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  1. #1
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    Staying Near the Front

    Hello all!

    I've only finished my 4th race of the season, two of which were crits, but I'm finding I'm having a really hard time staying in the top third of the peloton. It's not a matter of me not having the legs, just that I seem to lose a lot of spot going around turns and on faster sections of the course where everyone is trying to move up. I don't think my turning technique is the problem because I stay with the wheel in front of me, I think I'm just not picking smart places to be.

    Anyone have tips on how to actually stay near the front of the group in a criterium?

    Thanks
    James

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    gmt Grumpy McTrumpy's Avatar
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    calling CDR

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    In a crit you are either moving forward through the pack or backwards through the pack ... even if you are holding a wheel you need to focus your attention at the front of the field not necessarily your current position. Also, you don't want to be that guy that comes up the inside and takes everyones line away in the corners so be mindful of where you make up position. the best thing to do is to follow all the wheels that move forward all the time, don't sit on a wheel; always pick a wheel that moves forward through the field.

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    Quote Originally Posted by derrickhackman View Post
    In a crit you are either moving forward through the pack or backwards through the pack ... even if you are holding a wheel you need to focus your attention at the front of the field not necessarily your current position. Also, you don't want to be that guy that comes up the inside and takes everyones line away in the corners so be mindful of where you make up position. the best thing to do is to follow all the wheels that move forward all the time, don't sit on a wheel; always pick a wheel that moves forward through the field.

    i've heard this advice as well... It's a good one, however from my experience:

    -The riders actively moving up one second are the ones lagging behind by the line of riders you just left (sort of like picking the wrong lane in rush hour traffic).
    -By moving laterally too often in order to keep in position, you get branded as a sketchy rider. If everyone has this mentally, then no one holds their line and increases the chances of bad stuff happening

    I have, on several occassions, set the pace by volunteering to pull. In these situations I make damn sure I'm well under threshold and jumping on wheels that decide to attack me.

  5. #5
    powered by Racer Ex gsteinb's Avatar
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    If I told you I'd have to kill you.

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by derrickhackman View Post
    the best thing to do is to follow all the wheels that move forward all the time, don't sit on a wheel; always pick a wheel that moves forward through the field.
    Yep. What works for me is continously alternating beween looking at the field ahead of me and the wheel I'm on. It takes a little practice but you then can see how the pack is moving compared to you. It also shows you when to pick another wheel to follow.
    You're just trying to start an argument to show how smart you are.

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    **** that mattm's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by derrickhackman View Post
    In a crit you are either moving forward through the pack or backwards through the pack ... even if you are holding a wheel you need to focus your attention at the front of the field not necessarily your current position. Also, you don't want to be that guy that comes up the inside and takes everyones line away in the corners so be mindful of where you make up position. the best thing to do is to follow all the wheels that move forward all the time, don't sit on a wheel; always pick a wheel that moves forward through the field.
    +1 on not sitting on a wheel, you need to be constantly passing people, since you are constantly being passed.

    Another question that I asked myself yesterday in the RR is: if you're at the front in a somewhat windy RR, and you swing off for a rest only to find the pack still on your wheel, what do you do?

    I had to sprint off the front for 5 seconds and then sit up just to get 50+ people off my wheel and get back in the first 10+ or so.
    cat 1.

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    for every person you see moving up, pass 3 because you probably missed two others. i dont really know how to tell someone how to maintain position, it's something you kind of just have to figure out.

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by mattm View Post

    I had to sprint off the front for 5 seconds and then sit up just to get 50+ people off my wheel and get back in the first 10+ or so.
    No you didn't. You should've just pulled off & slowed down (not by braking though). Someone would've eventually passed you.

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    **** that mattm's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ljrichar View Post
    No you didn't. You should've just pulled off & slowed down (not by braking though). Someone would've eventually passed you.
    When I tried that I heard a bunch of people yelling "slowing!" behind me.. this was a cat 5 race so that might explain why nobody wanted to come around.

    But yeah someone would have eventually passed I guess, maybe I was impatient.
    cat 1.

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  11. #11
    Senior Member mkadam68's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mattm View Post
    When I tried that I heard a bunch of people yelling "slowing!" behind me
    So? Look if they don't like how you're riding, they can go around and show you how it's done. Just hold your line, and let them have the front. Be prepared to make a jump, though.

    Quote Originally Posted by mattm View Post
    But yeah someone would have eventually passed I guess, maybe I was impatient.
    This.

