During my road racing clinic in early April, I explained how we are often forced to ride in close proximity to other racers. We position ourselves in the draft or slipstream of those around us. The closer the better. For new racers, being surrounded by other racers is unnerving. Claustrophobia maybe. For the anxious racer, I suggested riding along the perimeter of the group. You may not get the most benefit from the draft but it is likely better than nothing. You may feel much less anxiety with riders only to one side of you. Then, you can focus on things that matter in the race.
We have to put a lot of faith in the rider(s) around us. We may not always feel confident in those around us. Maybe a rider is looking around, weaving around, seems distracted, or just makes you feel uneasy. The easiest way to avoid them is to stop pedaling and slow down. Racers will go around you and you can change your position.
I prefer to move ahead of a racer that makes me uneasy. When ahead, anything that rider does will have no impact on you. If someone is riding poorly, get them behind you.
During my lecture in the clinic, I added something that I normally don't mention. If you feel anxiety, have an exit strategy. An open area around you that you can move to in case of an emergency. When riding on the perimeter, you can simply move away from other riders.
I made use of this recently during the Turkey Hill Classic road race on May 3rd. A fast run in to the finish. Everyone is still together. Everyone has an equal opportunity to win. That means racers are excited and ready to take risks.
I positioned myself along the perimeter of the group. On the left. Opposite the cross wind we were facing from the right. I had the full benefit of the draft. The road was along a farm and an open field of grass/weeds. I was right along the edge of a road with no curb.
As we neared the finish line. Riders tangled and crashed on the other side of the road. Just ahead of my position. The mayhem began cascading towards me. I felt a bump on my right side. A tire exploded, emitting a cloud of tire sealant. The rider closest to me was getting tangled up with another rider hitting the ground.
What did I do? I made a brief attempt to hit the brakes. Honestly, the exploding tire is what spooked me most. You can't ride a flat at those speeds and it was really close. I consciously executed my Exit Strategy. I leaned to my left, pushed the bike forward, and pointed myself into the grass.
I held the bike out ahead of me and just waited to slow down. All my fingers on the handlebars to get the best grip possible. The grass would slow me down. I just hoped to avoid a hole or depression in the deep grass.
I slowed to a crawl and attempted to shift down. The grass was disrupting my shifting. I came to a stop and walked back to the road. I was recording the entire race on video. This is how it all went down at the finish.
So, when you feel uneasy about those around you, develop an exit strategy. My strategy on this day was very unorthodox but it was far better then hitting the pavement.
Thanks for reading.