never ride at the front

I have said it, and I see that others are posting articles or info about it. The problem is maybe too many people are taking it too far.

Do not ride on the front should not be confused with NEVER ride at the front.

Too many people seem to just sit-in – on ever ride, year around. Bah!
Too many people never do any work – whether they are afraid they will get dropped, feel they aren’t strong enough.

Sometimes you need to move, do something, stir things up. Sometimes that is for the group & sometimes that is just for yourself & your training.

It’s interesting how the group dynamic of a ride can change – week to week and sometimes during a single ride.
Not long ago, at the ‘Wednesday night World’s’ the group was being shy. There were only a few people rotating & it was often that if you rotated you would have to sit on the front for awhile before someone else would come around.

What happens next is that the stronger riders and/or opportunists attacks the group. Sometimes this is enough to stir things up, sometimes the ride will continue along in the same manner watching that person increase the gap until they are ‘out of sight, out of mind’. As this keeps happening all the stronger riders & some opportunists are ahead on the road and there isn’t enough people strong enough or willing to work to bring them back.

I watched this happen a couple times and tried to shake things up myself by rolling past the group on a downhill and along the uphill on the other side – what this caused was the group finally sped up and started getting more aggressive.

Remember, “Don’t ride on the front” is different from “Never ride on the Front” there are good reasons to rotate and pull-through, and there are good reasons not too. Sometimes the group is hammering along and you should conserve your energy for later. Sometimes you should rotate just to get others to rotate also, sometimes it is to keep the group going.

One of the best ‘team blocks’ I had ever witnessed was by Scotty Weiss – we were racing a 1Km pan flat crit in N.C. His team mate jumped the pack with another racer and they were rolling up the road – well most team mates would go to the front and soft pedal or not even pedal at all – but not these guys, Scotty went to the front and kept the field going at a steady pace. He knew if the group slowed down too much there would be attacks and his team mate would have less chance of winning the race. So, he kept the pace slow enough that his teammate was still going faster than the group, yet just fast enough that no one would attempt to attack the group! At that time I was a fresh Pro1,2 rider and at first I was bewildered that his own team mate was on the front doing the pace-making. It took me about 5 laps before I realized the plan.

Most everyone knows the basic tactics, but when you can mix things up that is when you are racing intelligently!

No US Pro Race Radio

I was at the 2010 USPro race in Greenville, SC. While I was there I found out that the officials did not allow race radios. So the team directors could only talk to a rider if the rider slowed down so their team car could pull up beside him, or the driver was able to pull up beside the racer along a section of road.

Normally the team directors have instantaneous communication with their team members and direct information from race officials about time gaps, and where team members are along the road – besides this, they will also get information about upcoming obstacles and odd situations that the racers may encounter.

During the 2010 USPro race a young up and coming cyclist Ben King racing for the Shack, was in a 3 man break almost immediately, and on the 3rd lap, almost as soon as the climb started up Paris Mt. King pulled away from his break a way companions. It would be the last time he would ride with another cyclist that day. He climbed up Paris Mt, then through downtown Greenville, SC. Up Paris Mt again, before starting the final 3 laps on the finishing circuit in a Time Trial position.

I was chatting with different people and everyone seemed to agree that the pack would start to heat up, and a team would come to the front and reel King back in. I saw BMC come to the front. BMC had what appeared to be 4 riders in the next break, including George Hincapie, and Levi Leipheimer. Several teams kept the pace high in attempts to reel in King, including BMC, Kelly Strategies, Garmin Transitions – yet they were unsuccessful in reeling in the solo break-a-way rider King. In fact King seemed to hold his 2 minute lead around most of the downtown circuit.

King held a 2 minute gap against riders from 3 different teams. Would race radios have changed this?
Most USCF racers are not allowed to use radios, citing ‘too distractive’. Is this a sign of future racing – No race radios? Will this make for more exciting races?

Mens Racing Category

There was a question asked many times, about road racing categories and which category should a beginner cyclist join to attempt their first race? Hopefully, this will clarify some of these questions for beginners as well as give some racers a better idea of what to expect from teams and team strategies for racing in higher categories.

While this may seem like a basic question to the common racer, it is a often asked question from outsiders of the cycling racing scene.

I can only write about things that I have seen and experienced from racing in the categories and some USPro races in the South Eastern US.