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    Senior Member mkadam68's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Hammonjj View Post
    Anyone have tips on how to actually stay near the front of the group in a criterium?
    It's a matter of constantly moving forward. If the pack is not strung out, there's a couple things you could do:
    • Move up in & out of the corners (safely!)
      Don't stop pedaling in the corner if it's clear in front of you. If the pack swings wide, you can dive to the inside just as you begin to come out of the corner Look back first to make sure you're not cutting someone off!). If the pack cuts the corner tight, you can swing wide, carry your momentum, and move up a few places. (Using either of these tactics, I can easily pick up 3-4 spots per corner.)
    • Move up inside the field
      As a bigger guy, I'm not too good at this. I need larger holes to move through. But, it's something I'm constantly looking for. It's really easy if the front of the field slows suddenly and everyone goes left/right around them, leaving me a nice big opening to the rear wheels of the guys in front.
    • Move up on the outside
      This is the easiest, mentally, but perhaps the hardest physically. You have to pick the correct spot to do it in, as well. No sense burning unnecessary matches.


    If the pack is strung out, it's much harder.
    • Look for lulls in the action.
      Move up here instead of recovering (yeah, I know...)
    • Move up by going around someone.
      This is probably the hardest as you'll burn the most fuel. Because of this, not the wisest.


    Best advice: start near the front (top 20 spots) and stay there. Use these tactics to move around 3 guys here or there. If you're in the back, you have the accordion effect and have 100 guys to move past. Very difficult.

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  13. #13
    Writin' stuff ZeCanon's Avatar
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    Don't move up in corners until you actually know what you're doing. Most likely you'll just end up corner diving like all the other morons yelling "inside." My response to "inside" is generally to do nothing at all, it's not my job to leave space for them just because they don't know how to ride in a pack.

    Move up when the pack slows. Learn to fill gaps. Pat attention. If you're not moving forward, you're moving back. There are few other tricks that can be explained on the internet.
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    Senior Member DocM's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Grumpy McTrumpy View Post
    calling CDR
    He's wrapping up a race right now.

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    Senior Member grolby's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ZeCanon View Post
    Don't move up in corners until you actually know what you're doing. Most likely you'll just end up corner diving like all the other morons yelling "inside."
    Oh man, do I hate those guys. Had one in a race a couple of years ago call that, I didn't move and he practically rode himself into the curb, then had the nerve to tell "hold your line!" at me. WTF?

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    Writin' stuff ZeCanon's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by grolby View Post
    Oh man, do I hate those guys. Had one in a race a couple of years ago call that, I didn't move and he practically rode himself into the curb, then had the nerve to tell "hold your line!" at me. WTF?
    The nice thing is that they pretty much disappear around cat 2.
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  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by mattm View Post
    +1 on not sitting on a wheel, you need to be constantly passing people, since you are constantly being passed.

    Another question that I asked myself yesterday in the RR is: if you're at the front in a somewhat windy RR, and you swing off for a rest only to find the pack still on your wheel, what do you do?

    I had to sprint off the front for 5 seconds and then sit up just to get 50+ people off my wheel and get back in the first 10+ or so.
    If you are in front and nobody will come around you, they are comfortable with the pace you are setting. Make them not comfortable with the pace. Either attack (for real) or slow down gradually until someone else gets impatient. Don't brake, don't coast, just ease off the power. If I find myself on the front and not pulling back a break I'll do a nice tempo for a bit but if nobody comes up too, I'll back off to a nice endurance pace.

    Note that this is what causes the seemingly inexplicable constant surging and slowing in races. It makes no sense when you are burried in the pack but it starts to make more sense when you are the guy up front or you are sitting a few wheels back and watch nobody pulling through. Nobody wants to do the work on the front, but someone has to.

  18. #18
    umd
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    Quote Originally Posted by mkadam68 View Post
    If the pack is strung out, it's much harder.
    • Look for lulls in the action.
      Move up here instead of recovering (yeah, I know...)
    • Move up by going around someone.
      This is probably the hardest as you'll burn the most fuel. Because of this, not the wisest.
    I've found that if the pack is strung out and you are hurting just to hold position, and then the field suddenly slows, don't sigh relief and back off too, keep pushing hard for just a few more seconds and use the momentum to gain position.

