I just announced that the Mark Nicholson Smack Down begins again tomorrow night (5:00 from Casters, 5:15 from De Pasquale Square) so I’m now awaiting the inevitable flood of questions about whether this ride is appropriate for a particular skill level. I never know how to answer these questions, but I think I’ve had an epiphany tonight. Sadly, the answer to the question “should I come on this ride?” is probably “no.”
I really don’t know what the pace will be like tomorrow. It depends on who shows up, what kind of mood everyone is in, how tired people are from yesterday’s race and a whole host of other mitigating factors. Hell, I don’t even know whether I’ll be able to hold the pace. As much as we try to sell people on the pace of this and similar rides, the pace is not the issue here. Fabian Cancellara could announce a group ride tomorrow, saying that he’s going to go all out for 3 hours, and I might show up. Not that I could hang on very long, but I know that I can fend for myself once the inevitable happens.
The point is, if you have to ask “should I come on this ride?” then you probably shouldn’t. If riding home on your own (navigating unfamiliar roads, changing tires, tubes, etc, or worst case scenario, calling for help), in the event that you’re dropped, holds any terror for you, then you probably are not an experienced enough rider for this sort of ride, and you should probably wait for the next “no-drop” ride. And if you’re an experienced enough rider to get yourself home, then you also wouldn’t have needed to ask me if you should come.
And now, a few other pointers on how to ride one of these rides:
1. No one cares if you join in the pacemaking. Really. If you’re feeling under pressure, just hang out at the back and when people come off the pace line, let them go in front of you. If you do this, and then win every sprint, well, then you’re just a dick.
2. “What do I do if I get in a breakaway and don’t know the directions?” No shit, someone asked this at the beginning of a Smack Down one year. Answer: Oh, I don’t know, go ride by yourself and find your way home. These kinds of hammer-fest rides inevitably mimmic breakaway and breakaway riding to some extent, especially leading up to and coming out of sprints, but the point isn’t really to have a bunch of people riding by themselves. In general, if you think the pace is too low, don’t try to go off the front, ride at the front and lift the pace. The people behind will get the point that you’re strong (so you can placate your ego), and you’ll get the workout you need. Win-win.
3. “Should I wait at the tops of hills/after sprints?” is a slightly different version of the same question. You don’t really need to, if you know where you’re going, but why not? I mean, things string out at sprints and climbs unless everyone is really evenly matched, and the next hill/sprint is considerably less fun for everyone if you end up with 5 groups of 3 riders each. Let it regroup a bit (and no, I’m not talking about waiting around for someone who completely blew up), so that people can recover and have a reasonable size group when you get to the next sprint point. Otherwise the people behind spend all their energy chasing and even if they catch up, they’re toast when they get to the next sprint, so it’s not really a fair fight. Especially when the terrain is mixed. If a big guy gets dropped on a climb, and then you win the next flat sprint because you didn’t regroup a bit, that’s not really the classiest way to out-sprint the big rider, now is it?