Answer: Common sense is your friend. Dont run the other way when it speaks to you.
If 100 guys are expected to line up for a six-corner criterium on a 3/4-mile, 30-lap circuit, then you damn well better be in the top 30 or so at the start line or you will be part of the elastic band at the back.
If, however, its a 100-mile road race with a climb at the halfway point, I dont care if you are giving birth in the port-a-john when the gun goes off, you will have time to move up.
The most common mistake made by beginning racers is riding at the back or ending up at the back. Races are never won at the back, and generally that is where the majority of mishaps occur.
There is an old saying that if you arent moving up, youre moving back.
The peloton is in a constant state of flux. Riders are always moving up or back. The only place to be is near the front. It is important to know what is happening and be able to react and participate when the time is right.
Remaining in good position is an art in itself. It requires surfing the sides efficiently, moving up in other peoples drafts and not allowing yourself to get sucked inside.
Expending as little energy as possible is the key here. Keep a good 12 inches between your front wheel and the wheel in front of you. This still provides a draft, yet enables you to shift wheels when a side is moving forward.
Do not stare at the wheel directly in front of yours ever! Scan the backs of the riders three or more rows ahead of you. This is key in anticipating what will happen next and allow you the time to avoid pileups and bad lines.
Most important: Dont be a spectator. Participate in the race. Be aggressive. Get up, get into it, and get involved. Its all a James Brown song.