Riding in a group means drafting, riding close to others to save energy. It takes practice, balancing safety, comfort, and speed. But it really isn't difficult: ride smoothly and predictably, anticipate others, guard your front wheel, and relax.
Fortunately Night at the Oval offers a perfect chance to practice pack riding skills. Racers are staged in appropriate skill levels, and as CRANDIC Racing Club's Rob McKillip explains: "The track is huge. There is a ton of space. Get in the pack if you're comfortable. If not, sit at the back, or even attack and try to time trial away. Either way, it's a safe way to have fun and get a killer workout."
Ride smoothly. Riding close together by necessity involves a level of trust. Avoid sudden movements and hard braking so the pack moves smoothly and predictably. This is much easier to get used to on the Oval, without traffic and potholes to worry about.
Anticipate others. Common sense safety and the basis for good racing – be aware of the pack as a whole, watch riders move around in the pack. A feel for that flow will help you predict moves and move up in the pack more easily. "Hold your line" in tight spots and corners – leave others room to proceed, don't force them into the curb.
Guard your front wheel. Touching wheels is a scary thought for novices and pros alike, but it's really not complicated or hard to avoid. Your front wheel is key to staying upright; your rear, not so much. Draft the rider ahead, but only as close as you can confidently and without fixating on their rear wheel – remember you want to watch the whole pack. If things get really tight put your hands in your drops to keep from hooking handlebars. Optionally, flare your elbows out a bit to claim more space.
As if all that isn't enough, RELAX! Tense riders are jerky, tired, less alert, and slow. Bend your elbows, shake off any upper body tension, even relax your face. If you bump shoulders a relaxed upper body will absorb that impact rather than a rigid stance tossing you aside. And don't yell. Laugh. Enjoy yourself. You'll be faster that way.
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