Bike races can be unpredictable, and often things don’t go according to plan. Whether it’s your local group ride or a formal road race, everyone has been dropped before.
Maybe you were following the wrong wheel and they gapped the pack. Suddenly you find yourself off the back of the group. If is is windy or hilly, that gap can grow quickly if you’re by yourself.
Of course, there’s always the chance you get a flat tire, mechanical, or even crash. You might not even crash yourself, but find yourself behind one. Either way, when you’re off the back, it can be tough to catch back on, especially if the group ahead is motoring.
The worst thing for your body is to panic. Remain calm and focus on the effort ahead of you. The effort that you are putting in a breakaway that is 30 seconds ahead of the pack is the exact same as that if you’re 30 seconds behind. The obvious difference, of course, is that in a break you have nothing to lose; if you get caught, you can just ride with the pack again. In a break, there’s pressure to catch back on or you’re going home early. Either way, focusing on the task at hand requires you to believe in yourself and not freak out.
All in or take it steady
As you see the group in the distance, there’s two ways to do it, but each comes with its own risks. You can either give it everything you can in the hopes that you catch back on quickly, or simply keep it steady, going just fast enough that you’re faster than the group. The former choice, of course, is a risky move. If you don’t catch the group fast, you’ll exhaust yourself. The latter presents its own challenges. The longer you’re off the back, the lower the chances you might catch back on. Know your body and know your limits. If you can push it hard for a short amount of time, then do that. If you think you can keep it steady and get back onto the group that way, do it.
When you make the catch
When you finally get into the draft of the group, understand that you just put your body through the ringer but you can still recover. But don’t rush it. As you get into that sweet slipstream, take deep breaths and let your body relax. Try and get your heart rate down, have a swig from your water bottle, shake your quads. It may take ten minutes of this to feel better again, but the good news is, you made it back and your race didn’t end early.