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  1. #1
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    Moving up the pack in a criterium

    I've just started my first year of bike racing and admittedly growing frustrated as I have yet to finish with the pack. I'm getting the impression that under ideal conditions, you have to really make sure you arrive at the start line early to secure a spot at the front. Unfortunately, the last race I did, they started lining riders up at the start earlier than I thought they would and arrived too late during my warmup to get a spot at the front. I didn't feel like the starting pace was unbearable (i'd say it was challenging). The problem i'm finding is it seems if you start from the back that you've more or less lost the race. I feel like I do well for the start of the race managing this. I keep up with the rider in front of me and sprint ahead of them before they allow a real gap to form. However, each rider I pass up leaves me behind another rider on the verge of losing the wheel in front of him. Each time I jump ahead I use a ton of energy. Eventually, I just hit a wall and cant jump in front of the rider in front of me as fast as they are falling off the group.

    I feel like I have the fitness and the strength such that I should be able to race beginner cat 5 races. (I ride 10-12 hours a week and my ftp is around 3.1 watts/kg. Nothing spectacular but certainly Cat 5 worthy id assume). I was wondering if anyone could offer tips on moving up the pack if you find yourself coming from behind. I understand that ideally I should just start at the front and stick to a good wheel, but I can't rely on that being the case for every race. Do you just *** it as hard as you can from the start of the race and move up as quickly as possible? Do you try to be measured and move up in an energy conservative manner? Do you keep on the rear of the rider in front of you or allow them some space on the turns (so you dont have to slam your brakes as much as them and conserve your energy) or do you just find it more efficient to slam your brakes along with them and then sprint out of the saddle? Whens the best time to try and pass? It seems like waiting until they start gaping might not be the best time (maybe its better to move up before they allow a gap?). What do you do about riders over-braking in to turns? I guess i'm just wondering what % of my problems are fitness and what percentage are tactical. Its really depressing to think with all the work i put in to riding that I can't even race with the lowest level of cycle racing.

  2. #2
    Senior Member topflightpro's Avatar
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    First of all, there is nothing wrong with getting dropped in a cat 5 race. Pretty much everyone gets dropped in his or her first race.

    Did you read the sticky at the top of this forum about how to race? There is a lot of great information there. Based on your description of events, it sounds like you still need to develop your fitness. Racing, crits in particular, are about learning to deal with surges in speed and effort.

    Yes, a good starting position is ideal - I think it is better to have a good starting position than one more warm up lap around the course - but it is not everything. As you gain experience, you'll learn how to move through the field without having to waste a bunch of energy.

    Finally, don't be too hard on yourself for struggling in the cat 5s. I struggled for a long time just to be able to finish in the pack of a cat 5 race, before figuring out how to finish near the front. (I was one of those people who was not ready to cat up after 10 races.) Yeah, it was demoralizing at times, but then things started clicking for me. Now I'm a 3.

  3. #3
    In the Pain Cave thechemist's Avatar
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    one thing I would ask is what rhose 10-12hrs a week look like? Zone2? Intervals? Stop sign sprints?

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    Travelling hopefully chasm54's Avatar
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    Your experience sounds pretty typical. It isn't about starting at the back, it is about an inability to respond to the repeated accelerations. It's probable that you are making more of those than you need to, because inexperience is causing you to allow small gaps to develop that you have to bridge. Keep at it and that will improve. But most importantly, you need to do interval training to get used to maxing out and then recovering at speed.
    There have been many days when I haven't felt like riding, but there has never been a day when I was sorry I rode.

  5. #5
    fuggitivo solitario echappist's Avatar
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    I'm of the opinion that one shouldnt use a pm until one is comfortable with manuvering through the pack, as it gives you a false goal to chase after when you should be working on handling skills.

    Our resident pack-surfing experxt MDcatV is really good at this soet of stuff, and i'll find links to his post when i get home.

    For the mods, should we start a sticky thread for all the tactics/handling/acumen related questions? I thought it was very nice of Jandro to dig up the post that shovel wrote a while back.

  6. #6
    recovering triathlete
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    Race more. Pack surfing is a skill, but it's not one you can really learn by reading or getting advice from people. You just have to race. In a crit, there's basically always movement happening of some sort - sometimes it's lanes of riders on either side of the pack, sometimes it's more 'shuffling' as guys open and fill gaps. The more you race, the more you'll just instinctively know what wheel to get on and when to protect your position.

    As a newbie cat 5, there's no guarantee starting at the front would have helped you anyway. When I started racing I continually found myself starting forwards and getting shuffled to the back immediately because I didn't know how to protect my position or identify opportunities to move up.

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    Here are some pertinent tips for moving up: Criterium Racing Tactics Tips Carolina Cup. Don't worry so much about being glued to the wheel in front of you.

