Disclaimer: really boring/nerdy bike racing discussion. Read at your own risk.
I always hear bike racers complain about "negative racing," and have decided that the word itself means nothing more than a type of racing that does not fit the particular agenda of the person calling it "negative" for that particular race.
I tested my theory by running a Google search for the phrase negative bike racing. Here are some excerpts from the articles that resulted, followed by my brief take on how the author defines "negative" bike racing:
Some less experienced riders may complain that "you're not doing your share". These are usually the same ones who pull the field up to every break never knowing why they can't seem to get away themselves. Pulling the pack rarely does anything to increase your chances of doing well. If you need the training great, go to the front and hammer, but don't ruin other rider's chances of successfully breaking away in the process. This "negative racing" is unproductive and makes racing less enjoyable.
This person's definition: pulling the pack back to breakaways.
In a recent Training Race we had only had 3 guys in the peloton while one team had 10 riders, another team had 8 guys, and there were two more teams with at least a half dozen each. However, when 2 guys went off the front ½ way through Lap 1 of 4 no one in the pack showed any interest in racing for the win. My teammates and I were surfing the front waiting to help some of the bigger teams chase down the break, but none of them came up to work. It seemed like everyone just wanted to sit in and enjoy the ride and then race for a Top 10 place. So I attacked twice on Lap 3 to try and get away from the “freeloaders” and both times I had guys, from one particular team with no one up the road, sit on my wheel and refuse to come through. I thought, “Are you serious? This is a training race! We’re not even racing for money!” Looking back...no one in that race (other than the two that got away) can say they actually raced their bike that day.
Negative racing is not fun for anyone. We are not professionals and we race for the fun of it. Some of us are limited on the number of opportunities we have to get out and race...so please...don’t ruin it for everyone else. When you decide to show up and pin a number on don’t worry so much about whether you will finish 14th or 15th and just have fun and race your bike.
This person's definition: Going with moves but not working in them.
Throughout the early parts of the race everyone was super jumpy in that negative-racing manner chasing down everything that moved but never really wanting to move much beyond 20mph when we were all together.
This person's definition: Chasing moves but not wanting to pull the pack around at a fast pace.
Early in the race, a group of 15 riders quickly formed a lead pack, while Armstrong, starting from the fourth row, moved up quickly through the field and threatened to join the leading group until a hard crash caused him to lose time. Tim Johnson (Cannondale – Cyclocrossworld.com), Jonathan Page (Planet bike), Geoff Kabush (Litespeed – Maxxis), Adam Craig (Giant), Todd Wells (GT) and Trebon all traded attacks, but in what Trebon would describe as “negative racing”, nobody was really willing to work together to make a gap stick.
Ryan Trebon's definition: Not wanting to work together to make a gap stick.
So, I think the general consensus is that a bike race is "negative" when the person calling it negative wishes to but fails to succeed in a breakaway.
People tend to forget that bike racing is like the free market on wheels: racers do what is best for them (or their team), and those tactics will vary from race to race, depending on the type of race, the team's objectives (set up for the team sprinter, try to get Guy A in the break, etc.), the caliber of riders, and a many other factors. It is up to each racer or team to read the race and use their ability to read the race to their advantage.
I guess the part that bothers me is condescending tone that usually accompanies the accusation of "negative" racing. It's as if that person raced better, or more worthily, than the rest of the "negative" field. It's also funny how the person who usually calls a race "negative" is rarely the person who wins the race, or even places well. Maybe if that person was such an enlightened bike racer he or she would be able to read the "negative" race better and use its negativity to his or her advantage instead of using it as a basis to complain.
Is this post too negative?