Due to my occupation, I have received quite a bit of training in the methods of managing and controlling large groups of people. During this training, I have learned there is always a chance that a large group of people can become disorderly when they converge in one area, perhaps even to the point of causing a riot. With proper crowd control techniques, though, like those displayed at the recent G20 Conference in Pittsburgh, a riotous crowd can be well managed and controlled. This past weekend it would have been nice to use some of my crowd control training to separate a group of people from me. This group I was focused on spliting up was not a posse of disorderly Anarchists, but a pack of rowdy cross racers all shooting for victory.
This past weekend I did two cross races; the MAC Fair Hill CX Race and at the MABRA Tacchino CX Race. Neither race was super crowded or anything, with each having about 40-50 riders in the elite master category, but since I have not done any MABRA or MAC Races so far this season my starting position was staged near the rear of the pack. Starting position is so important at a cross race because unlike road or mtb racing, there are usually no long climbs or areas to allow the riders to separate quickly. Additionally, cross courses are typically only about 3 meters wide, so on the first couple of laps things can bottleneck at technical points on the course pretty often. Take all this into consideration with the fact that the fastest series riders are staged at the front of the pack, giving them a clear, unobstructed shot to go full speed on the course. Meanwhile, riders staged in the back of the pack must work their way through the crowd even to get near the front.
At the US Cross Nationals this December, I will be starting at least 40 riders back in the master men 40-44 race and about 90 riders back in the single speed race, so my plan for racing this past weekend was to use my bad starting positions for practice in moving through riders staged and starting ahead of me. In my opinion, the only way to learn how to move through a lot of riders quickly is to do it during a race. At both races this weekend, I was able to practice riding through two fairly large packs of racers before it will really count in December and actually did pretty well at it.
On Saturday, at the MAC Race, I started four rows back and by about 1.5 laps into the race I was able to make it through the majority of the riders who started in front of me. The only problem was that a group of five fast riders (all of whom started in the first row) had separated themselves from the rest of the pack. Then, from about lap 2 or 3, I was forced to chase this group by myself, which is never a good place to be in any race. A few times during the race I did get pretty close to the group, but never close enough to completely bridge the gap by putting out one huge effort. I ended up finishing the race in 6th place, directly behind the breakaway group of five.
On Sunday, my starting position was in the third row, so it was one row better than on Saturday. My start was not great, but I was able to latch onto the lead group by the middle of the first lap. From there, I was able to continue working my way through the main group into the top three riders. After the main front group of about 4-5 riders solidified, I then started to throw some attacks off the front of the pack and keep the pace of our small group pretty high with the help of Blair Saunders. Unfortunately, Blair suffered a mechanical on the last lap, which left me all alone with Dave Fuentes. I knew Dave would have a better sprint than me, so I did try to get away from him a few times during the last lap, but none of my efforts were good enough to get clear. At the finish, Dave did win the race and I came in second.
All in all, I am pretty happy with my results from this past weekend and my ability to quickly work through the riders that started in front on me. After reviewing my performance from the weekend, I realize now that I should have probably been just a little more aggressive at getting around riders on Saturday to make contract with the group of five in front of me. Hopefully, I will make a mental note of what I did right and wrong at each of these races and learn from them for nationals. Of course if I didn’t do well this weekend at getting through the crowd, I could always resort back to my professional training and use my riot baton to take a more forceful approach of gaining control over the rowdy group of cyclocrossers in front of me, as this has certainly been proven as an effective method in separating most groups. I am sure, though, that the sanctioning bodies of the cycling community would not be too happy with this action.
Happy Trails, Gerry