighting the front end more. It did slow the bike's turning at walking pace, like if you were turning around on a sidewalk, but once you get over about 12-15 mph the front end of the bike feels super stable. The heaviness of the slow steering so unnerved him that he almost turned around halfway down his 50 foot driveway, but with my encouragement he kept going.

The lower and more forward position also enabled him to recruit more muscles, especially his glutes. This in turn allowed him to exert more power to the pedals.

Finally the longer and more forward position gave him a much lower profile, improving his aerodynamics.

I'm sure that with more fine tuning we could make even more improvements but at that time it seemed like enough.

For the fit I only drew on my past experience, feedback from the rider (before, during and after the fit, the latter in case there were any major problems with the position), and the available parts we had with us. We didn't have any longer stems, no -17 degree stems (zero rise), etc, so we did what we could do given the ingredients we had in front of us.

Tactical Advice

The other thing I told him was that he shouldn't be attacking willy nilly all race long. It's a rehash of some of the stuff in the earlier posts of this set. Sure, he could do the odd move here and there, but if he wanted to win then he needed to learn how to win. I told him to sit and wait and build reserves for the finish. Follow wheels, make sure to keep gaps closed, and meter his efforts. His fitness would get him to the finish, his hopefully improved power bump him up a bit, his better aero let him be more efficient, and finally the better weight distribution on the bike would make it easier on him in the turns. However he had to execute in order to win.

During the course of the next few weeks he raved about his new position. He had more power, more speed, and he felt the bike was more stable in the corners.

So how did it work out?

Result Of The Fit and Advice

The first race out he won the B race.

He won the next B race.

He got 3rd at a very tough weekend race. (When we raced it together as Cat 3s in 2010 he got 2nd and I was almost dead last, and that was the year I upgraded to Cat 2).

He won the next B race. And he finished the A race, which for me is always a challenge, even in the aforementioned 2010 season.

In years after that there was one thing that stood out in particular - He had a sudden flat (tubular tire) in Turn One at the Rent. He'd just bridged to a break so he was probably going about 28-30 mph. Not only did he not go down but he rode for a bit, confirmed he had a flat tire, and then finally stopped on his own. Yes he was on the drops. I have it on helmet cam somewhere but it was so undramatic I haven't even bothered getting a still of the incident.

Also, in 2010, he won an A race outright, something I've never done.

He is still using the same position.


So that's my bit on approaching the Tuesday races at the Rent for a newer racer in the B races. You should struggle the almighty struggle to stay in the field. You have to think a bit about drafting efficiently. You need to think about cornering properly, safely and efficiently in the field. You need to do some exploration of your maximum optimum speed. You should give yourself an honest fit appraisal ("an honest, no BS assessment," to quote some movie whose title/story/theme/etc that I can't remember now.. this inability to remember things is really bugging me).

In 4-6 races you should see a dramatic improvement in your performance. You should be analyzing your races more closely. If you get shelled then you need to think about why you got shelled. It's not just "I blew up". It might be something like "I wasn't on a wheel going into the headwind for 5 laps and I had to sprint for 100 meters every time we exited that turn." With that kind of analysis you can think about how to improve.

Even if you don't get shelled, if you didn't win or didn't help a teammate win then there's room for improvement. Think about where you made mistakes. Did you leave gaps in certain turns? Did you stay left when the wind was from the left, even though you had room to move right? Did you do a hard pull without saving anything as a reserve and then watch the winning move go up the road after you pulled off?

Unfortunately if everyone applies themselves then the races will become that much faster, that much smoother, and perhaps a little bit harder, so when you chase improvements you'll be chasing a moving target.

Ultimately, though, all this results in you being a better, more capable racer. It requires no extra training, save a few efforts to determine your max speed. I haven't said a word about hours per week, about wattage or intervals or cadence or gearing or anything else relating to training. It's partially because I don't know about all that stuff, at least not well enough to talk about it to anyone. But it doesn't matter anyway because you already do all that. Now you can apply all that precious work to your racing more efficiently, more effectively.

