It's important to know bike racing tactics before...

Book Excerpt: Mistakes amateur teams make

Teams would be wise to plot out their strategies before a race begins, write Chris Horner and Jamie Smith in "Reading the Race"

Editor’s note: Excerpt republished with permission of VeloPress from Reading the Race: Bike Racing from Inside the Peloton by Jamie Smith with Chris Horner. 

It’s a mistake to assume that everyone is on the same page in regard to tactics and strategies, as if bike racing knowledge comes naturally when we buy our first racing bike. It doesn’t. And it doesn’t come from watching European classics while riding the trainer. Television cameras can’t possibly convey the nuances and subtlety involved with team tactics. Race savvy also doesn’t come after two or three races; yet many teams will bring in a new rider and expect him or her to learn tactics under fire.

Experienced riders sometimes know tactics so well that they think they’re apparent to everyone. True—once you learn them, they do seem obvious. Also, experienced riders are often too busy training to take the time to mentor younger riders.

A team with experienced riders who can share tactical knowledge would be wise to hold regular chalkboard sessions using Xs and Os to diagram the tactics, just as we see coaches doing in other sports. Actually, since cycling is a multiteam sport, you’d need more than Xs and Os. You’d need Ys, Zs, Ns, and pretty much the whole alphabet.

There are some elements that can be taught effectively by walking through them in slow motion without the bikes. Football and basketball teams learn their plays this way. The same technique can be used by cyclists to great effect.

But this rarely happens. More often, every training ride turns into a hammerfest/ego competition followed by a sprint to a city-limit sign with little or no instruction on how to win that sprint and no review of how you lost it. You just keep pedaling to the next one.

Individually, many riders fall into the mileage trap and feel that they must ride, ride, and ride some more in order to either maintain or improve their fitness. Few are willing to get off the bike and talk about racing.

I’m generalizing, of course. But in speaking with riders from around the country, I’ve come to see this is as a common thread. It’s human nature to think that more is better, so riders will continue to think that more miles are the best road to success.

Another mistake that amateur teams make is to devise a race plan that is too rigid: “If anything goes up the road, we have to make sure we put Dave in it.” Well, that’s not even remotely realistic. Especially if Dave burns all of his matches during the first 20 failed attacks. Or, perhaps a more likely scenario, if Dave spent the entire week on his feet at a trade-show booth demonstrating CNC machinery to prospective clients, he’ll be fried after the first attack. Either way, Dave is cooked, and we should have a backup plan. In fact, we should have a couple and know how to react to what the other teams are trying to do.

A bike race is a fluid, ever-changing, unpredictable monster that is full of surprises. All of those other teams are plotting to upset your plan. Some teams will employ the same game plan at every race they attend, and they’ll place the same riders into the same role each time. By mid-June, every other team will know what to look for. A little advance planning at that point to create a new strategy can keep the team in the hunt — if the members are smart enough to recognize it.