Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Getting Dropped Is Not Falling Behind

A bee in the bra is crap sister.  Having a squirrel dive through your spokes or doing a ditch dive is a little higher on the suck-o-meter.  Day-to-day, as far as trying to be a better bike racer, the thing that really haunts the deep inner cycling sanctum of my race brain is getting dropped.  If you road race, I’m sure you feel the same way.  However, I’ve discovered that new riders, more specifically riders new to road racing, aren’t afraid of the drop.  I’m here to say, it may sound barbaric, unsocial and inhumane, but I think new cyclists with intents on road racing need to get popped, dropped, and left sniveling to find their way home with darkness and diving temperatures fast approaching. 

I’ve been racing/riding a long time.  It’s rare to get dropped anymore.  I attribute that to the theory that the incredible side-splitting puking agony of trying to hang onto a fast pack of riders is far better than riding completely bonked solo in the middle of nowhere and using the direction of the setting sun to find your way home.  Getting shot is better than getting burned.

I took one of those rare wicked shellackings Sunday on Cincinnati’s Hyde Park ride.  (9am from Awakenings Coffee Shop if you’re interested)  It was one of those spring training days where mitigating circumstances came into play, a combination of a hilly beatdown the day before, practically eating only meat the night before, 20mph crosswinds and the 6 strongest riders in the city showing up on a 12 person ride.  I got flat backed in the drops, skipped pulls and sucked wheel while drooling and huffing until I finally got waxed and was off the back wheezing like a donkey nearly 2 hours from home on unfamiliar roads.  Thankfully, I wasn’t the only one who popped so I had a companion for the headwind slog back home.  As much as it sucked, I needed that apocalyptic ass whooping to keep motivated, the ego in check and things in perspective. 

Not naming names or frames, I recently rode with someone new to road cycling/racing that has no fear of the drop whatsoever.  Nada.  I’m not sure they even know what getting dropped really is.  New cyclists call it falling behind.  But, getting dropped and falling behind are two different things.  Falling behind assumes that someone will be waiting for you or that you will eventually catch up, the usual etiquette on more social group rides.  Getting dropped is falling behind without a net, the usual etiquette in road racing.  Aside from getting a bee down your jersey and getting dropped, there’s not many things worse. 

It seems cyclists who are just getting into racing aren’t afraid of getting dropped.  It troubled me at first.  When I rode with the new rider/racer, one second they’d be with us, the next moment off the back.  No warning signs like donkey wheezing, a crumpled back, sagging head, dilated pupils, numb left arm, chest grabbing.  They seemingly decided that they didn’t want to go that fast, figuratively threw up their hands and fell behind, like they weren’t afraid of being dropped and expected that they’d catch up somehow or the group would wait.  Completely perplexing to me. 

Cyclists are a kind bunch.  That’s one of the great things about it.  There’s no shortage of vets willing to lend new racers wisdom, tools, a Clif Bar, a lower-back turbo-boost push back to the group or wait at the top of the climb.  However, you can tell newbies all about drafting, pacelines and sitting on, but there’s nothing like the fear of the drop to have it all make perfect sense.  


solobreak said...

Ditto for getting the hook in criteriums. Here in New England, in recent years the zebras have gone soft and started letting OTB riders stay out there. They don't want to offend the ill-prepared "consumers" who paid entry fees. It's BS. I remember the first time I got pulled. I'd already been racing a while, over a year anyway, but this day I did not warmup enough and got blown out the back. The official was out in the road blowing the whistle and I didn't even know what was going on. One of the guys in the little group I was with was a get-pulled veteran and he says "we're done" and only then did I realize what happened. Lesson learned. I haven't being pulled since then, least not that I recall.

Nice writeup, nice blog.

Joe Biker said...

I'm with ya there. Thanks for elaborating that getting dropped in a race can lead to the dreaded "hook." Kinda like getting skunked in a game of cribbage. Thanks for the compliment.

Anonymous said...

ooh, you play cribbage? what, are you from wisconsin?

I remember one race in MN a few years back: steady rain, mid-40s, 20mph winds. I was shaking before it started. I made the first selection of about 10 guys, then turned myself inside out trying to hang onto that group. I got dropped when my chest started to seize up, and spent the rest of the race with a couple other guys in between the break and the pack. I still think about that race, dammit.

I agree that there's a perception among a lot of riders that all group rides should be no-drop. I think that works well for non-competitive (or should I say non-competing) groups who are trying to bring new numbers into the cycling ranks. But for racers? No-drop rides should be advertised, not assumed (especially if the ride draws from more than one team). --shannon

Joe Biker said...

yup. cheesehead. born and bred. Cribbage and Candy Raisins baby.