The beauty of bike racing is that you can always strive to race better. Our fitness and preparation vary throughout the years, changing year by year, month by month, sometimes week by week. Work, family, school, personal stuff, it can all take a toll on your bike racing. However, once you're at the race and you've pinned a number on and you're lined up at the start then it's time to race bikes. You don't have to worry about anything else. You have what you have, based on your fitness level and experience. You can't change your training now. You also can't dictate what you do in the race - it's not like everyone is going to ease up so you can go 180 watts for the race. When you finally clip in as the race starts it's up to you to go and make the most of it, whatever that might mean to you.

Final inspirational video for you:

The above video includes someone leaving a gap, watching SOC attack and letting others work, following a counter (and then getting countered hard), ending up in the 3rd group, getting gapped off the back of that group, watching the 3rd group catch the 2nd group, team attack, catching the break, lots of attacks/chases, hanging onto wheels, and a field sprint.

(Disclaimer/note: I am putting these posts up in response to some internal requests from individual riders for advice etc. I am not singling out any particular rider or their request, and this advice works for all racers. In fact I'd claim that these pieces offer universal advice for all new mass start bike racers.)

Monday, May 26, 2014

Tactics - Cornering

The next bit on the four part series is cornering. The Rent is a great race for new racers because there are corners enough to challenge you but not getting into the "dangerous" range of corners. Yes, there have been crashes in corners, but generally speaking the corners at the Rent are manageable with the 40-60 rider field sizes we see on a Tuesday. It helps that the race gets strung out pretty regularly so the field is only a few riders wide at speed.

Cornering Can Be Scary

I think the scariest part of mass start racing was the cornering in the field. In fact even now, when I get to a race and I see a pack of racers diving into a turn, I wonder how they all make it without crashing. Of course once I'm whatever race I'm doing then it's okay, but watching it from the outside is still intimidating for me, 30-odd years after I started racing.

I addressed some cornering thoughts in previous posts on the blog. One highlight:
Late Apex and Looking Where You're Going

The big takeaway from that post is that you should strive to look where you're going. I've read (but not confirmed) that people tend to go where they look. For me that holds true so I try to look forward through turns. I do look around the front of my bike also, just to be safe, but generally I'm looking forward.

How Do You Corner In A Field?

The most important thing when cornering in a field is to follow the other racers. It sounds basic but you'd be surprised at how many racers try to follow some imaginary "optimal line" and end up going across other riders' paths.

Optimal cornering lines only exist if you're riding alone or, in rare cases, if you're leading out a very strung out field. For example, in this leadout, I knew that the field was waiting for me so I could choose any line I wanted, and I chose an early line. The pertinent part starts at about 7:45 or so, when I'm in the lead.

If you're not on your own or leading out the field then you need to adapt your line to those around you.

Recently I've been thinking about how I corner in a group, to try to explain it to others. I found that I basically do the following:

1. If on the inside I follow the rider in front of me.
2. If in the middle I follow a path parallel to the rider to the OUTSIDE of me.
3. If on the outside I follow the rider in front of me or do a parallel line to the rider to my inside.

By focusing on the riders around me I avoid looking at the curb and therefore cutting in too early or too much. This is a common error with new racers, where they turn in too much, then they correct and swerve out. By following the rider in front you avoid creating new lines and you keep the field in harmony.

Obviously I'm keeping an eye out on curbs and such - if following one of my basic rules above puts me into the curb then that's no good. A few times this year I've found myself skittering on the edge of control as the field collectively went really wide, putting most of the riders on the outside into the curb. The trust that the racers had in each other meant that many of the racers, including the really experienced ones, ended up following riders on lines that were just a few inches too wide.

Where Should I Hold The Bars?

For me this is a huge peeve. All too often I see riders diving into pretty dicey corners on the hoods. For example, in 2010, at the New London Crit, I was vying for position going into the last turn. The course was really interesting, it had a one lane (with curbs) downhill going into a super sharp corner (well it was way more than 90 degrees) into an uphill finish.

The guy in front of me went into the turn on his hoods. His front wheel washed out and he crashed. I was on the drops, I could avoid him, and although I had to brake really hard and shift down a couple gears, I got going again and ended up placing in the race.