  19. #19
    Senior Member Homebrew01's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by grolby View Post
    Oh man, do I hate those guys. Had one in a race a couple of years ago call that, I didn't move and he practically rode himself into the curb, then had the nerve to tell "hold your line!" at me. WTF?
    Yup, had a couple like that today. Semi-Newbies I guess, or else they feel entitled to every gap.
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  20. #20
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    A few thoughts. First, I've been on "race duty" or driving home from race duty for 14 hours. And what do I do? Check BF. (Okay, I checked F1 results quickly too). I also decided to answer just one post tonight, and this is it. Ding ding ding winner winner chicken dinner. This means you get to thrash through endless drivel and molasses-like explanations that Botto would condense into, oh, 3 words or so

    The main question: why were you trying to stay in the front third of the field?

    Typical answers: "it's safer" "my Cat 2 teammate told me to do it" "I read you're supposed to do this" "I read on the intraweb that this is how to race a race"

    I accept that riders will set up attacks mid-race, for primes, glory, pictures (I'm guilty of this today), softening up moves to benefit a friend/teammate (hopefully both), etc. And those attacks need to originate near the front, although not at the front. Therefore being in the front third is good for setting up an attack like this.

    However...

    In many, many cases being in the front third has very little benefit. I'm guessing that you're a relatively new racer (although you may be on your 4th race this season but you may be on the 800th race of your life - a good friend did his first race in 13 years, and he was a smokin' Cat 3 when he quit, so he's taken more time off from racing than many racers have been licensed), this means you're not doing a Cat 2 race. And in a Cat 2 race (or one that includes 2s - so Cat 1-2, 2-3, P123, etc), it actually is kind of important to be in the front third.

    For Cat 3s it depends. The Harlem Crit? It's kinda important to be near the front. Every single other crit I've done in recent memory? Not important, not at all, unless it's pouring rain on a fast corner course (and since I get shelled in them it doesn't matter where I am).

    For Cat 4-5 it's virtually useless to be in the front third, tactically speaking.

    Staying in the front third allows you to do stuff that you can't do elsewhere:
    1. practice pack riding technique near the front.
    2. watch moves happen, counter moves, and results of various attempts.
    3. corner with the good riders.
    4. help teammates.

    You may have seen the Red Trolley helmet cam clip I posted a bit back. I sit up in the race, 1/2 lap to go. I tailgunned most of the race. I never saw the front. However, the guy that got 4th in the race, and is now a Cat 2, is featured prominently in the clip (#556). This means he was NOT in the front 1/3 of the field for much of the race. He's a Cat 2 now, which is more than what most of the racers in the field can say (including me). He spent a lot of time in the back 2/3 of the race, where I was hanging out.

    Clip is here:
    http://sprinterdellacasa.blogspot.co...lley-crit.html

    If you look at other clips I've posted, I can place reasonably well even when buried deep in the field. The 2009 Nutmeg Games, the 2006 Prospect, those are good examples of me moving up rapidly towards the end of the race, usually in the last 1-2 miles of the race. Today I was pretty much nowhere until 2 to go (got to maybe 1/3 back), then bell lap (4th wheel). I flubbed the sprint and only improved my place 1 place in the sprint. But all but 2 laps I was in the back 2/3 of the race, and it was a wet, cold, slippery day (but no fast corners).

    So, that's the huge question. What is your goal in holding a front 1/3 position? If it's the last 5 laps of the race, that's a legitimate question. If not, it may not be. Except in the cases listed above.

    Next, How close can you ride to others? Reference "sphere":
    http://sprinterdellacasa.blogspot.co...scenarios.html

    The closer your can get to other riders, the less intimidated you'll be, and the less likely you'll be pressured off a wheel.

    Next, Worrying about crashing (has to do with riding skills in a field):
    http://sprinterdellacasa.blogspot.co...-crashing.html

    Although you don't mention this, the reason why riders lose wheels is they're afraid of sticking in there. Although picking a wheel and sticking to it is decent and safe, you'll need to be able to respond to surges beside you in a safe manner.

    Hope this helps. Post more questions, more details.

    cdr

  21. #21
    Senior Member grolby's Avatar
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    Excellent post from cdr, as always, thanks! My thoughts on the conventional wisdom that one should be near the front of the field is that it's overgeneralized from road races to criteriums. In crits, being constantly near the front is of no particular advantage unless you're planning on working the front for a team, but this gets into the category differences that cdr mentions. In road races, on the other hand, being near the front is generally much more important, the more so if you don't have a domestique to tow you to the front at the opportune moment (this is part of how the Pros DO hang out mid-pack during the earlier stages of the big races and get away with it). A couple reasons why this appears to be true:

    1. In road races, there tend to be course features, most often hills, that cause gaps to open up and the field to split. If you are caught behind a gap, closing it can require a considerable amount of energy. Worse yet, if you are 20 riders behind the gap, you've got to work your way up through them before even trying to close it. On particularly hard courses, once the gap has gone, it's gone. Race over. Example: Tour of the Battenkill. In this race, there is a very hard dirt climb less than 15 miles into the race. If you don't make it over this climb with the front of the peloton, you can kiss your race goodbye unless you are very strong.

