You’re out of the seat and slamming the big ring, on a climb that redefines the term “vertical”, balls to the wall. Heart monitor sounds like something from a techno-trance remix. You’d check your speedometer if you weren’t afraid of what it’d say. Expression on your face is somewhere between banging your funny bone on a desk, and running calculus equations in your head.
Then you see it. You’re no longer right on the wheel in front of you. There’s a gap. Worse… it’s growing. First a foot. Then 2, 3, 5… So, you dig deep. You pour a little more on – there’s gotta be more, right? – and for a brief moment you feel the gap start to close more than you see it closing, but that moment fades quickly, and now the gap grows faster.
What little coherent thought you can squeeze into your oxygen starved brain searches for strategies to close this ever-widening chasm. The rest of your mind – what hasn’t already been turned to mush by this Herculean effort – flip-flops between animal panic and dejected resignation of what’s coming next.
You’re about to be dropped.
First, take a deep breath. Actually, take a lot of ’em, because you look like we should call the paramedics. Once you can breath again, realize this: it’s okay. This happens. And in fact, it happens to everyone. Without fail, everyone, at some point, somewhere, on some ride, will be dropped. Just a fact of riding.
One reason for being dropped is you’re just having an off day. Happens to the best of riders. I’ve seen powerhouses that suddenly drop into neutral, because they just don’t feel it. Fatty would call this declaring a recovery day. But the most common reason I can think of is that the group that’s dropping you – is better than you.
Again, this ain’t something to feel bad about. At least, not in my opinion. And believe me, I’ve been dropped a fair number of times. I’m a firm believer that a good way to get better quickly is by pitting yourself against better opponents. Or in this case, better riders. If you ride with a group that you know you can hold with, you will eventually improve, but slowly. At some point, you’ll plateau.
Getting dropped from a better group of riders will happen, and though disappointing – and often humbling – it can also be motivating. Use it to gauge how far you are in your training. Each time you ride with them, that gap will shrink, and eventually you’ll hold.
There are two types of terrain drops: the flats and the hills. When you get dropped on a flat road, there’s not much to be done about it. The pace is too high, or just held too long for your current state. Push so you can keep up, but gauge how hard to push based on how much of the ride is left. If you push too hard to hold with them and there’s a lot of ride left, you’re toast. If there’s a lot more ride and you gotta drop, ease up. You might catch them at the next hill if they’re pushing too hard on the flats. If not, well, you weren’t going to hold anyway, so better to be able to finish the ride than find yourself laying on the side of the road gasping for air.
For hills, if it’s a short hill go ahead and hammer – go beyond what you think you can do. Keeping with the group will allow them to help you along when you’re rolling the other side of the hill, so you can ease up and recover some. If they do drop you on a short hill, don’t let up. First, this’ll make you stronger. Second, you won’t be too far off once you crest. A good group will often ease up at the top to make sure the riders regroup. This is your chance to catch them.
For long hills, don’t be a hill hero. Meaning, if you see strong riders out of the seat and hammering, don’t be tempted to do the same unless you’re at the end of the ride, in which case you can leave it all on the road. Instead, choose your best pace – something between legs-on-fire exertion and being able to breath again. You probably won’t hold with the group, but if you burn out on a long climb, you surely won’t catch them afterwards, even if they slow down. So ride smart – conserve your energy. On a scale of 1-10 – 10 being all-out effort – try to aim for a 7 after you’ve dropped. This way when you crest, you’ll have something left to push a bit to try and close the gap on the other side.
Like crashing, dropping is inevitable. So, know that it’ll happen, and when you sense it coming, work through it. The hardest part of being dropped is the mental aspect. The “I can’t keep up” part. No, you can’t keep up… yet. But if you keep at it, you will.