The answer, assuming your bike fits properly, is that you should be on the drops. The drops give you the best braking, best steering, and best overall control of the bike. It usually gives you more power and speed but that's for a different post. Right now I'm concerned with finishing the race, and since the corners are the diciest place in a race, you need to stack the odds in your favor that you'll finish the race. If you stay upright then that's good, and being on the drops increases those odds.

A few years ago at the Rent a guy rolled his tire going into Turn One. A very, very, very good racer was next to me, on that rolled tire guy's wheel. He happened to be on the hoods. He ended up crashing and breaking his collarbone. I don't know if he'd have been able to save it if he'd been on the drops but from my video it's apparent that the racer had to give up trying to stay upright because he couldn't slow down nearly enough. He couldn't steer or brake enough to save himself.

I was on the drops. One of the bike's wheel hit my neck, but I was otherwise fine. I fixated on the curb and fortunately managed to avert my eyes (and my path) and didn't it that curb, but I never felt like I was out of control.

You should get into the habit of using the drops when you're in flatter terrain or on downhills. It's a great default position with virtually no drawbacks (on a properly fit bike). You should be able to turn, brake, and shift 100%, and if that's the case then there's little reason to use another position.

There's no hill at the Rent but a great default position on hills is on the hoods. That's a different topic though.

Front Wheel Weight

Not your front wheel's weight! I'm talking about how much weight you have on your front wheel. If you're on the drops you put a bit more weight on the front wheel. For virtually all paved corners this is a good thing. You can almost always recover from a rear wheel skitter or hop, but if your front wheel goes sideways the chances of staying upright are a lot lower.

Therefore it's important to weight the front wheel. It's easier to do that when you're on the drops. I also slide forward on the saddle. This lets me blast into turns with a lot of confidence that the bike will go where I want it to go.

Pushing Away From The Front Wheel

When a rider gets scared in a corner they push away from the front wheel. They tend to sit back, they literally push the bars forward, and they'll even stand up out of the saddle. An additional normal reaction is to do an early apex, i.e. enter the corner early. All of these instinctive reactions make the bike handle worse in corners, making the rider even more scared. It's a bad cycle and you need to avoid falling into it.

It's not just the amateurs either. An unfortunate example of a pro rider like this is Levi Leipheimer. When he raced for Gerolsteiner he made a huge move on a stage in the Tour. He gave away minutes on the descent as he screwed up the corners, doing many of the things I list above (in particular his early apexes, sitting back on the saddle, and unweighting the saddle).

I've fallen victim to this as well, when I first descended down Palomar Mountain near San Diego. It's 35 minutes of descending for me, it's quite steep, and there are a bunch of switchbacks. Some are blind, meaning you can't see the exit point of the hairpin.

However the scariest parts are the fast sweeping turns, especially the ones with just sky beyond the guardrail. The drop offs are pretty big (being scared of heights I avoided stopping and looking down on the way up) and obviously if I made a mistake, or I had a massive mechanical, it would be bad.

Descent on the way to Palomar.
Trucks regularly pass me going about 50 to maybe 65 mph.
I typically hit about 45-50 mph on this road.

Well I found myself pushing the front wheel away from me, pushing the bars away, trying to get away from the guardrail. This unweighted the front wheel such that I had to go really slow in some of the corners and I was still drifting to the outside. I was turning in early, in spite of myself, so it was even worse. I came to a stop once on the wrong side of the road and basically had a miserable time doing the descent. I even got a crick in my neck from being so tense, and I had to actually stop to let my forearms rest because I was braking so hard.

In later years doing Palomar I could descend on the drops comfortably. I had more confidence that I wouldn't go shooting off the cliffs (even if I had a massive mechanical - I thought of how I'd slide to catch the guardrail etc), I had confidence in my cornering ability, so I could weight the front wheel like normal. This let me blast into turns quick enough that I could catch a car halfway down the mountain.


Essentially when you're cornering in a field you want to follow the field. Think "school of fish". Follow the other riders' line, they follow the riders in front of them, and everything works out nicely. If you try to do your own thing then it gets a bit messy.

