Group riding skills gap making UK road racing dangerous

Decline of club culture has led to skills deficit, claims UK professional

UK road races are becoming more dangerous because many highly trained athletes don’t have the bike handling skills to ride safely in a group.

That’s the view of Team IG Sigma Sport pro James Moss, who says even very fit riders – often from other disciplines such as triathlon and rowing – are able to keep up in races but lack the fundamental bunch riding skills or experience that's often gained through social group riding. “Everyone just rides a bike on their own and then goes and races – it’s a shambles,” he said. 

He added that the topic is a growing point of conversation among riders on top domestic pro teams who race against very fit amateurs every week: “It’s dangerous – you don’t know what people are going to do. You need to be able to rely on the people in front of you because you can’t see what’s going on. There’ve been races this year where I’ve sat up and left a five length gap because I didn’t trust what the person in front of me was doing.” 

A declining club culture – an environment where new riders are often taught group riding basics – and the rise in interval-based training programmes completed on individual rides mean riders aren’t picking up group ride experience.   

“Everyone’s in a team and no one rides with a club any more,” said Moss. “Everyone seems to think they’re good enough not to be told how to ride a bike. Even elites, people who are top of the tree and have come to it recently, are brutally strong because they’ve come from other disciplines or whatever, but they cannot ride a bike – they’re all over the road.”

He recalls being taught the basics as a club rider. “I remember people drumming stuff into me – ride a handlebar width apart, don’t surge, don’t half-wheel and all that – but if you say that to people now they look at you like an idiot.” 

A skills deficit on the UK racing scene isn’t a new phenomenon. In 2010 there was said to be one crash a week in lower category races at the Hillingdon circuit in West London. At the time, Stuart Benstead, a race promoter, told Cycling Weekly that a lack of club run experience was to blame.

The long term trend could be reversed through the British Cycling Go Ride programme. John Mills, coaching, education and development director at BC, told BikeRadar: “We’ve got 300 Go Ride clubs and all of them have qualified coaches delivering skills-based sessions. Many of those clubs are delivering them three or four times a week, so inevitably you’re going to have some very good standard bike riders coming out of those clubs.”

Are you a road racer? What’s your opinion? Let us know in the comments area below.

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