‘Be at the front’ sounds counter-intuitive, because surely novice racers will struggle to hold the pace at the front? As as per my last ‘Cat.4 tips’ post, they should be sitting in and saving their energy?
Well- in a bunch, the pace is the same at the front as it is at the back. At the front, you are only going to be taking the wind or setting the pace if you are one of the the first few riders, or if there is a strong crosswind. The best place to be is in shelter but near the front.
At the back, any change in pace is amplified, as the effect ripples back through the bunch. Around obstacles or corners, the peloton will stretch, leaving bigger gaps towards the back that you will have to work hard to close. If it’s windy, you’ll waste a lot of energy like this. Working like this, sooner or later you’ll run out of steam and are likely to get dropped. At the front you will avoid these pitfalls.
What qualifies me to be giving tips to novice racers? I am one- and I’m just sharing my experiences and mistakes. Take the Jack Murray Junior Trophy for instance. I was daydreaming at the start, listening to the usual safety briefing. Little did I know, the savvy riders had eyeballed the lead car and already positioned themselves right behind it. In reality, your race starts even before the neutralised section is underway.
In the neutral zone I was already in the last quarter of the pack, and once the race started proper, the strong riders were pushing the pace over the uphill section of the course. It wasn’t long before I was right at the back, dangling off. In this situation the rider has to work extra hard to get back into the bunch before the next climb, instead of recovering. If you start your race right at the front, you will get more protection on the uphill sections and it will take longer for you to drift right to the back. I think some novices have an inferiority complex: I’m new, I’m no good, I don’t have the right to start at the front. If this is your mentality, you’re beaten before you have even started.
During the race, there was a strong wind, and one sharp left-hand corner took the riders straight into the headwind. At the back on this corner, I was sprinting to close the gap on three out of my four fateful laps, and it was just a matter of time before this happened: