Riding in the bunch without fear

Discussion in 'Cycling Training' started by BullGod, May 20, 2008.

  1. BullGod

    BullGod New Member

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    I know for sure I am not alone in this, but the solution to this problem seems hard to come by.

    I've been in a few pile ups in the big RR's here and I seem to have developed a phobia of riding in the claustrophobic environment of a tightly formed and fast moving pack of 150+ riders. I get nervous at the start and end up edging to the back during the neutralised start, and then often end up last wheel when the race starts, where it is very easy to get dropped once the speed goes up. i know all the golden rules about riding up front and saving energy etc. but when push comes to shove the fear kicks in and it doesn't help that every race I am in there are big crashes....I even have trouble sleeping the night before a race thinking about the possibilities for getting hurt, and it's made more complicated by the fact that working part time, I need to stay in one piece to make a living.

    Does anyone have any advice or tips on coping with this fear? i am trying to be rational - telling myself there are 160 guys in the race - statistically only about 10 will crash in the race, of which only 1 will perhaps be seriously hurt, but the fear is still there - especially when the bunch is nervous and the speed fluctuates with braking and accelorating. It gets so tightly packed in there at times, and some of the younger guys are so excited and fearless they take big risks.

    At the moment this phobia is wrecking my season, and it's frustrating because I never used to have this.

    Has anyone had this problem and succesfully dealt with it?
     
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  2. Jono L

    Jono L Well-Known Member

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    Be aggressive! If you look serious and take no shit people will cut you off a lot less of the time in my experience.
     
  3. Sillyoldtwit

    Sillyoldtwit New Member

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    Funny you should bring this up now. On June 8 I'm doing a 70km Granfondo with 300 other guys. The last 2 years where I entered the event, I opted for the 160Km course which climbs up for 6 kms after the lead Mavic car pulls away after the first treacherous snaking 1km downhill. And this course finishes with a 12-13km uphill climb back to the ski resort..
    Not so this year; the 70km course goes downhill for 12 km after the Mavic car pulls away. Now anyone can go fast downhill, so imagine the scenario of 300 shiny steeds racing each other to the bottom. If someone goes down at the front, I dread to think of the possible resulting carnage with guys doing over 60kmph.
    I haven't decided on my strategy yet; I know I can be in the lead bunch, but am feeling a little apprehensive. I don't want to let them get away because the flat bits later are my strength.
    So is it hang back, or in answer to your question - to hell with it, mix it with the guys at the front and be damned? I know whatever I decide before the race, when the adrenalin starts to flow I shall be up there wheel to wheel feeling invincible. In other words, as we say England - SOD IT!! Tyson
    :D
     
  4. alfeng

    alfeng Well-Known Member

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    Considering you (and, many others) currently pay for your own equipment, you have to separate whether the "fear" is TRULY of personal injury OR if it is ACTUALLY of potential damage to your bike's frame ...

    You may want to sacrifice your ultimate speed in the final few kilometers during the next two-or-three (non-team TT) races & consider spending a a couple hundred Euros on a good, used STEEL frame that you can attach your components to for the road events ... if you crash, the damage the frame will suffer will more than likely be limited to the paint.

    To suggest the obvious -- don't ride in-the-middle of the "bunch" (there ARE always riders on the left & right along the entire length of the peleton, aren't there?) .
     
  5. limerickman

    limerickman Moderator

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    Difficult one to resolve.
    And I know that this fear exaccerbates if you have crashed in a big bunch before.

    Basically the question comes down to this.
    Do you hang back from the bunch in order to remain safe and forgo the benefit of drafting, OR do you sit in the bunch get the benefit of drafting but run the risk that if a crash takes place you might get caught in it?

    The braking and accerlerating in the bunch can be very intimidating because things can change in an instant of a second depending on the size and quantity of the bunch.

    When I raced I was tentative about this very same issue and what I used do (if it was an extremely big bunch compacted together), I rode at either the extreme right or extreme left of the bunch.
    In that way, if I was at the extreme left, I would only have to concentrate on movement (in the bunch) to my right and vice versa if I rode on the extreme right of the bunch.
    As the speed changed and the race progressed, the bunch would split and all the time (if I could) I would go with the remaining bunch, staying on either extreme) until such time as the bunch (or me!!!) got whittled down to just a few riders.
    I never rode in the centre of a bunch when I raced for that same reason.

    Hope this helps.
     
  6. jsirabella

    jsirabella New Member

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    I do not have your experience or rode in such a chaotic environment but I can tell you from a bit of a psychology point of view that I learned when I was young and played in little league...

    I was an ok player but could not hit to save my life. My coach said get up to the plate and I will show you how to hit. I got up to the plate, he wound up and threw the ball right at me! It hit me pretty hard. He said, "how does it feel?" I said I will live and than again he threw the ball right at me and this time it did not feel as bad. That year I got the most hits I had in all my years and was never scared of the ball again.

    I did the same for cycling lately as I bought a CX and found the worst areas and muddiest places and than just spun as fast as I could and fell a few times. Hit a few rocks a bit too hard and rode in the pouring rain as fast as I could. I have noticed now the downhills and speed of the riders do not bother me as much anymore.

    Hope it helps...

    -js


     
  7. kopride

    kopride Member

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    I have been tortured with this fear as well, on and off since a bad crash in the early nineties. In my 20s, I had no fear, and that ironically was when I was most dangerous. After a bad crash where I broke my collar bone and separated my shoulder, the first few seasons were tough and I hated all pack riding. Particularly, club rides where inexperienced guys are just doing stupid stuff. I realized why many veteran cyclists were such pricks to newbies.

    Basically, it comes down to relaxing on the bike. Here are the most helpful tips I have used. First, make sure that your hands are always relaxed on the bike. Next couple of rides, think about nothing else other than keeping your hands as relaxed as possible. It is hard to keep your hands relaxed if your elbows aren't relaxed and bent as well so that will come. Second, keep your face relaxed. Consciously, think about keeping your face muscles relaxed. Third, look as far ahead as you possibly can when you are in a pack, you want to make corrections in speed or steering as early as possible. If you are staring at nearby wheels or backs, you are going to be jerky. Look where you want to go, not what you want to avoid. Third, make sure that you are fitted properly to your bike as bad fit can make you less comfortable and that will increase anxiety. Fourth, practice riding straight on feel alone. Find a long straight road line and stay on it. Then practice looking backwards and side to side while you stay on the line. If you veer off the line when you turn your head, then you know that you are not riding straight, and this is a problem in a pack. If you are not relaxed on the bike, you will veer. If you can keep your bike straight while looking around, then it will be easier to be aware of your surroundings while you ride in a pack and you will minimize the potential for contact and conflict with other riders. The fifth and most obvious is ride at the front as much as possible.

    You might want to take a Yoga class. The breathing and relaxing exercises are particularly helpful for relaxing before an event.

    You can also learn how to fall. Experienced motorcycle racers, dirt and track, know how to fall correctly. If you do fall avoid posting out your hand, and do a forward roll if you can. You can practice on grass. But the key is relaxing to avoid the fall in the first place. I seem to have relaxed some what with cycling in a pack, but on a dirt bike, close riding still freaks me out. Your vision is obscured with dust and the goggles. It's noisy, and things happen faster.

    Good luck. It does suck. You ride enough, you are going to have close calls and that inevitable rush of anxiety. The anxiety makes you less comfortable and more jerky and then the viscous circle begins. It is an ongoing process. But relaxing the hands is the first step.
     
  8. swampy1970

    swampy1970 Well-Known Member

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    I think the irony is that your fear edges you further towards the back which just happens to be one of the more dangerous places... I don't think there is an easy answer to this other than force yourself to stay up at the front and hope that eventual familiarity with being up there and being able to see the open road infront of the rider or two infront of you will help.

    As far as injuries go - I think it's the exception rather than the rule that even a fall at speed will result in something that will keep you immobilised and thus out of work for a period of time... unless you happen to be a model and a good dose of road rash on your ass and elbows stops you from doing a photo shoot.
     
  9. Packeteer

    Packeteer New Member

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    I think most people are missing the obvious answer here. Dont race.

    I am being serious here that this might need to be an option. Racing a bicycle is dangerous. Many people worry about their bike getting harmed but in reality it costs as much as several new bikes if you break a bone and miss work.

    Sometimes when i race i feel as though the winner is often the one less afraid to get hurt. I have been racing crits where whoever is insane enough to pull off dangerous stuff and get away with it does well.

    If you cant afford to crash don't race. If you are not young and invincible and are racing against people who are you are probably the one who is going to get hurt.

    Perhaps find a different kind of race to take part in? I hope that you dont have to quit racing but think seriously about whether it is worth it or not. And remember, there is always time trials. ;)
     
  10. BullGod

    BullGod New Member

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    Quitting racing isn't an option. I'm actually thinking of consulting a sports psychologist. I'm also trying to be as rational as possible. Statistically the chance of serious injury is small. One thing I now know for sure that if you hang out at the back the chance of getting dropped is extremely high.

    This sunday I am off to Belgium and there will be some very strong teams there, including a US National Squad, and the Lotto continentals....Belgium tends to be a little less mental in the neutralisation than in Holland, and i might even be able to get near the front. Then I will just have to try and relax and force myself to stay there. A teammate of mine who has just started to finish these races told me you have to constantly engage yourself in moving to the front. Trying to sit in a nice position doesn't work - riders swamp past you and you go backwards.

    i think what might help me out is that I am so sick of getting up at 6am, hours in the car for an hour's racing, and then a humiliating ride back to the start. Much more of that, and I shall quit. So it's get up front, or quit cycling.

    looks like dry weather this weekend as well. Rain + cobblestones + wind + 50km/h is not so fun....especially if you're 68kg.
     
  11. Simone@Italy

    [email protected] New Member

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    my opinion: don't think like that. Don't try to say "rationally, statistically the chance are small", because your mind doesn't work like that. You will start to think "they're small, but not absent": if you admit that there's a possibility, you wont stop your fears. Force yourself to not think about them, period. To do this, kopride already gave you some very useful advises.
     
  12. flup

    flup New Member

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    Try riding at the track. It will improve your skills and you can learn to ride in a group without using brakes.
    Cyclo-cross in winter.
    You are not going to learn anything by riding on a trainer (unless you want to become a 'trainer-champ') like some people will recommend, it just takes energy. A high FTP doesn't mean anything if you can't use it, or you use it to correct your weaknesses.
    Look at the way the pack is moving, you will be able to predict where gaps will open.
    Observe good riders, look at their moves, habits.
    Focus on moving up and STAY RELAXED on your bike.
    Learn to react fast so you will be first into the gaps.
    What race are you going to ride in Belgium?
     
  13. Felt_Rider

    Felt_Rider Active Member

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    I really don't have any advice and not being a racer I would not attempt to give you advice, but sometimes it is good to know that others are going through the same thing in handling fears. This is not advice, but is simply how I am dealing with it.

    I used to love descending more than anything until my crash last September. I had several crashes before with extensive road rash and hematomas that had to be drained, but the last crash was a bit more severe. A lot of physical injury and equipment damage, which was a financial blow as well. I am still doing rehab on my shoulder and it will probably never have the same strength and stability it once did.

    I have tried to overcome my fear of descending and my attempt is to put myself in the situation more often. Since one of my goals is to become a better climber it also means that I will be confronting my fear more by doing a lot of descending as well. However, I recently observed an article that I read on becoming a better descender and it mentioned that the more you focus on crashing the more prone you are to making the mistakes leading into a crash. In my aprehension I noticed that I was doing the wrong things just as the article described. Like one highlight was having a death grip on the bar and clinched jaw indicates a great amount of mental stress. That stress creates a problem and can potentially make you more prone to making a mistake. So it is no longer watching for the mistakes of others that may make you crash. Now you have become the one that is dangerous for others.

    My first test of this season was returning to the mountain where I crashed. One of the worst things could have happened on that day. The roads were slightly damp, there was a very strong wind coming up the mountain with sudden strong bursts of cross winds. I was descending with my brakes applied and gravity still had my bike reaching 40 mph. It was the worst day to experience since the crash and my aprehension made the situation 10 times worse than it should have, but the more I look for opportunities to put myself into the fearful situation the calmer I am getting. My technique is once again improving and my confidence is going up. Where I was once the fastest descender in my group I am still the slowest now, but the more I go and face my fear I am seeing an improvement and becoming more relaxed.

    I tell you I have anticipated Alex Simmons returning to the bike because I wanted to see how he would deal with it and was hoping that he would share his experience. (This was a personal thought in my public voice.)

    It seems like to me that the old psychological treatment is to confront fears by putting yourself into the situation more often. I would like to think that in time this whole experience will improve me overall compared to what it has cost me since the crash.
     
  14. Felt_Rider

    Felt_Rider Active Member

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    I agree. It is a change of mentality.