Remember that cornering well lets you stay in the draft better and gets you going on the next stretch of road closer to a sheltering wheel. This increases the chances of you finishing the race.

(Disclaimer/note: I am putting these posts up in response to some internal requests from individual riders for advice etc. I am not singling out any particular rider or their request, and this advice works for all racers. In fact I'd claim that these pieces offer universal advice for all new mass start bike racers.)

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Tactics - Out of Position Regarding Wind

I'm going out of order in my posts. After the importance of staying in the field, the natural progression is to discuss how to draft. All too often I see racers following one another in a straight line, like a textbook pace line. The problem is that it's called a "textbook pace line" because that's the ideal scenario. Oftentimes the real world doesn't cooperate with the textbook so you have to adjust.

How To Figure Out Wind Direction

In a criterium or any loop type race you can do some recon before the race. One of the things you should do is to try and figure out where the wind is going to hit you on a given straight, meaning from which direction.

A while ago I did a post on drafting. It's still good and it covers much of what I wanted to say here.

To rehash that post I basically tell you to poke your head up, turn your head back and forth slowly, figure out when the wind is blowing direction into your ear, and then place a rider between you and the wind. The post explains it much better but that's the gist of it.

Now, the problem at the Rent is that it's a really quick lap, just over a minute, and the stadium next to the backstretch generates its own vortices and such ("swirling wind"). Therefore you'll usually have a significant headwind on one stretch, a significant tailwind on another (or maybe the vortex is such that this one is missing), and a crosswind on two other bits.

Last Tuesday's Wind

Last Tuesday the headwind hit you after you exited Turn Three, at the beginning of the final stretch. Since that final stretch curves left, the wind changed from a direct headwind to a right side crosswind. This means that the wind was hitting you from the right, therefore you wanted to sit to the left of the riders in front of you.

There wasn't much of a corresponding tailwind exiting Turn One (which is the opposite direction as the exit from Turn Three).

Then you got a mixed up bit of wind on the back stretch after Turn Two because of the stadium. It was mainly a left side crosswind but it got mixed up just before Turn Three.

Based on this wind this is where you wanted to be in the field, starting at the Start/Finish line:
1. Start/Finish - wind from right so you want to be on the left.
2. Second stretch - wind from behind so not critical which side you're on.
3. Third/back stretch - wind from left, sort of, so right side, sort of.
4. Beginning of final stretch - wind from front, be directly behind rider in front.
5. Finish - wind from right so you need to shift left.

At the beginning of the race the final stretch had a slight right side crosswind flavor to it so I sheltered to the left just a touch. However the extremely powerful headwind made that the overwhelming important factor. I found that I had to be within a few feet of the next wheel exiting Turn Three, otherwise I'd fight the wind for a good 10 seconds to get onto the wheel. It took a lot of power to do this and I think this is where a lot of riders got gapped off and dropped.

I call the process of "managing the wind" Wind Management (duh). My goal in target races is to see less than 60 seconds of wind each hour, until the last lap. Many times I can meet this goal, and when I exceed it, it's by maybe another 60 seconds or so.

You can see from my list that there's a lot of shifting around going on. I am regularly moving to one side of a rider, then another. You need to check your six (look behind, typically by looking down) before making moves more than, say, six inches over or more.

I listen a lot so I know if a rider is there or not, plus I have a sort of "strategic picture" of the riders around me. If I looked back a few seconds ago then I know where the riders are and, realistically, where they really can't be (because they'd need to be on a motorcycle to move up that fast). Therefore I know I can make a move even though I might not have looked in a second or two.

How Hard To Go To Close A Gap Out Of A Turn

Remember that the first most important thing for finishing the race is to stay in the field. That means you need to be on the wheel as soon as possible, especially if it's in a crazy hard headwind.

In last Tuesday's race the insanely hard headwind out of Turn Three made that part of the course the absolutely most important part of the course.

If you were in the race you'll notice that I didn't offer much help to anyone in that section of the race because I was at my own limit trying to hang on. If I saw someone leave a gap I closed them as quickly as I could there and that was the extent of my help.

