Good day ladies and gentlemen. I'd like to take a moment to refresh the memories of those who were in attendance at the NorthEast Wisconsin Ommium bicycle races, and to enlighten those who weren't, in regards to Mark and Sean's Patented Gap Rating System (Patent pending).
Sometimes when one is taking in the local bicycle races, as events unfold it is useful to know how much space is between a group of riders who are attempting to "break away" from the "field" in hopes of achieving the fame and glory that comes along with winning a local USCF bicycle race, and the field itself. This information is useful to spectators and racers alike as it helps viewers understand how the race is developing, and can help racers gauge their efforts. Read on to learn how to measure a gap and watching a criterium race will be way, way, WAY more exciting than it already is.
The Paltry Gap
This is not too be confused with a Poultry Gap, which is... well, to be honest, I have no idea what it is. But don't confuse the two! Anyway, a Paltry Gap is a small - budding, if you will - gap of just a few meters, or so. Paltry Gaps can vary in danger to the rest of the field based on how close they are to the finish of a race. For example, a Paltry Gap is all one needs to win a criterium from the final turn. A Paltry Gap could even be held for an entire lap, if a rider were so determined and had the moxy to attempt such a feat. On the other hand, Paltry gaps can close almost as instantly as they form. But every now and again, a Paltry Gap opens during a race and stretches out to a distance that is worthy of the field's full attention.
Whether due to a group of attacking riders putting their heads down and really getting after it, or to that daydreamer in front of you refusing to shut it down, a Paltry Gap may stretch out so that the proverbial elastic snaps. It is at this point that the gap has reached Level Two: Sizeable.
The Sizeable Gap
"Hey, ummm, should we do something about this?" is a question you may overhear one rider asking another during a bicycle race when a gap transitions from Paultry to Sizeable. A Sizeable Gap can be a dangerous gap, no matter how many riders are up the road. Conversely, a Sizeable Gap can quickly be closed down by one strong and attentive racer. Either way, it is likely that the gap has progressed to Sizeable due to inattentiveness of riders in the field; a particularly strong rider, or group of riders in the break-away; or perhaps the use of "team tactics". (This is unlikely except in races featuring riders holding a vast number of Experience Points.) This inattention is the friend of the rider(s) at the business end of the Sizeable Gap.
Recall that the proverbial elastic has been snapped, dear friend. There is no more proverbial elastic! If the aforementioned strong and determined gap-closing rider stayed home this day, or if "team tactics" are in use by riders with a great many Experience Points, the Sizeable Gap can easily progress to the third stage of Mark and Sean's Patented Criterium Bicycle Race Gap Rating System: Formidable.
The Formidable Gap
If the Sizable Gap is dangerous, the Formidable Gap can be deadly. By the time a gap reaches this stage the field should either be in a panic while mounting a last ditch coordinated effort to close the gap, or surrendering to their fates as Pack Fodder. When a gap reaches the Formidable phase at least one of two things have happened: 1) The break has formed a temporary but powerful alliance and has been riding a synchronized, rhythmic, and methodical Team Time Trial toward the podium, or, 2) The field has been in a daze, lolligagging around the course as though they were on a Monday night group ride that starts and ends at a brewery. Probably, it has been some combination thereof.
In any case, if the field has any hope of closing down the Formidable Gap and maintaining some semblance of dignity, they must awaken from their stupor, disregard their jersey colors, and work together as though they paid some sort of entry fee to ride their bikes fast for an hour. For if they don't, the gap will reach Stage Four: Insurmountable.
The Insurmountable Gap
Perhaps it goes without saying, but once the gap has reached the Insurmountable Phase, it's all over the but the shouting. The break can now put it on Cruise Control until someone decides they want to win the race, while the best the pack can hope for is to avoid the humiliation of having to explaining to their friends and family that they were lapped. For all intents and purposes, the race is over and all that remains to be decided is which of the breakaway riders will take home the victory and if there are any podium or payout spots left for the field.
So there you have it: The Mark and Sean Patented Criterium Bicycle Race Gap Rating System (Patent denied. Dammit!) We know there's a lot to remember and that it can be a little confusing deciding when gaps transitions between phases, but surely we have made bicycle racing much less confusing for the layperson. Read this post as many times as it takes for you to burn the Gap Rating System into your mind, and if you know of a better way to measure or describe the distance between the breakaway riders and the field, we'd like to hear it.