Here in the US we have USA Cycling Federation that creates and enforces most regulations of ‘sanctioned’ races.
But as I look over their website, it seems based for riders that are into racing, not riders that are looking to get into racing. So, I thought I would compile the basic categories and some info on what to expect in each.

MEN Categories are as follows:

Beginners = Category 5, nearly all racers must start in this category. There will be 1st time racers as well as some folks that are used to doing group rides and are now starting to get the hang of what it is like to ride steady and finish a race.

Upgrading 5-4:
To’upgrade’ from this category you Experience in 10 mass start races. Mass starts are groups starts – IE. criterium or road races. NO Time trial starts will qualify.

Category 4 = These riders have competed in a minimum number of cat.5 races. There will be riders here that are still getting their feet wet, and some riders that like racing in this category and can win many races.
Expect the pack to roll along usually together, and chase most attacks from other riders, but usually no counter-attacks, Therefore, most races in this category will come down to a sprint finish.

Upgrading 4->3:
20 points in any 12-month period; or experience in 25 qualifying races with a minimum of 10 top ten finishes with fields of 30 riders or more, or 20 pack finishes with fields over 50. 30 points in 12 months is an automatic upgrade

Category 3: These racers are really starting to get strong. These riders are usually frequent group riders. They will have fairly good bike handling skills. Some racers will want to stay in Cat3’s and not upgrade – for a variety of reasons.

Expect these races to be often aggressive, but many still only attack the climbs, then keep a steady tempo, and chase any attacks. Therefore, many races may come down to sprint finishes.
Expect to see some team tactics, both failed and ones that work well. This is where team strategies will start to play a factor in the outcome of ‘some’ races.
Expect more climbers to show up at hilly races & more sprinters are flatter races.

Upgrading 3-2:
3-2: 25 points in any 12-month period
40 points in 12 months is an automatic upgrade

Pro1,2: These races are where the racing really hits the fan!
These are the guys that have ridden 100-200 miles each weekend over the winter. Some maybe moto-pacing. On group rides, they are the guys that are either chatting at the back of the group (because they know they won’t get dropped) or on the front, pushing the pace. These guys can ride tempo on the front of a group at 20 mph and still hold a conversation with you about drinking last night.

2-1: 30 points in any 12-month period**
50 points in 12 months is an automatic upgrade

Attacks are the norm for this category! expect most races come down to a sprint – a sprint of who is still left in the break! Sometimes, the break gets shattered and the riders will come-in 1-2 at a time due to the speed, attacks, heat, terrain. Sometimes chaotic, sometimes controlled, the pace will vary based on who and if any Pro’s show up that weekend.

The pace may slow down just in time for you to breathe, but usually before you actually recover, someone will be flying off the front again!

Expect team-mates to be organized and team-members that are not afraid to be a sacrificial domestique for their team leader & chase anything down that they don’t like.

Master’s categories: In most Master’s races you can expect a steadier pace than in a Pro1,2 race. The attacks are there, but usually not quite as aggressive – these guys all know they have to go to work on Monday – they usually have families and don’t take some of the chances that the lower categories may try. The racing team tactics can be fierce! Expect the pace to be only slightly slower than a Pro1,2 race.

Some fields require a Master’s fields have 2 requirements:
A) ‘racing age’ over the category. So, if you are turning 35 in December or earlier you racing age for that year, then your ‘racing age’ is 35.

B) to be a cat4 or higher (no cat 5’s) but each race may have different rules.

I hope this helps clarify the questions about where to start off as a new racer, and a little of what to expect in each of the categories, and the differences to expect once you upgrade.

Stronger cycling

I have taken a week long break away from cycling in the Atlanta heat. It was a nice break during a heat wave that came through the South eastern US – good timing for me.

I spent two weeks in the gym working out again. This re-visiting squats, lunges, core exercises, and total body circuit training helps the balance the body back out from too much of a good thing (cycling) and allows you to tone up and hopefully drop some bodyfat % – ALL of that will create a stronger cyclist.

Now that I have been getting back on the bike I am starting to get in more climbing again. I have been getting out on rides that only had only a few people in the group. I have been able to do this on the Mt bike the past couple of weekends, but now I’m also getting some of that climbing with groups.

