I received a suggestion for this topic via a comment last week. I figure it is a perfect off-season topic because it has some very superstitious implications for racing. I’ve managed to go three seasons of serious racing with only a broken collar bone that was ‘my own fault’ from a solo crash.
Risk / Benefit
This is one of my foremost principles on the subject of racing in general, and specifically crash avoidance. I know most of the peloton uses similar thinking, because the higher the stakes, the more dangerous the race will be. However, you can use this to your own ‘advantage’ when it comes to racing with an eye towards safety. This can keep you healthy for the races that really matter.
Positioning yourself in the group can impact risk/benefit in a variety of ways, depending on your goals. In some races, my goal is safety first (minor races, training races, etc). In these races I may spend more time in the wind to keep myself in a safe position. Riding at the very front, or very back of the peloton is relatively safe. The front requires extra skill and effort, and riding at the back carries risk of being caught behind a crash and ruining the chance for a good result.
Make sure to go into every race having carefully considered your risk/benefit plan. In key races, it may be worth the extra risk of taking a corner faster than you think is possible in a small breakaway, or riding in the middle of the pack to conserve the most energy.
Positioning yourself in the peloton is a difficult task. There are many considerations for positioning, but here I’ll focus on safety. In most races my #1 goal is to stay out of trouble. The front of the peloton is likely to be less congested, faster through the corners, and have the most experienced and least tired riders. “At the front, not on the front” is common advice. I won’t go into how to stay there in this post, except to say that it takes practice, effort, and constant mindfulness of a good time to move up.
Next is positioning in corners. Every corner has its own personality, and each course is made up of a set of corners. I generally don’t ride in the middle of the peloton, and stick to the side when I can. The sides tend to be moving up and there are more options for escape. I take all of the corners into consideration and will generally pick one side of the peloton to stay on during a criterium.
The inside of a tough corner is generally perferable. (Note: It is considered uncool to ‘chop’ riders by riding too far inside. You’ll need a spot in line with the other riders in the peloton) On the inside you may have to slow slightly more, but the carnage tends to spread to the outside of the corner when something happens.
If there is one take-home point from this post, this should be it: Do not cross wheels! Most crashes occur when a rider crosses his front wheel with the rear of another rider. The rider in front doesn’t know the proximity of the rider behind, and if they move the wrong way, the rider behind will crash. The most important thing to recognize about this common scenario is that it is generally avoidable. You have to protect your own front wheel.
First of all, I’ll bet this guy isn’t exaggerating their speed. The lead rider looks to be in about his tallest gear at 110 rpm (yes, I counted) – 53×12 would be 35 mph. Also, this is a good example of why aero bars are considered poor form for group rides. The rider that crashes has increased reaction time without a brake within reach at all times, and likely crossed wheels because he was incapable of scrubbing the speed required to protect his front wheel.
The second faux pas in this video is how the riders are rotating in the . Perhaps there is a miscommunication regarding the use of a single or rotating paceline, but either way, riders at the front should pull off rather than having the rider behind have to overtake them. In this case the lull in the pace from the tiring rider at the front combines with the second rider’s move to overtake him. The third rider in his aerobars puts his front wheel into the quick release of the guy in front and his wheel disintegrates causing the crash.
This video is classic Cat 5. The pace is moderate with almost nobody changing position in the peloton. Race numbers are flapping like kites. (I’m surprised they’re all on right side up).
The rider in red and white (#357) on the left side of the pack causes this crash. He just barely overlaps the wheel in front as they enter the corner. Perhaps he didn’t have to react by moving to the outside, but either way he takes a few guys with him. Notice how the rider directly behind on the inside of the corner, the cameraman, and the front few riders come out unscathed.
This is another example of what a moment’s inattention can cause. The rider in red moving up the right side probably wants to conserve as much momentum as possible and not brake as he is coasting and moving up the pack. He overlaps the rider in front and causes himself and other riders to crash.
Even the pros make mistakes. This great video from of the 2012 Tour Down Under includes a lot of overhead footage from this dead-straight sprint. The big crash is replayed at 4:07. The Vacansoleil-DCM rider catches the wheel in front after a slight lull in the pace and causes a huge crash which breaks ‘s femur, and neck.
Also look at the overhead of the sprint finalé at 4:40 when Alessandro Petacchi (hot pink/blue) sprints to the left side of the road to ‘close the door’ on a charging André Greipel (white/navy blue). When Greipel moves around on the right, Petacchi moves again and pushes Greipel into Hutarovich (white/blue) who has been faithfully sprinting in a straight line just to the right of center the entire time.