I’m going to post some tips for people who are new to road racing. What qualifies me to give this advice, you may ask? I’ve only ridden a road bike for two years and this is my second season racing. Well, I’m keen to do research, learn from the old heads, and absorb as much information as I can. I’m keen to pass this on and discuss with other people in the same boat as me.
On the Two Johns Podcast, 11th March, in the “Local news” section, John K talked about a recent race, and stressed the importance of making an effort at the right time, but not panicking and overdoing it. When I ask people for advice about how to survive races, they always say “save energy”, “sit in”, “do no work” etc – but what does that actually mean? It’s all very well to sit it- most cat.4 riders will not find themselves at the front of a bunch anyway. What I think is more important is to recognise that it’s vital to get recovery even after a short period of effort.
I’ll give an example: in my first race of the season, I was feeling really strong after a good winter of training, and thought I might do well. Unfortunately I spent too much energy in the early laps, and on a climb on lap 4 (of 6), I lost touch with the bunch and was dropped.
There was a crash at the end of lap 3, and I worked pretty hard with some others to chase back on. I was nervous about being at the back of the bunch, so I caught a lift on a wheel that came past. Then I was surprised to find myself right on the front- I felt obliged to do a little bit of work- so I closed a gap to someone who was thinking of trying to get away.
What I didn’t realise was that I had a team-mate in a break, and the bunch had slowed a little, as nobody was that keen to chase, and in anticipation of the upcoming climb. I was feeling strong but I didn’t realise how much energy I had spent. There was really no need to move right to the front, and certainly no need for me to be chasing escapees.
When we came to the next hill section, I found myself going backwards in the bunch and eventually dropping off the back near the top. The peloton moved away over the top of the climb and my race was over- after blowing all my energy, I couldn’t chase back on again on my own.
I made a few mistakes: I was over-confident; I thought I was going well and didn’t realise how much effort I put in. Also, I didn’t recognise the importance of the climb (schoolboy error) and save my energy for it.
You can be fit but unless you are streets ahead of the people you are racing with, you can’t go full gas all the time. When the pace is high, and you add an effort top of that- to chase back on, to move up the bunch or to take the wind for a minute- you need time to recover from that.