For those neophytes about to start the season, here's advice from someone who's had successful years without having to rely on "talent" or "ability."
- The last person I recall winning a road race solo by attacking off the start line was.....well, no one. It just doesn't happen. Even three people in a group have a significant advantage over a solo rider. Attack when you have a chance to win or break up the pack.
- Its not your job to keep the pace high. Sure, toward the front is the safest place to be, especially in crits. Its the ONLY place to be at the end of the race, and you sometimes need to take a pull at the very front to hold your position, but don't stay in first position and lead the pack around at 22mph. Doing so will give everyone else a fine armchair ride to the sprint.
- Stay with the leaders. Your races will be short enough that once a group gets away there may not be time to pull them back. In early season there are always fit and talented 4's and 5's eager to move up. Stay with them.
- Know your course. Many Cat 5 and 4 races are a single, long loop, so it pays to know where the big hills are (or are not), what direction you're going on each section of the course, and which way the wind is blowing (literally).
- Attack on hills and sidewinds. Most road races in IL are decided in sidewinds, where only the front few can get a decent draft. If you're strong get on the front on the sidewind or side/tailwind section, move to the ditch or center line (whichever provides those behind with the poorest draft. Wind from left: ditch. Wind from right: centerline. ), and put down the power. If you can't break things up like that its time to follow wheels and wait for the sprint. Same for hills- go hard; if the pack doesn't suffer or split, wait and sprint. You'll find out if you're a good sprinter.
- Don't attack downhill or into headwinds. Its too easy for everyone to follow. Exception: sometimes you can get a gap attacking into a headwind before a corner after which you'll get a tailwind or side/tail. Even if you get caught you'll be on the front when you hit the tailwind, where everyone will accelerate because they can finally go fast after that slow headwind.
- In a road race the finish line is much further away than it looks. Follow the premature sprinters and each subsequent acceleration, be patient, then go like hell.
In a crit the finish line is usually closer than you think, so get in a good position before the last lap and stay there. Go thru the last corner on or near the front and you'll be in the money.