    I wrote this on my blog about visualization and how it helped me back in the day to change my mindset. I am not saying to use visualization, unless one finds it helpful, but the main thought in the article is to use a tool, what ever that may be, to shape a positive outlook. In my many years of training and competing I found that if you don't believe in yourself you more than likely are not going to beat the guy who is equally genetically gifted and trained that does believe in himself.
     
  15. Sillyoldtwit

    Sillyoldtwit New Member

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    Well now Packeteer, thank you for those comforting words. :(
     
  16. Bailsibub

    Bailsibub New Member

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    Bull,

    I too have had issues of fear before races. Sometimes they were about crashing, but most of the time it was fear of the suffering I was about to encounter.

    Anyway, at some point, I got fed up with it all and looked for help. I read some self-help stuff...some psychology stuff....

    One lesson I learned, and I think this fits what you are going through on those nights you can't sleep, is that when you imagine something is going to happen, whether it's really happening or not, the nervous system doesn't know the difference. It's experiencing it all AS IF IT IS REAL.

    Now you know why you are having such a strong emotional reaction to all of this. When you imagine a worst-case scenario, a part of your brain can say, "Yes, this is just my imagination." But the majority of the nervous system, even the emotions in your body, is seeing it like it is reality, only causing you suffering.

    What helped me was just telling myself that when I started to feel fear and imagine the worst, I was needlessly suffering. I made it clear that I was torturing myself for no reason (OK, maybe my nervous system was trying to keep me safe(out of races)...but the majority of my self wanted to race!) Then I simply imagined better things...building on my 'experiences' and reinforcing positive emotions.

    Granted, racing has its risks, and you have to fight (sometimes literally) for position to do well. But you haven't had one of these crashes you are imagining. Sure you've seen them...maybe a lot of guys on here have, too. But you haven't had one the catastrophic ones you are thinking about.

    Bull, you are a talented rider. You are in the big leagues over there, and that really says something...it's something you'll always be able to think about no matter what.... This fear isn't helping you. In fact, it's limiting this experience. It's limiting you.

    Think about why you are racing. Then think about why you are imagining these bad scenarios. You are trying to gain some sort of control over something that can't be controlled. You are trying to prepare for something that can't really be prepared for. The future is never going to be exactly what you imagine.

    It doesn't make much sense that we beat ourselves up over unlikely scenarios. We all do it to a certain extent, but no one deserves it. The better thing to do is to imagine scenarios that fit what you want. Like I said, you can't predict the future(if you could, I'd ask you for some lottery numbers). So why not set things up so you are the winner?

    Bull, when you overcome this, you are not only going to have a richer experience, but you are also going to race better. I guarantee it (or else Tyson's going to buy you lunch).

    Honestly, after I started telling myself to be easier on myself over the suffering/danger situations I was imagining, it made the sport much more fun again. And this might sound weird, but it made me more daring in races.



     
  17. Malkmus

    Malkmus New Member

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    I know how you feel. I had a couple bad crashes a few years ago that nearly killed my nerve. I responded to the fear by first riding on the left or right side but never in the middle. I found myself drifting to the back and rationalizing that I would just move up for the last few laps. When the last few laps would come, I would still be at the back thinking I was just waiting for the sprint. When the sprint came, I wouldn't sprint because I was too far back. This lasted for about a season and a half. It has nothing to do with bike handling skills or experience. Its fear.

    I am finally overcoming the fear by specifically working on it as I would work on any other weakness. There are some races where it is the major thing I work on. You have to plan before the race to take incremental steps that will get you back to where you are used to being. For me, I started by planning on riding in the top ten spots for the first few laps and then would allow myself to drift back. After doing this for a couple of races, I started finding myself moving to the front more and more during races. I don't mean to suggest that I stay up front. But I'm working towards that.

    After getting some confidence that I can still ride at the front, I decided to work on riding in the middle as opposed to on the sides. Then I started concentrating on taking turns shoulder to shoulder with guys on both sides. Finally, I've been working on moving up through the middle and trying to fit myself through the gaps that I used to ride comfortably through. The gaps are still the same size. I am just getting used to riding through them again.

    I was not able to overcome the fear by saying "hey, today I am going to ride at the front." I had to identify specific situations that freaked me out and try to get re-acclimated to them one at a time. It has been a step by step progression to re-learn what used to come naturally before my crashes. The good news is that it seems to be working.

    Hope this helps.
     
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