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Noob Questions for Gravel Race Strategy: The first 10 miles

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Noob Questions for Gravel Race Strategy: The first 10 miles

Old 04-17-24, 09:02 AM
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Noob Questions for Gravel Race Strategy: The first 10 miles

Hello all,

As I've been watching YouTube videos of high level racers recording their races (e.g. Goettl Media, or the wonderful Heather Jackson), I am wondering how you more experienced racers approach those first 10 or so miles? The prevailing wisdom is that you want to be up near the front before you get to selection points like transitions from tarmac to single track or an attritional climb. However, the risk of burning too many matches early or getting caught in a crash with all of the like-minded bodies around you may mitigate the advantages over dropping immediately into the chase group in the first few miles and working from there to pick off stragglers until an effort can be mounted to target the lead group (perhaps benefiting those who, as Ben Delaney puts it, orient towards "old-man steady-hard pace").

I know this is a question that is subjective to the particular rider, so I'm curious what wisdoms and experiences you all have on this to share.

Thank you!

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Old 04-17-24, 09:38 AM
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What are you goals for the race? Do you have the ability to race competitively and expect a high placing? How long do you expect the race to last?

For me, watching videos of the top racers is entertaining, but the reality is that I don't have the fitness to race at a high level, or be among the top finishers (even for my age group). My intent at races is to just do the best I can do with whatever fitness I have on that day. I try to make my bike efficient, I try to fuel myself well, and I try to ride intelligently. For a 5-6 hour event, I try to keep things moderate in the first couple of hours in order to have something left in the tank for the last couple. My very first race, I went out easier than I needed to, but it was a good learning experience. My second event, I went harder from the start, but at 20 miles in, I was starting to feel it in my legs. However, I never exploded and was able to keep a good pace to the end. It's really about knowing where your limits are, and what you body is capable of. At your first event, you're likely to get it wrong, no mater your level of fitness. Racing is always a learning experience.
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Old 04-17-24, 04:21 PM
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Originally Posted by Eric F
What are you goals for the race? Do you have the ability to race competitively and expect a high placing? How long do you expect the race to last?

For me, watching videos of the top racers is entertaining, but the reality is that I don't have the fitness to race at a high level, or be among the top finishers (even for my age group). My intent at races is to just do the best I can do with whatever fitness I have on that day. I try to make my bike efficient, I try to fuel myself well, and I try to ride intelligently. For a 5-6 hour event, I try to keep things moderate in the first couple of hours in order to have something left in the tank for the last couple. My very first race, I went out easier than I needed to, but it was a good learning experience. My second event, I went harder from the start, but at 20 miles in, I was starting to feel it in my legs. However, I never exploded and was able to keep a good pace to the end. It's really about knowing where your limits are, and what you body is capable of. At your first event, you're likely to get it wrong, no mater your level of fitness. Racing is always a learning experience.
Thanks, my goals are to race competitively for sure, and would try for as high a placing as I can accomplish (and perhaps even someday threaten for a podium spot). That being said, while that is my goal and approach, I want to state that I don't hinge my success or enjoyment on winning or even doing well, but rather that I enjoy the competition and pushing myself to my best. I know that based on my fitness and abilities I'm nowhere near many other amateur racers even in my age bracket, but I enjoy pushing myself to hang with them.

I look forward to getting it wrong the first day! 8AM in Hayward Wisconsin for the Hungry Bear Gravel Race! I predict I'll go out hard for 10 minutes on adrenaline and nerves and then get dropped like a rock tied to an even bigger rock.
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Old 04-17-24, 04:45 PM
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Originally Posted by sir_crash_alot
Thanks, my goals are to race competitively for sure, and would try for as high a placing as I can accomplish (and perhaps even someday threaten for a podium spot). That being said, while that is my goal and approach, I want to state that I don't hinge my success or enjoyment on winning or even doing well, but rather that I enjoy the competition and pushing myself to my best. I know that based on my fitness and abilities I'm nowhere near many other amateur racers even in my age bracket, but I enjoy pushing myself to hang with them.

I look forward to getting it wrong the first day! 8AM in Hayward Wisconsin for the Hungry Bear Gravel Race! I predict I'll go out hard for 10 minutes on adrenaline and nerves and then get dropped like a rock tied to an even bigger rock.
My riding friends who started racing gravel before me pretty much all had the same comment about their first race..."I went out too hard". My suggestion is to start out at a pace you think you can maintain for the distance, with some deeper (but still moderate) efforts on climbs, and give it all you have in the last hour. If you can find a group to ride with to carry a higher pace at your tempo effort, that's great, but digging yourself into a hole at the beginning is generally a recipe for being slower overall.

Some thoughts about pacing from DJ and his brother, BHDJ...
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Old 05-18-24, 09:33 PM
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I'm late to the party and my gravel palmares are lacking, so what I say should be taken with a grain of salt. My mentality is to generally try to be in a good position, no matter the costs. Although I think that is just a carryover from my XC race strategy, where position is huge IMO. So far, this strategy has had mixed success in gravel racing...and in one case, was likely a major contributing factor to me just falling apart mid race.

2 of my own tactics/strategy goals are, first to improve my efficiency within a group. Not having that road racing background that a lot of the guys have, I feel like I've really had steep learning curve with improving my position within the peloton. Second, is to just work on doing my own pace and not getting out of whatever wattage I said I'd stick to. It's been hard to ride my pace and not up the tempo to follow another wheel.
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