On the other bits I could offer a bit more help because those sections were less critical (and I was less out of breath).

As far as how hard you need to go to close a gap out of a turn, you need to go 100% to close the gap to the wheel in front of you. Once there you can recover, but if you're getting pummeled by a massive headwind you're not going to save anything by waiting to get to shelter. "100%" can mean different things (sprint out of saddle, sit and grind a gear, etc - as I get more tired my efforts get less dramatic) but basically you need to close that gap as soon as possible.

Once you figure this out you'll realize that the best thing would be to exit the turn already on a wheel. That takes practice and some knowledge on cornering, which I'll cover in different post.

Gap in Front, What To Do?

Okay, you were in the race, you knew about that headwind, but you screwed up and now there's a gap in front of you. What do you do?

You have two options. Many new racers think they only have one, the one I mentioned above - close the gap as quick as possible.

The more experienced racers know there's a second option - get someone else to close the gap. If you communicate that you've blown (you yell it, you wiggle your elbow, you stop pedaling, etc) then the racers behind you know that they can't rely on you to close the gap. Although they may not want to they'll have to close the gap themselves because they realize just how critical it is to keep the gaps closed.

You need to make sure there are riders behind you that might be able to close the gap. You need to make sure that you don't do this too many times, else everyone will just go around you before the gap opens up and you'll get gapped by yourself.

Ultimately if you're leaving gaps then you probably have a limited amount of time before you get dropped permanently. However it's better to go 100% until you get shelled versus "saving something" for after you get shelled. Use everything you have to close the gap in front of you. Remember it's easier to be in the field than to be out of the field.

Once you blow up then you can sit up. My recommendation is that you let the field pass you twice before you consider trying to get back in. Go really slowly for a bit, let your heart rate come down. For me I'll roll in a 39x25 for a bit, maybe 8-12 mph. Remember, once you get shelled your race is over. Now it's all about gaining more experience and trying to learn more about racing, about yourself.

Your goal is not to do as many laps as possible, your goal is to get as many laps as possible in the field.

If you're not in the field then you might as well have stayed home and gone for a training ride by yourself. Or sit on a trainer next to the course and watch the others race. You need to be in the field and experience and learn what it's like to race in the field.

If that means sitting out two laps at a time then jumping back in for 3-4 laps, that's fine. It's better than getting in for half a lap, getting shelled, time trialing for a few laps until they catch you, blowing up two turns after they catch you, and repeating the same thing. Instead you should recover, get in a few laps in the field, sit up when you're blown, and do that. You'll get to experience more laps in the field and that's the goal.

Getting Lapped Etiquette

When I get shelled (I don't think I finished a single A race in 2013 so I got shelled a lot, and even in 2010 I wasn't finishing races regularly) I will ride on the sidewalk when the field goes by on my "let them pass" laps. On the backstretch I'll pull into those parking spaces on the left and let the field go by. It's very clear to everyone that I'm not going to jump in and I'm giving the field plenty of room to race.

This means that I'm constantly checking behind me to see where the field is.

Once I decide that I'm going to get back in I try to time it so that I can jump in on the final/main stretch. It's the widest and longest bit of pedaling so it's easier to merge into the field. If that means going super easy or even turning around for a bit then so be it. My goal is to get in the field without endangering the others.

Plus if I overestimated my strength/recovery I can easily sit up at Turn One and get off the course.

If I'm in a small group I'll stay to the right of the course (at the Rent), checking behind regularly to see where the field is relative to me. Honestly, though, for me it's better to be in the field than to time trial around with one or two riders, unless you're with very experienced riders on an off day (you can learn from them). The field is where you want to be.

Finally if I'm lapped I'll stay at the back of the group. I try to let the racers "in the race" do their thing and I tag along behind. This way if I blow up I don't take a legitimate racer (if you will) off the back with me. It's sort of funny, in many races I'd be around 4-5 racers who were all lapped like me, but a different number of laps. Since I was usually the "most lapped" I'd try to let the "less lapped" riders in front. Ultimately we were all suffering like crazy so we'd all let gaps go and get dropped and stuff. It wasn't fun but it was nice to see that even in severe oxygen debt that the racers were looking after one another, trying to negotiate and such.

