Most of us have been there. Ideally it is because you launched such a vicious attack that you caught the next grade. But more than likely it is because you got pumped out the back and the next grade has caught up to you. At this point in a race (especially if you are out the back), it is very tempting to just hop onto the wheels of the passing riders. It is a long day yet and you aren’t in a chipper mood. “Surely just hopping on the back of a different grade doesn’t matter; I am already out of contention for the race.” Well…
Officially you aren’t allowed to be involved with another grade or receive any outside assistance during a Combine race – you should just let them pass or pass them without taking advantage of their slipstream. The Technical Regulations don’t specifically address the issue of intermingling grades, though it is listed as a rule in the Para Cycling section (section 10 – 3.99.07.5). The issue arises because we have multiple races (grades) going at the same time. Comms would look to The Guidelines for Imposing Penalties in a Competition (annexure 9) which suggests a $100 fine and disqualification for this behaviour in a one day race (13.1 – Prohibited assistance to another rider during a circuit finish and 17.1 – Cheating, attempting cheating or collusion). Stage races penalties vary slightly from one day races.
Practically speaking, when you are out there on your own and out of contention, be cautious about what you do. I had the pleasure of watching (from the comforts of my car) an amazing individual effort in D Grade last year during the last stage of the 3 Day Tour. This tactically insane move meant the guy would be on his own for over 60k through the hills. As the day progressed and his lead over the bunch grew to over 3.5 minutes, he began to catch C grade stragglers. Most of them let him go, sometimes they would jump on the back of his wheel, at which point I politely pulled up in the car and asked them to back off. This guy was riding his way into first place in the tour - he won the stage by 51 seconds and the tour by 4 seconds. It would have terrible to have a commissaire discussion around cheating (either him drafting or receiving benefit from having somebody draft off of him or just the psychological benefit of riding with somebody else), or even have somebody insinuate that this guy’s effort was anything but awesome. Don’t be that guy that puts somebody else’s effort into question.
If you find yourself at the front of the race, just avoid the issue all together and don’t draft from anybody outside your grade. Seriously, don’t do it. If you are out the back, be absolutely certain that you aren’t interfering with somebody else’s race. If you aren’t certain, then don’t do it. Interfering could mean that even if you are on the back of another group, perhaps somebody from that grade is dropping off of the back and by you being there they can hang on or get back on to the group. That isn’t fair to the other riders. Be absolutely certain that you aren’t interfering before jumping on another grade’s wheel.
Occasionally there is also the unfortunate scenario when an entire grade catches the grade before it. Despite our efforts to leave 5 minute gaps between grades, last year an entire race was nullified after E Grade mixed together with D Grade like a pack of cards. When this happens, a Comm will have a chuckle because it means D Grade was “racing” like a pack of sooks, and then get frustrated because it really complicates the day. Before grades mix, Comms will try to warn the leading group to speed up, usually a few times. Despite warnings, if the grade gets caught the best thing to do is communicate. The caught grade should self-police by neutralising their own race on the left hand side of the lane and remain neutral until instructed otherwise. The passing group should move to the right hand side of the lane and pass smoothly. For the caught grade, they must remain behind the passing grade for the rest of the day – they cannot re-pass. Tough luck, but don’t get in the way of people who are racing hard.
I hope that helps. You can email if you have any questions about this or Comms’ topics you’d like to hear about.