I know triathletes who would sooner collapse than quit in a race. One guy broke his collarbone (he didn’t know at the time) when he crashed 15 miles into the 112-mile bike leg of a race. He still finished on the bike. Then ran the marathon. It took him something like 17 hours and a lot of pain but he finished.
People say bike racers aren’t the smartest creatures out on the road, but at least we know that sometimes the smart thing is to quit. If you’ve gone past the limit of what you can do, your legs are cramping, and the field would have to ride off-course for you to finish in the money, does it make sense to finish just to say “I finished”? Even though it leaves you wrecked for the race you have the next day or next week?
Sometimes it’s not your choice. If you’re about to get lapped in a criterium there’s a good chance the officials will pull you from the race. That can, depending on your perspective, be an insult or an act of mercy.
Bike racing is odd in this way. You can make yourself go so hard trying to stay with the field until you can’t do anything more than just soft-pedal around. Nobody wants to do that in a race. Unless you have to.
I remember having to finish a stage of the Killington Stage Race, going up the climbs with a broken derailleur cable, if I wanted to be able to race the next 3 days. That time the heroic effort was necessary (the worst part was riding another 10 miles back to the start afterward to retrieve my car).
At the recent Friday evening Tour of the Valley criterium, after an hour of racing, I could tell I was working harder than normal just to hang on. We had raced the TT that morning, and had 2 more hard days to follow. It seemed that the smart move was to quit at that point and save something for the road race the next morning.
Even though it might make sense, it still doesn’t feel good to quit. We’ve all been drilled from childhood with sayings like “winners never quit”. So there’s always a part that doesn’t want to do it. But the way I look at it, it’s a matter of interpretation. Are you quitting or are you maximizing your chances in the next race? Are you quitting or are you putting an end to something that is already over?
Better to use your intelligence than to follow a slogan.