  8. #8
    **** that mattm's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bikerer View Post
    I'm getting the impression that under ideal conditions, you have to really make sure you arrive at the start line early to secure a spot at the front.
    In a cat 5 crit especially, I think this is a really good idea. Some big events (80-100+ riders), it can be mandatory if you want to do well. But yeah, not always possible.

    Do you just *** it as hard as you can from the start of the race and move up as quickly as possible?
    In your case (cat 5), I think the answer should be yes. Move up as soon as you can, but also do it as smoothly as possible so you don't redline too early.

    Do you try to be measured and move up in an energy conservative manner?
    Yes. Again you don't want to redline too early.

    Use the corners to your advantage - when everyone else is braking into the turn and then sprinting out of it, you can hold you speed through it and then do a smaller jump out of it and pass them.

    Do you keep on the rear of the rider in front of you or allow them some space on the turns (so you dont have to slam your brakes as much as them and conserve your energy) or do you just find it more efficient to slam your brakes along with them and then sprint out of the saddle?
    When they slam on their brakes, try to just coast and go around. Sometimes that means squeezing into tight spots, which is something you'll eventually have to get used to.

    Whens the best time to try and pass? It seems like waiting until they start gaping might not be the best time (maybe its better to move up before they allow a gap?).
    I think you should start moving up as early as possible. Guys in the back (especially in cat 5 races) are probably the weakest and most likely to get gapped.

    What do you do about riders over-braking in to turns?
    Go around them if possible. If it's not possible, allow a gap behind them so you don't have to brake into the turn, you can just coast and then use your speed to pass them after the turn.

    At least, this is what I do.
    cat 1.

    blog

  9. #9
    Making a kilometer blurry waterrockets's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mattm View Post
    In a cat 5 crit especially, I think this is a really good idea. Some big events (80-100+ riders), it can be mandatory if you want to do well. But yeah, not always possible.



    In your case (cat 5), I think the answer should be yes. Move up as soon as you can, but also do it as smoothly as possible so you don't redline too early.



    Yes. Again you don't want to redline too early.

    Use the corners to your advantage - when everyone else is braking into the turn and then sprinting out of it, you can hold you speed through it and then do a smaller jump out of it and pass them.



    When they slam on their brakes, try to just coast and go around. Sometimes that means squeezing into tight spots, which is something you'll eventually have to get used to.



    I think you should start moving up as early as possible. Guys in the back (especially in cat 5 races) are probably the weakest and most likely to get gapped.



    Go around them if possible. If it's not possible, allow a gap behind them so you don't have to brake into the turn, you can just coast and then use your speed to pass them after the turn.

    At least, this is what I do.
    This one is a gem to get out of a tailgunning situation. You can gain 25+ spots on the corner exit if you hold your speed well... while coasting.

  10. #10
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    Whenever someone talks about not being able to move up I ask about their "sphere". It's the area around your bars and front wheel that you feel the need to protect. For example if you feel uncomfortable with someone else's wheel a foot away from your front wheel while riding 25 mph then that wheel is inside your sphere. Your sphere changes size based on speed and situation. Diving into a turn in the middle of a curb-to-curb field in the rain in a night time crit is different than doing a paceline in a small group on a straight road.

    If your Sphere is too large then you'll have a hard time holding position, you'll have a hard time drafting, etc. To shrink your sphere you should do some bumping drills (side to side, typically with a more experienced rider, avoid hitting either one's hand, focus on forearm/tricep/shoulder). Do these at slower speeds, like 8-10 mph. If you're really fortunate you can do some wheel touching drills on grass (guaranteed to fall over a few times so you start at walking pace). Just the bumping drills will really make a difference - some riders, after very little time doing drills, have come up to me and told me that the drills we did at the race clinic helped them stay upright in some pretty sketchy/hairy situations.

    You can read what I think a Cat 5 should know when they race here:
    http://bethelspringseries.com/clinic/2013-clinic-info
    There are 7? sections.

    The other thing that seems to be happening, based on your questions, is that you are focusing on just the riders in front of you. Your questions ask about "how do I avoid the guy slamming his brakes on in front of me". If you were looking ahead of that rider, and your sphere was small enough, you would have had a good opportunity to slip to the side and roll past that rider. I've been piecing together something regarding this - I have a hairpin corner that I have to make to get home - I'm one house away from the corner. On top of that it's a variable radius corner - it starts sharp and then widens out. Most people who drive around the corner end up on the wrong side of the road as they exit the turn. A late apex combined with looking up the road will make for a smooth turn. When I corner I'm looking to my side, 3-5 seconds ahead of where I am. I focus on the exit area of the turn (I can't see further due to trees and such). In races I also focus ahead of where I am.

