71 cyclists, all averaging a speed right around 30 mph, somehow ended up within 12 seconds of each other 2/3 of the way into an 8-lap 72 mile race. The strange thing is, this was the only time for the entire duration of the final stage of the 2018 Colorado Classic where all the riders were packed so closely together. Earlier in the race, a few riders would pedal ahead of the pack, forming what is referred to as a “breakout group”.
Having not watched too much professional cycling, I am not familiar with the complicated scoring system, or how cycling teams work together. However, in what I have watched, from the perspective of mostly just monitoring who wins each race, it rarely seems beneficiary to form one of these breakout groups, especially early in the race. Seeing a few cyclists pull ahead near the beginning of a race always reminds me of when I used to bet on horse races. At first, I would get excited when the horse I bet on started out leading the pack. Experience would later teach me that that horse that jumps out ahead at the start of the race almost never wins. With rare exception, some other horse, usually one of the ones favored to win, would make a move about 2/3 of the way into the race, while the initial leader would run out of steam, finishing near the back of the pack. I’ll often joke that if I see the horse I bet on in the lead at the start of the race, I can all but throw that ticket away.
That is exactly what I tend to see happen at bike races. The cyclists who “breakout” put themselves at a disadvantage as they face more air resistance than those who stay in the main group, often referred to as the “peloton”. Time and time again, I have watched a breakout group form a lead, sometimes several minutes, just to see that lead slowly evaporate just in time for the end of the race. I would imagine all the riders trying to sprint to the finish line at nearly the same time, but with those that formed the breakaway group far more exhausted as they pushed against more air resistance all day long.
In a depressing metaphor for life, the breakaway group represents those that chose to take a different path, other than the tried and true. Like the 90% of Startups that fail, their path is tougher, and also a lot less certain.
However, as discussed in detail in Bicycling Magazine, breakaways can be successful, when done…
- Under the right conditions
- With the right mix of people
The same is true for startups, as well as anyone else trying to “break away”.
Being back in Denver the weekend of the Colorado Classic, I got to witness the final two stages.
Stage 3, I got to watch from Lookout Mountain, which is outside of Golden about 15 miles west of Denver. It is Denver’s version of the mountain that overlooks the city, and is actually quite popular for cycling. The 1800 foot climb is a great after work workout, I have done many times.
Watching professionals ride a road you commonly ride is both exciting and humbling, as they do in 25 minutes what takes me 35-40.
Stage 4 was a very different experience. As is the case every year (for the Colorado Classic), the final stage is a series of laps around town.
Cyclists rode down 17th Avenue in both directions during each lap, meaning it was possible to see them pass by the same exact spot 16 times! It is here where spectators witness, in person, breakaway groups get slowly caught up to by the pack.
There was even a bike shop, along 17th Avenue, that set up a set of bleacher seats for fans. Pro cycling, obviously has a smaller fan base than major sports like baseball and football. However, smaller groups often feel far more like a community than larger ones, and there is a kind of comradery between cycling fans that does not always exist at other sporting events.
Watching multiple groups of people try to “breakaway” from the pack, but fail to win the stage reminds me of my own personal struggles. Like many people, I struggle with issues of individuality vs. conformity. It definitely had a negative impact on my high school experience, where there is a lot of pressure to conform. I still feel it now from time to time.
As is the case with pro cycling, there is a time to break away and there is a time to stay with the pack. The same is true in our other life pursuits. We all would prefer to stay true to our individual selves all the time. However, there is a often a cost for refusing to conform, sometimes legal or financial, but often in terms of lost opportunities and relationships. The challenge is to know when that cost can be endured so that we continue to feel like we are living our own lives, while also knowing when we need to be patient and flexible.