Should you ever quit a race?

By Robert Annis
You’re 20 miles into a 60-mile race, tucked securely in the peloton. You’re riding well when you notice a twinge in your calf. For the next 10 miles, you continue to ride, but the ache remains. Before you know it, you’re shot out the back of the pack and have to decide, do I try to rejoin the group or wait for the broom wagon?
For many racers, the dreaded DNF – Did Not Finish – are the ultimate scarlet letters.
“A DNF should not be a choice; it's the result of either a mechanical failure or your body shutting down -- muscles locking up, dehydration or insufficient nutrition,” said Team Nebo Ridge masters racer Jim Creamer. “Pain is nothing more than an obstacle.”
Creamer’s teammate Matt Curry agrees.
“One DNF for me, just about 50 yards short of the finish line,” Curry said. “If you are suffering from a body failure and continuing only means making an injury much worse, then you stop ... I believe in finishing what you started and learn from that.”
Curry has a good excuse for his lone abandonment. During a training race last year, he was clipped by another racer and went down hard on the pavement, shattering his femur. 
Race officials will often pull riders who have fallen behind the pack and are in danger of being lapped. Matthew Jourdan, a former elite cyclist and co-owner of Indiana-based Planet Adventure race series, said riders who are riding significantly slower than the rest of the field can be dangerous and should be pulled, voluntarily or otherwise, if the conditions merit it. Because Planet Adventure uses chip-timers, allowing the timekeepers to keep a more accurate account of who’s on the main lap, the need to pull racers isn’t as great. But Jourdan was quick to add riders shouldn’t be afraid to pull out if they don’t feel up to the day’s challenge and wanted to conserve energy for a future race.
“If you were a pro getting paid, maybe it’d be different,” Jourdan said. “But this is amateur racing; if you’re not having a good day or are no longer having fun, just stop. You can always fight again another day.”
Even though it’s perfectly acceptable to drop out, many racers will continue to grind through their discomfort or exhaustion. But if you’re experiencing pain on the bike, then you need to make a quick assessment. 
“Assuming it’s not a sharp or severe pain, if you’re 40 minutes into an hour crit, finish the race,” adivsed Jake Rytlewski, a USA Cycling-certified coach with Peaks Coaching Group and a former Kenda 5hour Energy rider. “But if you’re just starting a four-hour road race, it may be best to rack the bike.”
Dull pains are a bit more complicated. Although you can typically ride with an achy body part, it may be a sign of a more serious problem. Wanting to make Kenda’s Tour of California team, Rytlewski rode through what he thought was a minor issue. As he continued through the season, the pain got worse. When he finally went to the doctor, he discovered he had a herniated disc that would require surgery. Had he gotten it taken care of in March, rest and stretching might have alleviated the issue.
“I get it, it’s hard to quit (a race),” said Rytlewski, who now rides for Astellas Oncology Cycling Team. “Whenever I dropped out of a race, I regretted it. I would regret it all the way up to the next race. …
“You’ve got to listen to your body. … Pain is your body’s way of saying, ‘Hey, don’t do that.’”