From time to time, I read in other blogs how recreational cyclists happen upon other riders on the road and “drop them.”   For those unfamiliar with the term, to “drop” someone in cycling is to separate yourself from another rider so that he may no longer draft you.  Individual cyclists or an entire group may drop another rider.  Being dropped is synonymous with quitting and losing.   It is thus a soul-crushing event in the life of a competitive cyclist and likewise represents the penultimate achievement for the one who drops others.

Pictured above is perhaps the most famous drop in cycling history.  It is the moment when Lance Armstrong turned to look at his arch rival, Jan Ullrich, in the 2001 Tour de France.  After feigning fatigue all day through a tough mountain stage, Armstrong looked back at Ullrich (who was not faking and was indeed suffering quite badly) as if to say, “You are finished.  I must now break you.”  He then rode off to victory.  Years later, Armstrong would say this was his greatest day on a bike, bar none.

So suffice it to say that dropping a rider during a race is quite cool.

That is all well good on Race Day, but I must say I am more than slightly bemused by the notion that one may drop an anonymous cyclist one meets during a chance encounter on a weekend ride or morning commute.  I regularly read about mini battles that occur, where protagonists state they “defended their jersey” and “willed themselves to victory” against some unknown passerby.   There’s only one problem with this notion – they’re not racing.

Racing assumes that riders are competing under similar conditions and are both trying to win.  In a random encounter on the road, you are certainly not racing under similar conditions.   You may be nicely warmed up after Mile 5 and the bloke you intend to humiliate may be cooling down after Mile 155.  Heck, the guy might not even be going all out.  He may very well be able to drop you like a bad habit, but his power meter workout tells him he will ruin his exercise routine if he puts you in your place.  He may even (perish the thought) simply be enjoying the day and cannot be bothered to lock horns with the likes of you.

Thus, the notion that commuters and recreational cyclists are racing/dropping each other is a silly one.  If you need to develop challenges like this to motivate yourself during a ride (and I certainly fall into this category), there’s no harm in that.  Just don’t delude yourself into thinking you’ve actually bested someone.  It’s just not possible to know that.


14 thoughts on “Dropping

  1. I totally agree, Steve. Nobody knows anyone else’s situation if they meet randomly on a ride. As you said, I could be out on my recovery ride after hammering the day before and therefore quite ‘dropable’. I could be at the end of a 5 hr ride, or I could be trying to get rid of a hangover. Rides are not race days.

    But I’ve got a race this Saturday. If by some miracle I do drop someone I hope it won’t offend you if I write about it. Chances are slim, but I’m just checking…

    • I sincerely hope you drop many many people and I look forward to reading about each one! As I mentioned, racing is racing. And as you eloquently put it, a ride is not a race. Good luck and bon chance!

  2. There is an old sayng in sailing that there is a race on whenever two boats are heading in the same direction. Even if only one of the skippers knows this. The same is true for recreational “droppers”. I once was riding my 1000 cc motorcycle home from a trip to my sister in Baltimore. Along a stretch of highway in southern New York I caught the sight of a single headlight approaching from behind. It being a nice day I eased up a bit to let the other bike catch up. When he did it was a young guy on a 400 cc honda and he suddenly went into full tuck mode, opened it up and blew by me. I thought about chasing but decided it wasn’t worth it given the difference in bikes and attitudes about the day’s ride. About a mile farther down the road there he was puled over by a trooper. I assume he framed the ticket as a memento of his having dropped the old fart on the big sport bike.

    • Great story. I guess this enters into metaphysics: if someone is faster than a person who isn’t trying to be fast, has he really done anything worthy of hubris?

    • I’m not sure about your jersey, but from what I know of you and your accomplishments, your honor (and reputation) are unassailable and thus do not need defending. Ever. 🙂

  3. While I’d agree with you to a certain extent Steve, “commuter racing” of which I’ve had about 4 if memory serves over the 2 years I’ve been back on the bike is just an indication of how competitive we are as a species. And long may it reign I say. (I’m 2 from 2 btw). It just adds spice to a usually boring trip home or to work, with the added advantage of unexpected interval training! 🙂

    And to be fair, you can usually tell if the bloke is racing rather than just pedalling.

    • Have fun! I would just point out that I work 40 miles from where I live. If I were to cycle to work and happened upon a cyclist with a 3 mile commute, I would be at a considerable competitive disadvantage in any race that might ensue. Thus it is not a fair test of ability. All you can say is “I beat this guy who APPEARED to be trying hard to beat me over the piece of road we both happened to be riding on that day.” Here’s hoping you “win” your next match! 🙂

  4. My older brother has a fond memory from when he was a teen that he realtes ocassionally. He cycled up a steep hill and passed a couple of loaded tourers effortlessly. In his version of the story they looked at him in amazement as he left them behind. I’m sure that is what he THOUGHT happened but I have no doubt that the tourers grinding up the hill with God knows how many kilometers behind them already that day were not racing and were singularly unimpressed with his performance.

    • Today I pedaled 51 miles. At Mile 7.5, I met a roadie at an intersection, who turned onto the road I was traveling. We said hello to each other and he was off. I didn’t try to keep up as I had another 44 miles to go and was moving at my own pace. After five miles, I turned off the road and he was about two minutes ahead of me. Did he think he was racing? Did he think he dropped me? I’ll never know, but if he did he was deluding himself.

  5. Lighten up, Steven. 🙂

    I know the blogs you speak of, and they’re written in fun, not seriousness.

    All of us are not strapping American Servicemen who have never quit anything in their life. (Side note: there is no human on the planet I respect more than the Serviceman)

    Most of us are fatties or former fatties who are just trying to get through another ride. And if “dropping” a commuter who has no idea there’s a race happening, means a little more energy, a little more confidence, a little more hope, then good on ya.

    I say drop ’em like flies!

    • My “strapping” days are long behind me! LOL

      And as I said in my last paragraph, if you want to use the notion of catching up to a rider (or keeping one from passing you) as a goal, I am all for it. I do it myself sometimes. Just don’t conclude that you have beaten another person. You haven’t. You have simply accomplished your goal – and there’s a lot of goodness in that!

      It’s easy not to quit something. Simply remove the option from your consciousness. All that’s left is continuing, no matter how unpalatable that may be at the time.

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