This will be my first season racing collegiate this spring and I recently crashed on a group ride going about 22 mph around a corner and slammed my face into the ground. Crash was pretty bad and had road rash across my body and tons of stitches in my face. Before the crash, I had gotten really good at cornering at high speeds and was comfortable in doing so, however, now, I can't even take an easy corner at any speed without being way too wide and being fearful of falling. Any tips on overcoming my fear so I can get back into the crit-racing mindset?
Some people never do.
In races, people push to the limit, and sometimes past it. And people make mistakes. So there will always be crashes.
It's part of race craft to learn to read the corners and your competitors, to know when to make sure you are ahead or inside the risky riders.
At this early stage of your career many of the riders you are riding against are enthusiastic learners. Some strong athletes can't cope with the risks and drop out of Crit racing or ride at the back to build condition for other kinds of race.
You don't say anything about how the crash happened. It might sound unkind, but you don't have to fall when someone bumps into you, or falls in front of you.
Keep at it. Try riding at the back for a while to watch and learn. And watch other higher grade races.
This seems like a question of how to get you mojo back. As eloquently put by andy256, some never get over being spooked.
I know the feeling well. Even a near misses can spook. I can't tell you how frightened I was years back lining back up to restart a race, after seeing a number of people I trained with being carried away on a stretchers (the course was also well known for sending people to the hospital). I can still taste that fear today. In the end I was able to focus through the fear and perform.
I have also known people have come back from breaking their neck in a crit (I remember seeing it happen right in front of me) and somehow still retained their edge.
So in short, it can be done, but it can take work (like anything). At some point you need to learn how develop a psychological switch, where when you flip the switch on you are in kill mode ready to kill or be killed. When you flip the switch off you are in normal mode.
Some things I found useful...
Each person is different but here is what worked for me.
- Take some time and do some easy rides, no pressures, no club rides or pack rides. Just have fun.
- Once you start to feel confident coming back reintroduce some pack riding then harder corners. This should hopefully work at regaining your confidence.
- In off time to do positive visualizations. Visualized yourself nailing that fast double apex turn. Focus on all the components, from the feeling of the wind to the sound of the tires.
- Learn how to become at peace with consequences (injury or even death). These are part of life whether or not you are on the bike.
- Make an active decision that you want to win and are willing to risk consequences to do so.
- When you hit 5 you are probably ready to come back in full form.
While you are spooked you may want to avoid crits as you you will either be pushed around and kicked out the back in no time (further deflating your confidence) or you will be a danger to yourself and others (depending on the level of competition).
What you are going through is normal. If you didn't have concerns, then that would be concerning! Focus and risk are tricky subjects for many. Some I suspect perform well because the simply don't have a full cognitive understand the risks they are taking.
Crits are scary as hell. Road racing in general is scary, but crits are the scariest of the scary. I've seen some gnarly crashes and both as a racer and a spectator, and you've experienced one yourself, so kudos for wanting to get back on the saddle.
- Do a postmortem: Sometimes crashes happen so fast that it seems like one moment everything is fine and then next instant you're on your back staring up at the sky. But try to think back to the instant before it happened. What caused the crash? Did you come into the corner too hot? Was the corner off-camber? Did you lap someone's wheel in front of you? Did you get your bars tangled up with someone else's? Did you panic and hit the front brake? Was your body positioning off when you entered the corner? Try to replay the moments leading up to the crash in slow motion again and again in your head and figure out how you ended up crashing in the first place. This will aid you greatly in avoiding the same mistake in the future.
- Know your bike's limits: Understand what your bike is capable of, especially your tires. On a mountain bike, you can (and should!) flirt with the breaking point of traction on a regular basis, as it's typically easy to recover. This is not so on a road bike. When skinny wheel's cut, they cut fast and they rarely regain traction. Don't push your road bike tires that far. Road bike tires don't really drift or plow, so if you feel like you're pushing them too far, you probably are. In fact, if you feel like you are pushing them too far, you definitely are because your mind is already working against you, which leads me to the next point...
- Know your own limits: Understand what you're capable of physically and mentally. Know your own skill level and don't jump straight into the deep end. Work your way up slowly, push your boundaries, but don't try to go smashing through them Leeroy Jenkins-style. An increase in your personal skill level will come naturally over time if you push your bounds within reason. Pushing too hard leads to bigger mistakes, which leads to crashes, which leads to big setbacks.
- Baby steps: Take your time and keep at it. Find a loop that you're comfortable with or get to know one well. Ride it often and slowly push yourself to ride it more aggressively, working on your turns especially since that's what's got you spooked. Start out solo, then ride with a friend, then a couple of friends. When you feel comfortable to do so, start doing some of the organized B group rides. When that starts to feel good, do some A group rides. Go back to racing only when you're comfortable doing so. I've always found that I'm way more scared of the idea of a crit than I am when I'm actually racing in one, so keep that in mind as well.
- Be persistent: It will come back if you keep at it. Don't give up. The crash was a learning experience. Find the silver lining in it and keep on riding.
- Get out of Cat 5 if you're in it: They don't call it "Crash 5" for nothing. If you're racing as a Category 5 road racer, get 10 non-TT races under your belt and request an upgrade to Cat 4 through USA Cycling. You don't need to win or even do well, you just need to finish.
Wear something like this:
The MET Parachute is similar to the the Giro switchblade, which used to be the most popular helmet on the market in Western Canada for MTB, because it was a full face helmet that weighted as much as an open face helmet. The switchblade saved my face when I smashed in into the sidewalk after slipping off the top of a highway divider on a hill. It would look a bit goofy on a road bike, but you could wear it just until you felt confident to ride open face again.
Removable face guard:
One drill that might be useful is to find a small hill with a relatively safe open view corner that you are currently braking while descending. Do repeats on descending the hill, each time braking later and later.
Ideally this will be a turn that confident riders can descend w/o braking. Almost every team/club has a test turn somewhere that is part of their drills.
Following a rider that you trust that is a better descender than you is also a good way to build confidence.
Here are my steps to mental recovery after a crash:
- learn as much as you can about the crash
- stop thinking about it
- introduce (or re-introduce) the fun factor into your rides
Do not bother yourself with how much the transition from 3 to 4 will take. Thinking about it will make it longer. When you reach 4 you'll find yourself stronger, more confident and having more fun than before the crash.