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The beauty of tactics: Catching them napping

Stage races are like a crash course in tactics and Racing 101. If you really want to learn fast, sign up for some stage races. Depending on the length of the race, you can learn three or four months’ worth of lessons in just one event. Today’s Giro d'Italia stage finished in another beautiful lead-out by Fassa Bortolo, sending Alessandro Pettachi off to his sixth stage win this year. But there are other lessons to be learned, aside from the picture-perfect lead-out. What do you do if you are on a team that does not have a powerful sprinter or isn’t strong enough to provide the 10km

By Thomas Prehn

Stage races are like a crash course in tactics and Racing 101. If you really want to learn fast, sign up for some stage races. Depending on the length of the race, you can learn three or four months’ worth of lessons in just one event.

Today’s Giro d’Italia stage finished in another beautiful lead-out by Fassa Bortolo, sending Alessandro Pettachi off to his sixth stage win this year. But there are other lessons to be learned, aside from the picture-perfect lead-out.

What do you do if you are on a team that does not have a powerful sprinter or isn’t strong enough to provide the 10km lead-outs that Fassa does? You don’t just sit in the pack and say, “Oh, it’s hopeless.” There’s always a chance in bike racing; there are just too many variables.

On May 17, during stage 9 into Carovigno, “Fast” Freddy Rodriguez of the small Italian Acqua & Sapone squad saw a weakness in the Fassa Bortolo lead-out, waited for the perfect time to launch his move, and won the stage. As a result, Petacchi’s team has tightened up its lead-out to try to keep that sort of piracy from happening again.

There have been other efforts, by other riders, to take matters into their own hands. Today, there was the early suicide break that took off from the 14km point. Occasionally, if rarely, these things work — but in this year’s Giro they stand little chance, for a few reasons. First, Fassa Bortolo wants to get their man to the finish for a sprint, and the team is going to work to keep the break from slipping too far away. Second, if Fassa failed and the break managed to get a bigger gap, Gilberto Simoni’s Saeco team is there to bring the time back in order to defend Damiano Cunego’s overall lead.

Despite the odds, as the three-man break was just about to be swallowed up after more than 100km off the front, one rider refused to submit to the inevitable. Gert Steegmans (Lotto-Domo) attacked his breakaway companions, hoping to make a solo run to the finish. It was a laudable move because it could have caught the pack off guard. They would have thought they were absorbing the break while Steegmans was opening up a lead and sneaking into Traviso for the win.

Had the final kilometers had been different, with some more twists and turns, narrow roads and the finish line a bit closer, Steegmans’s gambit might have worked. But with the wide, straight run into the finish, the lone rider was too easy a target for the pack to chase down. This was not too different from stage 10, when another Lotto-Domo rider — Robbie McEwen — attacked with about 4km to go. The move caught the Fassa boys a bit off guard, but again, the wide and straight run into the finish made McEwen’s attack nearly hopeless. With a few corners, and some narrow roads, he could have had a chance.

Were both of these do-or-die moves futile? Maybe. Steegmans had nothing left to contribute for the sprint, so “nothing ventured, nothing gained.” McEwen’s move had a bit more going for it, since he has the speed to contest the sprint.

That’s the beauty of it. A move like this is so unexpected, so off the wall, that it can work. It just catches the pack off guard.

And for a final lesson in stage racing, shame on Simoni for being so far back in the sprint that he nearly lost six seconds on GC in the closing meters of the race.


Thomas Prehn is a former USPRO champion and author of the recentlyreleased “RacingTactics for Cyclists,” now available through VeloPress. If you have questions about tactics employed during a particularstage at the Giro d’Italia, send a note to WebLetters@InsideInc.comWe will try to answer a selection of questions on a regular basis duringthe Giro d’Italia.