"You go ahead, I've been lapped 3 times."
"Oh, I thought you only got lapped twice."
"3 times I think, so you go."

What To Do In The Wind

On Tuesdays, because it's a training race, I put less importance in staying out of the wind so you'll see me at pulling every now and then, but every second you're in the wind is super, super significant. Each of those seconds should count for something. You should be accomplishing something if you're at the front - pulling hard (to bring back a teammate-less break), pulling hard (to close a gap), pulling hard (to help a teammate going into the finale), or going really easy (to not chase a teammate in a break).

Notice that I don't say "just ride at the front". You should almost never "just ride at the front", for any reason. If you're at the front you should be going either very easy or very, very hard. In the Tuesday B race I'm talking going either under 22 mph or well over 25 mph.

You need to accomplish something when you're at the front, increase or close gaps, change the shape of the field (by stringing it out or letting it bunch up), something. Riding at the front at some regular speed (23-26 mph) doesn't do much, it just lets everyone else recover in preparation for making a race changing move.

There's an off chance that you can help your team by doing this but that is almost never the case. If you can help your team by riding at a normal 22-25 mph pace then you can realistically not pull, let yourself recover a bit, and help the team when the going gets tough.

Last Tuesday I tried to help some of the less experienced riders and then, on the last lap, I tried to give a leadout to basically anyone who wanted to go. Unfortunately I made two errors. The first is that I tried to help only those in trouble, so they were already way in the red. I'll need to help them before they're blown up instead of after.

The other error was that I didn't listen for cues from the teammates I tried to help on the last lap. They were cooked so I ended up pulling a different guy clear of the field. However it would have been better if I'd eased to let them get on the wheel, let them recover just a bit, and then pulled super hard.

At any rate last Tuesday I made one big effort and it absolutely blew the field apart.

Was I stronger than the others?

Absolutely and definitely not.

I just timed my effort a bit differently.

In fact I watched as teammates pulled literally minutes at a time (violating my "don't see the wind for a minute" rule). These teammates were also the ones that were unable to follow the last lap surge. If you do a lot of work during the race, you need to show something for it - a break that has a good chance of winning, a teammate that wins, etc.

Pulling just to pull is the most counterproductive thing you can do in a race. In a training ride, great, but in a race, never.

So in a race you need to shelter until you decide that you want to accomplish something. That "something" depends on your race situation. For me, as an allegedly stronger rider in the B race, it means closing gaps or trying to help someone out. For a Cat 4-5 racer in the B race it would mean things like closing gaps, chasing a break that doesn't have a teammate, pulling a break for a bit, or sitting and soft pedaling at the front to let a teammate get away.

At the end of the race there's always talk of leading out a teammate (typically the sprinter, although a good leadout will benefit even a non-sprinter). This requires the most speed and the freshest possible legs.


I'll leave you with another Rent race, this from 2011. During that race I had a cable stop break so I couldn't use my big ring. My biggest gear that day was a 39x11, which is a 53x15. I couldn't go with all the moves and ended up in the third group. Still, with the low top gear, I managed to salvage some of the race. If you watch carefully you can figure out where the wind hit us on each section of the course - just look for where I sit relative to the rider in front of me.

(Disclaimer/note: I am putting these posts up in response to some internal requests from individual riders for advice etc. I am not singling out any particular rider or their request, and this advice works for all racers. In fact I'd claim that these pieces offer universal advice for all new mass start bike racers.)

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Tactics - Get Lapped Less Than 4 Times

The first thing I'll post on is the idea of "staying in the field". All new racers worry about this to some extent. I know that I entered my first race simply to survive, and I did.

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.