Last night I did the Smyrna Bikes Monday night ride. This is a fun group to ride with, and although the pace is not ‘race pace’ it is definitely NOT a recovery ride. For this ride, my goal was to ride how I felt, but climb in a harder gear than I usually would while attempting to stay with a group, this is possible with this ride because after each serious climb they will re-group. That allows me to work on my leg strength with out worrying about being dropped by the group or getting too tired to keep up with the group later in the ride.

A buddy of mine commented that I always seem to climb in a seated position. This is true, and not by chance. 1) For a non-climbing rider, you can usually put more power into the pedals being seated. Where-as a lighter rider is usually able to use his own bodyweight to add more power to the hills while standing.
2) staying seated on a climb keeps my heart rate lower than standing, I will stand to accelerate or stand just to get over steeper sections of a climb.

If you have compact cranks you can still do this type of hill training, the key is to use a harder gear than you usually would. Most people that have compact cranks end up spinning all the time. This is good on race day or Big events, but it does not create stronger legs. If you truly want to get stronger while cycling you have to mash a harder gear in training.

Remember train your weakness, but race your strengths.

Climbing hills in a harder gear than you are used too will give you ‘on the bike’ leg strength that is needed for stronger cycling. What happens is that you to fatigue your muscles, and only by stressing the muscles and allowing for adequate recovery do they get stronger. As you continue to do this, those mountains will become more like hills.

So get out there and hit the climbs.

Get the System that I and my clients use to become a Stronger Cyclist. In this ebook I will give you a system of how to set-up your training in a way that allows you to focus on 1 of the 4 parts of the puzzle at a time AND in the correct order. This will ensure you become a Stronger Cyclist.

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Bicycle Racing Tactics

If you have been watching the Tour de France you will see some of the top climbers use all kinds of racing strategy (or at least carry-out the directors strategy via their ear-piece). But if the more you know about what is going on the more clear it becomes why some riders make certain moves, which the commentators are so eager to speculate on.

For instance in the 2010 stage 13 of the TdF, in the mountains Andy Schleck and Alberto Contador allowed Menchov to attack them and gain valuable time, while the two of them eyed each other. It’s hard to say what they each were thinking, strategy wise. But as one person put it on twitter:

Strange day. Andy seems happy w/ 30 sec. on Bert, and Bert happy to give time to Menchov and Sanchez. Blunder for both, or smart riding?

The reason that this is so important in the TdF is that they will be facing a Time Trial coming up, where their team-mates will not be able to help, and Menchov will be strongly favored over Schleck and Contador.

It’s amazing to watch the strategy of each racer in the tour as the days go by. Sometimes the strategy changes very quickly from winning to surviving. But rarely the opposite happens. The strategy of a multi-stage race has many differences and similarities to a single day race. A good team will know how to use their strengths for an advantage, and to avoid having a team mate in a tough spot.

This is part of what it is like to be able to ‘read a race’. Knowing how a race is going to unfold before it happens. Two of the best at it that I’ve seen were: at 45 years old 1996 Olympic alternate, Kent Bostick, and Jittery Joe pro, Jeff Hopkins.

Hopkins became notorious for telling a racer on the velodrome that they would be the next one out, then make it happen. He knew the race and the dynamics so well, that it was hard to combat his combination of strength and strategy. He is somewhat infamous for sitting at the back of a local Pro NRC criterium, and crashing because he was waving at some ladies – gets put back into the race banged-up and bloody – and rallies his team to get him into the top 5 for the finish. Later, his team mate said ‘when a guy like Hoppy says get me up there, you do it!’

As I raced with Bostick he would ask people if they were happy with 2nd and if you said no, he would just attack you. He made it in your best interest to say ‘yes’ and gladly work with him to get you to the finish line ahead of the main field. He would make sure that everyone in the break took a turn of pulling and then watch to see who was stronger and who was getting tired. Bostick knew how the race was going to unfold in his mind before it even happened. Even if he was the oldest guy in the Pro1,2 field and maybe not the strongest, he was able to use strategy to overcome his opponents.

1) Create a strategy. Some good ideas for strategy is to have a team meeting before the race starts. See who has the legs and strongest desire to win that day.

2) Plan the outcome. Next figure on a plan that will have the race unfold as you would like to see happen, and a back-up plan in-case it doesn’t.

3) Action. Next, when the time comes, take action! Act upon the plan that the team has created as best as you can.

4) Learn. Regardless of the outcome, always try to learn from what happened and improve your teams results.