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.