    To learn this the best thing I found is to ride at night with a spot light type headlight mounted on your helmet. You need to choose where to point the light. If you point it more forward (maybe so the light hits the ground 30 feet in front of you) you can't see what's directly in front of you. If you point it down more, so you can see the next 10 feet or so, you'll outrun your field of view at 10 mph. If you intentionally point the light pretty far out in front, like 40 feet, maybe even 50 feet, then you simply can't focus on what's directly in front of you - you can't see it. This is great practice. I learned this the hard way while riding really fast technical single track in mostly unfamiliar woods with skilled and fast friends/teammates. Even better practice? Turn out your light and use the rider in front of you as your headlight. Now you have 10-15 feet of pitch black and you can't cheat by pointing the light down. We'd do this to save battery life on longer rides, but it was also super intense and super fun.

    Finally, you should be moving up, following, or protecting your position. I see a lot of people using energy sitting in the wind without accomplishing anything. In the following clip you'll see that I'm alternately sitting in (meaning sitting behind someone, not just randomly somewhere in the field) or I'm making efforts to move up or to get into the next group.



    Also note that I'm not diving toward the inside of the turns. I generally follow the guy to my outside, or, if I'm doing a "wingman" corner, I stay parallel to the guy directly next to me. If your line through a turn is different from everyone else's then you're doing something wrong.

    In the following clip there's a very strong rider who doesn't know how to corner. This is a P123 race so it's not like he hasn't been racing. I would guess he's been racing on his fitness/strength because his technique is pretty bad.



    I don't remember specifically clips on moving up. I mean, okay, the older clips (non-HD, 2007 mostly) had some notes on moving up, but they weren't as detailed in their notes. There is one with some pretty poor cornering (non-HD):


    And another one, HD, from last year:


    Finally, as a note. I realized only after many, many, many years that when I close small gaps I do it with a very forceful pedal stroke or two. I didn't realize it until I rode our tandem in a normal group ride - I found myself trying to close little gaps instinctively but I couldn't do it easily since our total weight was in the 350-400 lbs range (and my stoker didn't know when I was going to make these jabs at the pedal). This relates to the 3.1w/kg thing you refer to in your post. w/kg is just a number, useful mainly when climbing. If you're not climbing then it's almost useless. Better would be watts/frontal-area. My w/kg is rarely over 3 w/kg - the one year it hit that number I upgraded to Cat 2 (2010). It's normally in the 2.7 w/kg range, and I'm a not-too-competitive Cat 3 at that point (2011-present, also 2001-2009, lowest being about 2.3 w/kg).

    What I'm saying in all that stuff is that your peak power is also very important. w/kg gives you power to weight ratio - if you are super light then you might not have enough power to push the air out of the way at 30 mph, or the power necessary to close gaps. Racing is a very peaky thing if you're in a mass start flatter race (like a crit). Tons of peaks, tons of valleys.

    To give you an idea of wattage and such, I average about 160-200 watts in all my races. In races where I go over 190 watts I'm usually so cooked I can't sprint. 220w and I'm shelled. However my peaks are consistently in the 1000-1200w range, and I hit 600-800w a lot. So it's not about w/kg, at least at FTP. That gives you sort of a broad overall view. Your peak power will let you slam those gaps closed.

  11. #11
    Senior Member mkadam68's Avatar
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    Boy, when CDR posts, that sort of kills the thread, doesn't it? Nothing left to say...

    Visit The C-Blog : the blog about cycling.

  12. #12
    Riding the bike I love. sstang13's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mkadam68 View Post
    Boy, when CDR posts, that sort of kills the thread, doesn't it? Nothing left to say...
    + 10000. I can read CDR's posts all day long, there's just so much too learn!!
    "You lack motivation because cycling is a stupid sport with no upside that takes way too much time out of your life to be mediocre at." - Racer Ex

  13. #13
    Cat 5 Mod Jandro's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by echappist View Post
    For the mods, should we start a sticky thread for all the tactics/handling/acumen related questions? I thought it was very nice of Jandro to dig up the post that shovel wrote a while back.
    botto does a pretty good job keeping his sticky updated (that's where shovel's post was linked to, searching also turns it up but that's only because I remembered the title of the post).

    I'll try and add to it when I can, but the "tips" sticky covers a lot this stuff already. As always, feel free to use that little /!\ button under a poster's avatar to report posts that you would like a Mod to look at it. This can be used to request stickies or additions to stickies. Alternatively, you can just PM Gary or me, though the report post button is best in the case that neither of us are online.

    As usual, CDR and others give way better advice than I could, but I will try to be concise with what I learned in the 5's:

    -Avoid braking unless you really have to. Seriously this helps so much and trains you to look for gaps to move into so you don't have to brake behind a wheel.
    -Shrink your sphere, get closer to wheels and shoulders. This takes time and you have to adjust according to the situation you are in but always be thinking "can I get a little closer to the guy in front of me? Can I get a little closer to the guy to my left so I can go around the slower rider in front of me?"
    -Wind management. Whenever I'm in a group, I hear CDR's 'voice' telling me to think about the wind. Where is it? Am I in it? Where is shelter? Go there.

