Steve Tilford had a great list of 101 Bike Racing Rules. I liked them so much that I hand wrote them out and taped them to my top tube. People would ask what they were and I would tell them. Interested, they would read, and they would be disappointed.
“Everyone knows that!”
Or “If you have to write those down you’ve lost before you’ve even started.”
I maintain that if you can consistently do even the first five of Steve’s bike racing rules you are going to win a race. And they are damned hard to do. Why? I’ll tell you why.
1) Never be in the front pulling for no reason. This is the single most important bike racing rule there is. It’s hard not to be on the front if you have the legs to win a race because you want to show you have the legs, first. Second, if you have good legs you will usually be towards the front, and as people start to fry and as moves start to happen, you will wind up on the front. Third, showboating. How awesomely fun is that? Fourth, some people get on the front and just love to hammer. Until they fry. And are dropped, or miss the move, or quit, or flat just get beaten.
2) Always know which direction the wind is coming from. First, wind directions change. Second, you tend to do what others do, and especially in cross winds some riders will echelon wrong. Third, often the wind isn’t that strong and you expose yourself on the sides thinking it’s not that bad. Guess what? When other riders aren’t taking the wind, it really is that bad and you’ll pay for it shortly.
3) Know the course. Understand the layout, the start, the finish, and picture where the strategic points, hills, and wind direction occur. First, when you’re excited you are worried about your 100% carbon wheels that are full carbon and whether your number is pinned on right and whether everyone notices your trick new tubulars. Second, even on the same course that you’ve done a million times, the strategic points change due to wind, temperature, field size, and especially field composition, so you tend to take your course knowledge for granted and fail to reanalyze. Third, even if you think the course through, after a few laps you tend to stop. The great racers reevaluate the course ever single turn, every single lap, using these bike racing rules to come in ahead of you.
4) Constantly ask yourself if you’re in the right position. Positioning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing, especially at the end. It’s a race, remember? First, people often don’t know where the right position is because they haven’t spent time on #3. Second, positioning takes constant attentiveness; going in circles dulls you into complacency. Third, often the best position requires fighting to get there and even more fighting to hold it.
5) Know when to do a single pace line and when to ride a double echelon. First, you tend to do what everyone else does. Second, you don’t practice either very much. Third, you’re in the rear clump of the peloton where there is only clumping, not pacelining.
6) Don’t shout at other riders telling them what to do. It just pisses them off and makes them want you not to do well, and it gives them crucial information that they will use to beat you. First, nervous energy. Second, anger issues. Third, fear. Fourth, shouting is fun.
7) Don’t look back to see what’s going on behind you. First, the fear of getting caught. Second, uncertainty about whether your move was a good one. Third, lack of commitment.
8) Don’t show off in races. Races are judged by who crosses the line first. First, showboating is the best and therefore the hardest not to do. Period.
9) Always observe and rate the guys you’re racing against. First, you tend to assume that people you know are always the same from race to race. They aren’t; fitness and doping regimens change! Second, you tend to gloss over the top guys and focus on the ones you’ve beaten before because it’s kind of a bummer to look at Charon’s legs and realize you couldn’t beat him with a motor.
10) Know where the finish line is and where you plan to sprint from. First, most racers never intend to sprint. Second, it’s hard to plan the end from the middle or the beginning, and stick to it. Third, self doubt.
Steve spent a lifetime coming up with these bike racing rules. They work!
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