My first race as a 2. I felt obligated to try and finish the race.
You can see in the clip how I let riders by me a couple times while I gathered myself, both mentally and physically, so I could get on the wheel.
Drafting is absolutely the key to mass start racing. If we all raced on the moon, with no air, there'd be way fewer tactics. It'd be more like a running race where people go out at a pace they think will get them the win. In mass start racing that makes no sense because the guys at the front, putting down 400-500 watts to go 28-30 mph, are dragging along others who are soft pedaling, relatively speaking, at 175 or 200 watts.
(Disclaimer: the more single file the pack is the less help you get from the draft. In one A race in the past Aidan of CCNS went to the front and drilled it for about four laps. I was doing something like 280 watts to hold onto the wheel in front of me. Aidan eased, dropped back to about where I was at the back of the field, then went back to the front and drilled it again. A few laps later I was out, unable to sustain the 280-290 watts required to stay on the wheel. In Somerville the field was big and offered a lot of shelter. This meant I could get away with the 175 watt output and that let me stay in the race. If I'd entered the pro race I imagine that although they only averaged a bit higher speed, the numerous times it was single file meant that I'd have had to put down 300w for minutes at a time to stay on wheels. I can't do that.)
The Battle To Stay In The Field
So now you know that you need to stay in the field. You need to sit in the draft as much as possible. You need to make efforts to stay in the draft, even if those efforts seem excessive at that moment. Believe me, if you don't make that hard effort to stay in the draft, like coming out of a corner, then you're going to make a much bigger effort trying to chase the field down.
You'll have to think about how to draft better, how to use your gearing, how to use your position on the bike, but the you need to realize that the key to finishing races is to stay in the field at all costs.
In the field = easier

Not in the field = much, much harder
In the next few posts I'll deal with some of the major parts of the things I mention above - drafting, cornering, and peak speeds.

Oh, and the answer to the question, how do you get lapped less than 4 times? You get lapped many more times, focus on how many laps you do in the field, and eventually you'll get to the finish before you get shelled.
(Disclaimer/note: I am putting these posts up in response to some internal requests from individual riders for advice etc. I am not singling out any particular rider or their request, and this advice works for all racers. In fact I'd claim that these pieces offer universal advice for all new mass start bike racers.)

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Racing - Approaching A Training Race

My last couple posts have generated some on- and off-line discussion, some of it quite substantial. The primary cause is the idea of Cat 3 racers entering the B Race on Tuesday Nights. Historically at the Rent as well as in other midweek Series, the B races belonged to the 4s and 5s, while the A races catered to the 1-2-3 crowd.

The New Tuesday Night Races

For 2014 the (new) promoters have labeled the A and B races differently for the Rentschler Field races. Now the A race is posted as a "P-1-2" race and the B race is for "Cat 3-4-5". That's the flyer, the recommendation. However, my understanding is that if a racer pays for one race, they can start/enter the other. Since the races aren't necessarily categorized (the categories mentioned are simply suggestions), a Cat 3 can enter the A race. I suppose a Cat 4 could also enter the A race although I don't know of any that have done so.

Implications for the B Race

The vast difference in experience between the 3s and the 5s means that in the B race you'll find a huge differential in speed, pack riding skills, and tactical awareness amongst the racers in the field.

In addition the more experienced Cat 3s will be racing better overall than the new Cat 5s. This makes the B race extremely challenging for anyone just getting into racing, the Cat 5s and even some of the Cat 4s.

On the other hand it seems virtually all of the 3s that enter the B race are doing the race for reasons other than to win or demolish the field. I've seem some 3s make moves (I made one the first week) but generally speaking the 3s seem to consider the B race the domain of the 4s and 5s. They'll do some work but generally seem to let the 4s and 5s battle it out.

My Own Approach To The B Race

Although I'm one of the more senior Cat 3s, being in my 32nd season of racing, my life situation is such that I'm okay entering a race (and paying for it) without any thought of trying to win. Instead my goal has been to try and help the less experienced racers as best as possible. Recently this started with the clinics at Bethel, but historically it's always been a passion of mine. In fact I have notes I made for other racers dating back to the mid-90s, advice on how to tackle particular courses, advice on how to improve a person's general racing capabilities.

Unfortunately my season has been such that most of the B racers are actually much stronger than me, making it difficult to offer any kind of help without getting shelled in the process. This means I need to offer assistance off the bike because, frankly, on the bike I'm getting pummeled.

