Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Rarely discussed race tips - racing off the back

Last Saturday brought to the surface a reality that I've been repressing for about 70 days. It was the first "race"(I'm excluding LOTOJA as it was only 25% race, 75% limping home) back from the hand injury this summer, that I conveniently managed to use as an excuse to go fairly inactive, gain some weight, and in general, fall impressively out of shape. If there's a better way to expose this type of conundrum than a cyclocross race - I don't know of it.

But it will afford me with what may or may not be some valuable experience over what I suspect will be the next several weeks, if not the remainder of the year, to share some rarely addressed racing tips - specifically - strategies for racing at, and in some cases off, the backside of the race. Or in other words, how to compete for the DFL podium, or if you prefer, the DFL implodium. These will be specific to cyclocross, and I'm anticipating that you can expect a few posts with some decent substance dedicated to this over the next few months.

Tip 1 - Physical output: In managing your effort during the race, it's best to get into position early. Best done by going to deep to early - and by deep, I mean get it to a state that you can't recover from, sometimes referred to as blowing up. I've found that if you can do this within 5 minutes from the start, the next 45 minutes should give you a solid chance to work into position for the DFL hole shot. If it helps the medicine go down easier - go ahead and go off the front at the beginning of the race. You might be able to cut the time it takes to reach said state down to 60 seconds or so, which is all the better - and you'll have the sensation of leading at one brief and early point in the race to be the only memory you take away and tell people about, and use to motivate you for next week. If it doesn't help the medicine go down easier, then stay the hell out of the way and take the full 5 minutes to blow yourself up.

Tip 2 - Race Course Management, or, in laymens terms, don't let a DNF rob you of a DFL: While riding yourself out of your limit, you need to ride your bike within the limits of the course and conditions. There are some who are too fast to heed this tip, and when in position to win the DFL, will purposely DNF. I'm hitting the BS button on that scenario. If your going to compete for the DFL that day - then own it like you love it, anything less is vanity at the capital BS level.

Now - with that having been said, if you've succeded with tip 1, you may very well, and probably should, spend the remainder of your race hoping for some mechancial to cause a DNF. There ain't no shame in hoping. But assuming your not a quitter, your still racing, and one legit strategy of racing at the back is to make sure you ride a clean race to beat those DNFers. If a legit mechancial or crash happens during a legit race effort, then congrats, you lucked out with a legit excuse to bail early, no shame there. But there's nothing more shamefull than an intential DNF to avoid a DFL win. Yes, the DFL ranks above the DNF on the final results - and course managment can mean the difference between the two. Remember - own it like you love it..... but don't really love it. And if you lack the inner fortitude, see Ken Chlouber about a motivational download available that will ingrain the mantra of "I commit, I won't quit" into your race mentality, by the clever method of repeating it over and over, and then repeating it some more, and then lot's more. I think he may have one other title also available, but can't remember it off the top of my head, not enough repeats I guess, or maybe too many.

Tip 3 - Top end work, or maintaining skill while the eye's are glossy: Top end capacity on the DFL end of the race is different than top end capacity at the front of the race. Don't let this dynamic go to waste. Your going to get passed, and your going to get passed a lot. Assuming your maintaining the integrity required for tip 2, and still racing hard, each of these passes presents a good interval opportunity. When the faster guy comes around, try to get on his wheel and stay there as long as you can - probably won't be long, but try. It will bury you deep, and bike handling and technical skill is a little different when you can't see straight from fatigue than it is when your fresh, and... practice in this state translates to improvement just the same whether occuring at the back or the front. So don't get content with winning DFL, always look to improve your capacity to function on the bike when seeing stars.

Tip 4 - Race psychology: If you didn't go off the front at the beginning and get a taste of being the leader - you may have one more chance. There is a magic sweetspot in the race where you can get far enough behind that most of the crowd can't tell that your winning the DFL race, and then... you act like your winning the whole thing. Timing is critical - as you need to be approaching lap meat status at the part of the course where the crowds are thickest and loudest. It's a fine line to balance. With the real leaders approaching and briefly in tow, punch it when riding into sight of the crowd - most of whom, you hope, won't know your fighting off becoming lap meat, and will acknowledge you as the leader who's ridden off the front of a group of real fast guys. You need to look intense here, and be going fast. Take it to another level by asking "how far back are they?" or asking for a time gap while riding through the populated area of the course. If you want to give up, and you will, just remember you only have to hold it until your out of sight of the crowds. There, didn't that feel cool? Don't worry about the next lap around, few in the crowd will notice the change in order that riders come through, most of them are just there to see a crash or two anyway.

Tip 5 - Asserting control on the race: If your cooked, and timing doesn't work out for you to make the glory sprint detailed in tip#4, you can save yourself a lap by finding somewhere else to let the leaders get by you. Remaining laps are based on the number of times leaders have come through, not you, and as crazy as it sounds, the DFL competitors can retain their position while getting away with riding one less lap than the rest of the racers, if they get lapped at some point - absolutely no penalty to official finishing place/position, it's like stealing candy from a baby.

So, there it is, a fairly well rounded basket of things to think about while off the back. More to follow as the revelations unfold.... and remember what Ken says - don't quit, and if you brought your DFL game - then own it - but try not to own it too long.


Mr. trying not to own it too long


Ski Bike Junkie said...

You're better than you think you are, and you can do more than you think you can.

Jason said...

Ken - don't come on here posing as Mark and continue your well intended but dramatically repetitive Leadville doctrine. We get it already.

evilbanks said...

Dude, that was post was pure money!