Gain an advantage with team tactics and strategy, This article originally appeared in VeloNews.
By Joe Friel and Andy Applegate
To the casual observer, road racing looks like an individual sport. Racers and educated spectators, however, know this is not the case at all. The sport is really like a complex chess game on wheels, in which attacks, blocks, and sacrifices are constant, right up to the finish line. This is most obvious when watching a top professional team, such as the U.S. Postal squad, during the Tour de France. However, by following some basic guidelines, even an amateur club team can employ team strategy and tactics for one-day road races and criteriums.
KNOW YOUR ROLES
In laying out the team’s strategy before the race, there are several guidelines to consider. It’s a good idea for your team to meet and review these before warming up for the race. Once you get into it, such a pre-race meeting will only take a few minutes. This will be the most valuable time your team spends when it comes to seeing results.
One of the main points of discussion should be the role of each rider on the team. Each should have a designated role in the race, whether it be to attack early, cover the moves in the middle, sit in to sprint at the end, or some other assignment. These roles can be flexible once the race gets under way, but having a clear idea of what is expected will help each individual focus on the race objective.
By assigning roles, you will help ensure that the team covers the important moves in the race. Your team should always have a man up the road. Being aggressive, or having team members cover most of the serious moves, will take the pressure off your riders in the field. They can sit in and be ready to attack when the peloton regroups, or follow other moves when they occur.If you play your cards right, no more than one team member should ever have to work in the wind at a time. If you think of all the possible scenarios, none involve more than one person from a team working in the wind in any given instance. You can even strive to put your team in a situation where no one has to work. Consider this: You have a rider in the break, a rider in the chase, and several riders in the field. No team member is obliged to work until the chase catches the break. This will give you the two freshest riders in the break and set them up to start attacking as the finish approaches. If the break is absorbed, you will also have some of the most rested riders in the peloton, ready to contest the finish or launch another attack.
BE SMART IN THE BREAK
If you happen to be the one on your team who makes it into the break, don’t work any harder than anyone else. Don’t let yourself be goaded into working by the other riders if it does not serve the best interests of your team. If you have a teammate in a chase group, or you are obviously one of the weaker riders in the break, don’t be afraid to sit on. One of the worst things you can do for yourself and your team is to help drive a break away from the field, then get dropped, forcing your team to chase a break that you helped get away.
If your team is lucky enough to have more than one rider in the break, you will probably want to start attacking as the finish approaches. Exactly where and when depends on the course and the competition. With more than one teammate you are in the perfect position to alternate attacks, wearing the other riders down by making them chase. With any luck they will eventually give up, leaving your rider to solo in for the win, while the other teammate sits on waiting to go for the second spot. If you only have one rider in the break, you have a couple of choices. If he is a good sprinter, he could wait for the finish. If not, he must choose a place to attack. The best time to attack in this situation is to wait until the strongest rider in the break has just finished his pull, then attack, preferably from near the back of the group.
BACK IN THE PACK
If your team gets a rider away in the break, never use dangerous aggressive blocking tactics back in the pack. Any tactic that endangers the well-being of other riders is unacceptable. Passive blocking is generally the best method. Simply put a couple of riders near the front. If a serious chase gets under way, don’t interfere. Sit behind and force any riders that want to help chase to move around you. This will also keep the same few riders ahead of you working hard and tiring themselves.
If the peloton is not in the mood to chase, you can set a false tempo at the front. By riding a little slower than you think the break is going, but fast enough to trick the field into thinking you are working, you can help the break establish a significant gap.
If your team misses out on the breakaway, be prepared to chase. Be sure it is clear which riders will do the work and which riders will continue to sit in. Don’t start to chase in earnest until you have all the riders designated to work at or near the front, otherwise you will make it difficult for them to get into position. Don’t let any single rider work to exhaustion in one pull. It is better to spread the work evenly and consistently among several riders than to chase at full speed and blow up after just a few miles. Try to enlist the help of other teams not represented in the break whenever possible.
In the event that the race comes down to a big pack sprint, it’s time to organize the lead-out. Unfortunately, in amateur racing, the lead-out is rarely effectively executed. One of the reasons for this is that many riders fail to realize that in order to give a good lead-out you will need to be as strong or even stronger than the sprinter, who needs to be the fastest over the final 200 meters.The lead-out should be organized with the strongest rider or riders just ahead of the sprinter. The final lead-out rider basically has to “sprint” with the finisher on his wheel, ideally dropping him off with 200 meters or less to the line. The sprinter should have verbal contact with the lead-out riders, telling them when to go faster, or when to pull off. In the chaos of a bunch sprint, the organization of lead-outs often doesn’t work properly, but when it does, it is like poetry on wheels.
While there is no way to guarantee good results in bike racing, adopting good, sound team tactics will greatly increase your team’s chances of standing on the podium at its next race.
Keys to successful team tactics
• Each rider should know his role
• Always have a man up the road
• No more than one team member should work in the wind at a time
• Never do any work without a reason
• Don’t work any harder than anyone else in the break
• Know when to attack the break
• Be prepared to chase
• Practice the lead-out
Joe Friel is the author of “The Cyclist’s Training Bible” and a collection of other successful training guides ,including those targeted to mountain-bike racers and triathletes. He is also the founder and director of Ultrafit Associates. For related software go to www.TrainingBible.com, and for coaching services and a free training newsletter go to www.Ultrafit.com. Questions can be sent to WebLetters@7Dogs.com. Andy Applegate is an elite-level road, cyclo-cross, and mountain-bike racer. He is also a USA Cycling- and Ultrafit-certified coach. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.