Most of us have probably started racing our season by now. Lining up on the start line, everything seemed in place. The form was good, the bike worked well but the one thing that upset your performance was how you rode in the bunch.
Moving around the bunch
Moving around a bunch is a difficult skill to master. It is one that not many are naturally good at. Often it is just a case of turning off your brain and not giving in to any of your natural instincts. Naturally your brain isn’t mad on you trying to fit through a tiny gap between two riders while travelling at 50kph, its only normal.
Unfortunately, the best way to get good and moving around the bunch is from practice. Often those who are good at riding around a bunch have been racing from a young age. They’ve pushed the extremes, riding in ditches, bunny hopping kerbs and crashed… a lot.
It’s simply a matter of mastering the trade. You’ll make plenty of mistakes before you master it.
The best riders with the worst habits?
In Irish racing, it can be the best riders in the country that adopt the worst habits. Small bunch sizes in A1/2 mean riders can just move up the side of the bunch and often the race is settled between groups of 3-6 riders.
In A3/4 races riders are forced to ride through the bunch and negotiate bunch sprints. They may be dangerous and prone to crashes but they offer a great opportunity to learn how to ride in a bunch much like those in European races.
There are a few things that you can implement to improve your bike handling skills in the bunch.
The Group Ride
The good aul group ride! You’re probably sick of hearing everyone in A1 Coaching talking about how the group ride is the perfect environment for a rider to learn skills.
Riding shoulder to shoulder in a group with riders all around you in a relaxed environment is the perfect place for a rider to learn how to stay relaxed in a bunch and unconsciously ride without worrying about if they are going to crash into another rider.
If you have a trustworthy training partner you can often talk them into a bit of pushing and shoving. Leaning into each other or bumping shoulders should not feel abnormal when you’re in a race situation.
I’ve had managers that I have been on spins with that have pushed me around out training, quite literally. I always assumed it was a test to see if I could handle a bit of rough and tumble, at least I hope it was!
Practice different disciplines
Doing different disciplines such as cyclocross and mountain biking can help too. Often training on the road is just a matter of sitting on the bike and turning your legs. There’s not much skill involved, especially when it comes to turbo training.
Unless you are Anthony Walsh and manage to fall off the rollers and through your mothers coffee table during a late night session.
Mountain biking and cyclocross force you to understand how the bike moves and handles. This is an invaluable skill while riding in a bunch.
Watch the pros
Finally, as the classic saying goes, “watch the good lads and do what they do”. Simply watch the professionals on TV or an experienced riding you are racing with. Watch how they lean on other riders, slip through gaps and move up the bunch effortlessly when the chance arises.
As I said, riding in the bunch is a difficult skill to learn. It takes time. You will more than likely crash, get shouted at and make every other mistake in the book. Eventually a switch does flick in your head and you will have the skill forever.
Like I said, switch your brain off and just slip through the gaps!