Go to the front

A guy who is one of the best racers I know said to me, “Seth, when I first met you I was convinced you were ruining a whole generation of bike racers.”

“Flattery will get you nowhere.”

“Seriously. Always telling people to go to the front. That is not how you win races. That is how you lose races.”


“Yeah. There are only three ways to win a race. Attack and ride in solo. Go with, or bridge to a break and outsprint your breakaway companions. Or win the field sprint. Going to the front of the peloton and hammering like a knucklehead will guarantee that you never win any races.”


“Yeah. And there you were, telling all these young kids to ‘Go to the front!’ And they were doing it. It’s the complete opposite of race winning tactics. Going to the front will only fry you. In a race or even on these training rides people love it when you go to the front. You fry yourself, they get a free ride, and leave you like you were chained to a stump at the end. What’s the point?”

“Well, if people don’t go the front and make it hard, then how do you end up with a good training ride?”

“There’s always some idiot who will do that. Just don’t let it be you.”

“Really? I’ve been on plenty of rides where no one takes the bit and it’s just a wankfest shitshow with one or two hard efforts, usually on a climb.”

“Look, racing is energy conservation. The winner conserves through tactics, then expends his max at just the right time, or meters high-output efforts so that there are only a few of them. But they count. Your philosophy of going to the front and slogging away is stupid, and the only person it hurts is you. Anyone can sit on a wheel at 27, which just isn’t all that fast. What’s worse is that it teaches bad tactics because you end up racing the way you train.”

“Maybe you’re right.”

“So why don’t you lay off the ‘Go to the front’ propaganda for a while? You might even get on a podium yourself.”

“Because winning races doesn’t mean shit.”

“Lots of bike racers would disagree with you.”

“I’m not talking about bike racing.”

“What are you talking about, then?”


What was I talking about?

A couple of days ago I got the best email that’s ever come my way. This is what I was talking about.

Seth, I saw something the other day that reminded me of you. It was a show about Japanese culture where they were highlighting various festivals and some of the instruments played during the celebrations. One important instrument is the takebue flute. They visited a very old guy who is a master takebue maker and he said something very interesting that I thought you would appreciate.

Traditionally, takabue are made out of bamboo that the customer will bring to the flute maker, and it goes without saying that people who are going to spend a lot of money on this special item go to great lengths to cut for themselves a piece of bamboo that is especially beautiful, clean, and straight.

The flute maker said that years ago a man brought him a piece of bamboo that was curved and very rough. It was not what he was used to working with, but when he began hollowing it out and cutting out the holes, he realized that it was very strong bamboo, and that its wood was incredibly dense. When it was finished, the sound was especially bright, and far superior to anything else that he had ever made.

The flute maker asked the man where he had gotten this bamboo, and remarked that it was the strongest, most dense, and most beautiful wood he had ever worked. The man told him that most people choose bamboo from the heart of the bamboo thicket. The bamboo in the middle of the grove is sheltered from the wind and the elements and therefore grows straight and tall, so aesthetically that is the bamboo that people choose. But the sheltered bamboo, hidden from the battering effects of wind and rain and sun is relatively soft, whereas the bamboo on the edge of the thicket takes the brunt of the weather. It is scorched, frozen, pushed, abused, misshapen, and beaten by the elements, and that is what makes it so very dense and strong.

Take care, brother.


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31 thoughts on “Go to the front”

  1. I do it with the thought, who is going to be stronger at the end of the day, and because like you mention there is nothing worse than a ride when no one will work.

    Fundamentally it’s down to personality, for some it’s about the ride and for others the win.

  2. Riding. Training. Racing. Knowing the difference and when to do each is the what separates the top 1%s from the poseurs and phreds.

    Train to Race rather than Race to Train…

  3. I’m all but certain that there was a poignant message in there. Yet all I hard was that old, battered, gnarled and dense wins races. I may have to give this a shot!

  4. So in your analogy the guy picks up the beautiful flute and blows a gale storm of terrible noises, veins popping out, face reddening. Got it.

  5. Your racer friend is more cunning than you realize. He knows that if the young pups spend all their time sitting in on the group rides, they will stay weak and never pose a threat to him in races.

    Spare the wind, spoil the seal.

  6. Smart training and smart racing are two different things. Then there’s just going for a bike ride which is much more fun

  7. So the real message to the next generation is, “Ride ugly, finish poorly, but remember that if someone blows air up your butt you will emit beautiful noises”

  8. Way back when Ron Skarin was winning races, guys who did not pull their weight in a training ride were “encouraged” to go train elsewhere. Come race time other things happened from time to time that insured they did not contest the sprint for a podium place.

  9. You probably don’t get a lot of comments that state, “your blog post made me cry (or maybe you do!), but the flute story really got me… Super blog post, especially since you’re reaching us followers for whom every rando ride, every double, is a major challenge, and yet, the more we ride, the more we understand that we are capable and getting better every ride. 🙂

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