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.)

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