Everybody’s bought their licences and they’re raring to go at the start of the season. This article relates to anybody who wants to have a go at racing on the open roads…
First thing that I want you to take a look at is the first 30 seconds or so of the following clip from Dirty Dancing (yes, I am serious):
You may all think that I have totally lost the plot, but Patrick Swayze makes two important comments:
- “Spaghetti arms” – the need to keep your [body’s] frame locked and your head up;
- “Dance space” – Jennifer Grey (as the amateur dancer) keeps encroaching on his space, to which he states “I don’t go into yours, you don’t go into mine”.
Yes, I get that the late Lord Patrick of Swayze is going on about doing a rumba; or whatever dance he is teaching her – I have only ever danced a rumba to “Hungry Eyes” (I’m not joking, either), so I don’t want anyone to correct me on the dance please, but it’s an important lesson to anybody who is contemplating racing on the open road in a road race.
Keeping your arms relaxed but in control of your handlebars is very important, as is keeping your head up. Time and time again you see riders in a bunch who aren’t in control of their bike properly. Some think it’s cool to ride either none-handed or with their wrists balancing on their handlebars in the middle of a bunch. Sorry, my friends, this is not “cool”. I don’t care if you see Grand Tour riders doing it on Eurosport – that is not appropriate behaviour in a local bike race in the UK, when there is oncoming traffic on the opposite side of the road.
More often than not, riders think that it is somehow appropriate to move themselves into a gap that is actually non-existent. If you were driving a car along a dual carriageway and there was a vehicle in each lane, you wouldn’t drive up the middle of the cars, so why ride into a “gap” that doesn’t exist? And saying “inside” to the rider who is on the left hand side in the gutter isn’t the same as saying “barleys” – where you can do what you want because it doesn’t matter as you won’t get any bad luck because you’ve crossed your fingers. Errr. No. Sorry, that doesn’t work.
Actions have consequences
Okay, you might think that I am having a rant because somebody brought me off on Sunday and that I should just shut up because “crashing is part of racing”. Fair enough, I understand the risks, having raced (on and off) since 1993, but I am not convinced some people understand the consequences of racing on the open road. The closed circuits that British Cycling have built are great tools for learning skills and act as an entry into racing, but people seem to apply the same racing rules to the open road as they do to closed road circuits. There’s a major difference that seems to pass people by – oncoming traffic. This means that if you push your way into a gap that doesn’t exist, the rider who has to make way for you then has to move elsewhere, which often means that they have to ride on the wrong side of the road, or hit the cats eyes that mark the middle of the road, which can then lead to issues in itself.
It’s not just the women…
Historically, women’s racing on a domestic level has been littered with crashes (partly due to the large difference of abilities that you can find when catering for “women” as a whole), but the numbers of crashes in the local men’s races (in the North West at least) is increasing at an alarming rate. More often than not, crashes occur because people stop concentrating (if only for a nano-second), which leads to a touch of wheels, people braking and then a domino effect occurring behind the culprit. Or the person on the front decides that they don’t want to be on the front anymore and swings across the front of the bunch, without looking before making the manoeuvre (I saw that happen with my own eyes on Sunday), or just slams on for no apparent reason.
If you have ever watched the professionals racing on the TV, for the most part you will see riders giving each other space – they respect each other as riders and as fellow professionals – they will give each other space on descents, especially – and any crashes (except the bizarre like Jonny Hoogerland’s in the Tour de France) tend to happen either in the last few kilometres when teams are jostling for position in the lead up to a sprint finish, or due to street furniture (roundabouts, bollards, etc) when the roads become really narrow. The latter shouldn’t happen in a domestic race in the UK because of risk assessments being carried out.
Admittedly, there can be potholes and puddles and grids (we live in the UK after all), so let people know if there’s an issue that you can see, including oncoming traffic – communication is the key in these instances.
The Moral to the Story
If you only take a few things away from this article, I hope that they are:
- Give your fellow competitors room;
- Treat everybody with respect;
- Remember that every action (however minor it may seem to you) has a consequence;
- Never stop concentrating when riding in a bunch.
The above are my observations from racing with men and women. Crashing is an expensive option both economically (I consider myself lucky from the crash I had on Sunday, but practically every item of clothing that I had on was wrecked, including a brand new helmet and a pair of Oakleys, which if I wanted to replace it all would cost in the region of £750 – and that’s not including the cost of fixing my bike) and physically (I headbutted the floor at 22 mph and have injuries to most parts of my body, although they are mostly cuts and bruises – the guys who came off in the men’s race weren’t as lucky and have broken bones and written-off bikes) and therefore, in my humble opinion, should be avoided at all costs – which means looking out for each other. Incidentally, for the majority of us, we have to get up and go to work the following day (you know, so that you can pay for the bike riding) or go home to look after dependents (whether that’s kids or other halves!) – you can’t do either if you’re smashed to bits.
Let’s keep the #partyontheroad safe, so that everybody can enjoy the party after the race and remember – nobody puts Baby in a corner…
Until next time…