    Incidentally, this is also mitigated somewhat by category, as the kind of bumps that splinter a Cat 4 or 5 field won't perturb P/1/2s very much. That's the other reason that Pro race favorites can get away with pack-surfing: the Opportune Moment is the part of the course that IS hard enough to shed a Euro Pro sprinter (think Tom Boonen can't climb? Try racing him up Alpe d'Huez and see what happens). And sometimes the Pros do get bitten in the butt on this one, e.g. Alberto Contador on Stage 3 of the '09 TdF, the one time in the entire race that Lance Armstrong gained time on him.

    2. In crits, things happen pretty fast and opportunities abound. You can attack every lap if you want. There are constant escape attempts, few of which succeed. In road races, things are pretty different. You often get ONE chance, maybe two or three, to go with or make the right move. If you aren't up front when the opportunity comes, there may never be another one.

    So being toward the front in a RR is pretty important, especially on hard courses. Crits? Not so much. I worry constantly about position in RRs. In crits, I start worrying with 5 to go (bigger fields mean bigger worries...).

  22. #22
    Blast from the Past Voodoo76's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ZeCanon View Post
    The nice thing is that they pretty much disappear around cat 2.
    Not all of them. They just stop warning you. cdr gives a good overview. You have to just accept that you are going to cycle around in the field during a Crit, its part of the game. Enjoy the experience. Sometimes you're at the front sometimes tail gunning. Don't let it bug you, or feel like you are doing something "wrong" because you are not always in the top 5 or 10 or whatever.

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    Pay attention to where you are constantly.
    Fill a hole in front of you immediately.
    Learn to read the riders...some are nervous nellies and will slow down cornering, etc...learn to read and avoid them...that takes practice and experience.
    Understand you have to work hard, pay attention and ride very hard to "stay" at the front of a crit. Generally there is not a lull unless the lull is in your concentration due to losing focus for a "second", losing a bit of nerve in a corner or starting to run out of gas.
    After each crit when you have calmed down go over the race in your head and think of the spots you had problems and try to figure out why you had the problem. It is generally one or more of the above. If you can identify the problem you are half way towards solving it.
    You also learn where you are in the field is a big determinant in where you wind up...sometimes you are positioned going into a turn that requires you to brake hard and you lose major ground and position...don't, or at least try not to, put yourself in that position again.
    It takes practice, hard work, hard training and experience to become a "good" crit racer. Don't expect to become one right away regardless of how strong you are or think you are.
    Good luck and keep at it.

  24. #24
    umd
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    Quote Originally Posted by Voodoo76 View Post
    Not all of them. They just stop warning you. cdr gives a good overview. You have to just accept that you are going to cycle around in the field during a Crit, its part of the game. Enjoy the experience. Sometimes you're at the front sometimes tail gunning. Don't let it bug you, or feel like you are doing something "wrong" because you are not always in the top 5 or 10 or whatever.
    This. I mean if you think about a P12 crit with 100 guys, those are all strong guys, they all made it at least to cat 2, but only 10% can be in the top 10 at any given moment. Sounds obvious, but still food for thought.

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    +1 on the road races. In road races you absolutely need to be near the front. I hate that about road races. It's also really hard to move up compared to a crit, at least when it counts.

    Another quick tip. Use a helmet cam. Watch the footage afterwards. You don't have to post it or anything, just watch it for yourself. Mount it on your helmet but don't try and "film" anything in particular, ride as if it wasn't there.

    You'll find this illuminating, esp when saying "I was in the top 10 at the bell" and you were really 20 riders back. that's what I find for myself anyway. And everyone who thinks they got "21st" at Bethel when in fact they were maybe 37th. Exception being the guy that actually did get 21st, who knows it based on who got 20th, but doesn't bother coming to me to review the tape. Or anyone who is a Cat 3 or higher, or a Masters rider, since they realize it doesn't matter.

    cdr

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