In the last race, before I went into the red, I tried to offer some advice and gave a couple riders pushes to try and get them back on wheels. Then, well into my red zone, I faded into survival mode. I rallied for the last lap to try and help my teammates but instead managed only to wreck the pack's cohesiveness (although it replicated some finishes I've seen from the pack point of view). Overall I'd consider my effort to help others "well intentioned but poorly executed".

Requests for Advice

I've been asked to help out the less experienced racers, by some of the less experienced racers. This isn't a promoter thing, it isn't a coaching thing, it's just that some of the racers have reached out for help.

What I'm doing in this post is making this offer more public. If you're struggling in the B race, if you're doing laps without a clear idea of what you want to accomplish, then you can let me know if you want.

Ways to contact me:
1. You can post a comment here, asking me for advice. I moderate every comment so you can start your comment with "Please don't post this" and I won't post it.
2. You can also message me on Facebook, where I'll have a link to this post.
3. You can email me or simply talk to me at the races. For Tuesdays I can barely make the B race on time (on a good night I'll get there at about 5:45) and I have to leave shortly after it finishes, so a quick, "Hey, I'd like to get some advice if you have time" would be great.

Goals and Exercises

Your first thought should be thinking of what you want to accomplish. Do you want to try and win the race? Do you want to get lapped less than 4 times? Do you want to get more comfortable cornering? Do you find yourself struggling with the peak speeds? Are you out of position when the wind hits? For me, as an experienced racer, those are weak points that immediately jump out at me, and I either saw them or overheard racers talking about problems with the above examples.

You should think about everything that you want to work on, that you want to improve. Your goal may be simply to figure out what you want to work on because everything I listed above sounded like a great idea.

Think about what you want to do. Describe to yourself the thoughts running through your head. Is it "stay in the top 10" or "what should I do now?" or "I want to attack" or "I can't believe I got shelled again"?

Based on your goals I can recommend some exercises. Treat them sort of like training for your mind, or, if it involves actual racing, then training your mind for training for racing.

So let's take the examples I have above.

1. Win the race.
2. Get lapped less than 4 times.
3. More comfortable cornering.
4. Struggling with peak speeds.
5. Out of position with regard to wind.

If any of these concepts are foreign to you then those concepts should automatically be on your list.

You can tackle these problems with some basic ideas and approaches, stuff that integrate well with actually racing. In other words you can tackle these problems using thoughts and techniques that also allow you to race.

Does that make sense?

If you have questions on those five factors that I saw on Tuesday then let me know and I'll give you some exercises to help with them. I'll cover them in future posts, one at a time.

Well, except the winning one. That's a culmination of a lot of other stuff and it would take hundreds of pages to even begin to cover the things you can do to win, and even then there's all sorts of random factors that affect the outcome of a race.


There's an aspect of racing that I didn't touch on in the list above, that of teamwork. I mentioned it a few times in the post about the race but it's a separate thing. Once you, as a racer, can handle staying in the field for a given amount of time, then you can start thinking about teamwork.

One nice thing about teamwork is that you can incorporate teamwork in even short term "race exercises". For example one year I entered a road race (Jiminy Peak RR) with the sole intent of "leading out" our climbers to the base of the climb at the end of the first 11 mile lap. I had no intentions of doing the next four laps, nor of finishing, and in fact I hoped to be home (a 3 hour drive) before the racing finished.

I had a spectacularly hard opening 8 or 9 miles, with someone launching an attack in the parking lot where we had staged. Ironically I found myself at the front with a number of "crit guys", all of them working for teammates, trying to keep things together until the first time up the hill.


Bike racing, at least for me, is a never ending process of discovery, learning, more discovery, re-learning, and so on. When I explain things to riders I remember things that I forgot I learned, things that I now take for granted but that aren't natural for a new racer.

I've been there. I've been afraid of sitting on a wheel, of diving into a corner. I've gotten shelled so fast people asked me if I had a mechanical.

Bike racing can be brutally hard.

Bike racing can also be wonderfully rewarding.

My hope is to help others experience the latter, and this is the post explaining that. That's my offer. I hope that some of you take me up on it.

For inspiration I'll post an example of one of my better Rent races from the past.

 And another: