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One complaint I often hear about Masters racing is that it’s negative. In my limited experience with racing against the old codgers, I couldn’t agree more. In less than a month I’ll be racing at the Tour of Bright in the Masters category. I’m the first one to admit that I’m not getting any younger or faster on the bike, however Masters racing sometimes requires more brains than bronze. A little while ago a mate of mine asked me an excellent question: “how do you deal with negative racing?”.
What’s meant by the term “negative” is that everyone in the pack sits in and then when somebody tries to make a move it’s eagerly chased down with no apparent reason. These old foxes are ruthless. They’ll hunt you down every time.
I assume the reason for this style of this racing is because of the wide variety of riders from various backgrounds and ability. Some are sly old ex-pros who are experienced enough to know not to do any unnecessary work. Many others have just gotten into cycling and have good fitness from other sports. There’s very little teamwork going on which makes every man out for himself.
So how do you turn this style of racing around?
When the weather is good and the terrain is flat it’s not often that you’ll establish a breakaway. There’s no harm in having a go to test out the legs and see who wants to play, but it’s nearly impossible to stave off a chasing peloton of Masters racers. They’re far too keen!
Here are a few tactics are at your disposal to get away from an eager Masters bunch:
If you notice that the same bunch of riders at the front of the peloton are chasing down every attack that goes up the road, it’s best to wait until the 4th or 5th time before you launch yours. By this point they’ll be getting tired and cranky that all the work has been left up to them. Counter-attack straight after a few hard and prolonged chase efforts. With a little bit of luck the chasers will let-up and look to the others to start doing some work. This hesitation is all you need. With the lack of teamwork and riders in dedicated roles in Masters racing, this works like a charm.
Sometimes dropping the chain down a couple gears and viciously attacking the bunch will only get everyone excited and encourage a response. Instead, quietly slip off the front so that it doesn’t look threatening. Often you won’t spark a reaction from the bunch and you’ll establish a gap. Once you get a sizable gap you can put the hammer down. Unfortunately there’s a good chance that someone will try to bridge up to you and kick the hornets nest while they’re at it.
As the old saying goes, “out of sight, out of mind”. If you’re familiar with the course and there are some narrow roads with twists and turns coming up, this is the place to attempt your escape. Once the peloton loses sight of you they’ll usually abandon the chase. If you open up a big enough gap with a group of other strong riders you’ll likely stay away.
Wind is your friend. A change of road direction will turn headwinds into crosswinds. Be sure you know the wind direction and when the roads are turning. If you anticipate the crosswinds and are up in the front you’ll be well positioned to throw it in the gutter. This tactic doesn’t necessarily separate the strong from the weak. It separates the attentive and well positioned from the unaware and lazy.
If the hills are big enough the peloton will sort itself out naturally. There’s not much you can do if you can’t climb well on race day. However, if you know the hills are coming up and are able to get away in a move before the hills begin (for example, a split in the bunch by the crosswinds) you’ll potentially be in a group placed well ahead so that you’re not caught by the bunch.
A combination of the above tactics will work best in most situations. Negative racing doesn’t need to be that way. Understanding the psychology of the peloton, using the terrain to your advantage, and timing your efforts properly will turn a negative racing into unpredictable and exciting racing.
There are a few more sly maneuvers you can do, but I’ll write these down after the Tour of Bright…