    Cheers and good luck. You'll sort it out, it just takes experience!
    Attack in the feeling because it says I'll win absolutely.

  14. #14
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    I raced D in college, and after two years off the bike, I've been back in Cat 5 crits this season, hoping to move up next year. here are some thoughts:

    Wheels are life. If you are not strong enough to ride solo away from the pack (which it sounds like you aren't) you should be glued to a wheel at all times. Its worth a little extra energy to stay on a wheel in order to avoid burning a ton of energy to catch one that you let get away.

    Move up on the part of the course thats easier for you (relatively) than everyone else. I weigh 215 lbs, so for me, this is downhills. I grab spots on downhills without wasting too much energy. I plan it that way. If you are more of a climber build, take spots on the uphills, when the sprinters have to put in extra effort to keep up.

    race efficiently. Once you have figured out how to move up spots without wasting tons of energy, figure out a goal, and stick to it. If you are going for overall victory/good place in the final sprint, wheelsuck for the entire race, then move up efficiently with about 3-5 laps to go. fine tune position, and then *** it for the sprint.

    Your best bet is to find a weekly training crit. This takes the pressure off, and allows you to put in a racing effort every week. I've done 4 races this summer, and I've already gone from finishing off the back to 6th overall in cat 5. Good luck!

  15. #15
    Senior Member Brian Ratliff's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bikerer View Post
    ...

    I feel like I have the fitness and the strength such that I should be able to race beginner cat 5 races. (I ride 10-12 hours a week and my ftp is around 3.1 watts/kg. ...
    A lot of good stuff here; just want to point out that this assumption might not be correct. Cat 5 means they are beginners, not that they are not strong. Unless you can get in really tight (a la CDR's "sphere"), it might actually take more power to do well as a beginner in a Cat 5 race than in higher categories where people are more experienced and riding tighter.
    Cat 2 Track, Cat 3 Road.
    "If you’re new enough [to racing] that you would ask such question, then i would hazard a guess that if you just made up a workout that sounded hard to do, and did it, you’d probably get faster." --the tiniest sprinter

  16. #16
    Powered by Borscht ovoleg's Avatar
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    My ftp was 3.7 w/kg on my first race this year and I got dropped from the main group lol. I'm starting to learn more and more it has a lot to do strategy, finding the right draft, not getting yo-yo'd to death and being confident in yourself.

    Also my first race had dudes that were pretty high up on the Cyclocross ladder that were "trying out" road.
    -Cat-3-o-meter: TBD :/

  17. #17
    Senior Member spectastic's Avatar
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    when you move up, how do you reintegrate yourself back into a tight single file pack?
    5/20

  18. #18
    Senior Member aaronmcd's Avatar
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    I only did one race. It didnt take much energy at all, but it did take a lot of focus, and paying attention to who was dropping back and who was moving up. With like 5 laps to go I wanted to be near the front, so I just rode up to the front, pulled a lap or so (not enough to get too tired) and then eased up until someone else jumped out front. Stuck in the top 8 to 10 until the final lap break and then its easy to find wheel further up with people spreading out and dropping the pack. Granted it was my only race so I am sure I will learn a lot more soon!

  19. #19
    Senior Member spectastic's Avatar
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    well the first time I raced crit, it was a small field, and I started moving up with 5 laps to go, before the field got too stretched out. I think it was a little early, because I was exposed to the wind a lot. I think it might be a good idea to try to move up with 3 to go (assuming it's a ~1km course), so you can hitch a ride to the front with someone else who is also trying to move up. By moving up too early, you can drain yourself too early, and have a hard time maintaining that position. That's just my take
    5/20

  20. #20
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    Once you're in the top 10 or 12 you're in a good spot. If your field is 20 riders you can move up much later because you're almost already there, even if you're at the back.

    If you get into "good" position early then you're going to use a ton of energy defending it. All the riders behind you will try to eventually improve your position. Unless you're in a flat out 40 mph surge to the line you won't be able to hold your position simply by staying behind the rider in front of you. If I was feeling super strong I'd be up there at 2-3 to go (and spend 3-4 laps getting up there), if I'm not feeling great I'll make one bigger effort and move up with 1-2 to go.

    Here's a training race where I was conservative with my field position even with 1 km to go, there was a group of riders dangling off the front, yet things worked out:


    When it's single file it's usually not a great time to move up. If you insist on moving up then you can usually find a gap to slip into or you can use a corner to let the rider in front come to you (so in a left turn you hold your line, the rider in front goes wide hopefully, ends up in front of you, and the rider behind him now has to ride next to you or behind you).

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