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The beauty of tactics: Know your strengths and your competitors’ weaknesses

Pavel Tonkov put a lot of thought into his solo win today – then perfectly executed several very calculated tactical moves. First, we have to understand the Vini Caldirola rider's motivation. He starts the day in 19th place, almost 10 minutes down on race leader Damiano Cunego (Saeco). He is probably a bit upset about not being higher on general classification after some bad luck and a day with bad legs. He would like to gain back some time and maybe take a stage win. Clearly, he needs to get away. As the Passa della Mendola approaches, there is an attack, and Alessandro Bertolini

By Thomas Prehn

Pavel Tonkov put a lot of thought into his solo win today – then perfectly executed several very calculated tactical moves.

First, we have to understand the Vini Caldirola rider’s motivation. He starts the day in 19th place, almost 10 minutes down on race leader Damiano Cunego (Saeco). He is probably a bit upset about not being higher on general classification after some bad luck and a day with bad legs. He would like to gain back some time and maybe take a stage win. Clearly, he needs to get away.

As the Passa della Mendola approaches, there is an attack, and Alessandro Bertolini (Alessio-Bianchi) and Oscar Pozzi (Tenax) start pulling away from the group. I can imagine Tonkov kicking himself, wishing he was with those riders up front. Still, he plays it cool. Their gap starts opening up, but he knows it is a long way to the finish.

The gap exceeds four minutes before the chasers start pulling the twosome back in. As the break’s lead gradually dwindles, Tonkov is starting to calculate his tactical move; he is waiting for the right moment. Then, as the gap slips under two minutes, with about 5km to the top of the Passa della Mendola, he attacks. It’s not a whim: He wants to get across to the two leaders before the top of the climb so he can work with them on the descent. The move has to be timed so that he can close the two-minute gap while still climbing.

As it happens, Pozzi can’t hold the pace, and Tonkov passes him on the way to the summit, where he joins Bertolini. Energized by Tonkov’s fresher legs, the break once again forces the pace. The two leaders work well together, sharing the pulls and opening up more time on the chasers).

During this shared work, Tonkov is assessing how his breakaway companion is feeling. He is watching for any signs of weakness or fatigue. Basically, what the Russian wants to do is get as much work as possible out of his breakaway companion before trying to get rid of him. He knows he has to drop the Italian before the finish because he does not want to chance a sprint against a faster finisher like Bertolini.

So, with about 15km to go, on a particularly steep pitch, Tonkov simply accelerates and pulls away. The distance to the finish was short enough that he knew he could make it alone, and he probably calculated that if he had to work really hard to drop the Italian, he might have another chance to attack him before the finish. As things turned out Tonkov rode into the finish with a comfortable margin and regained some valuable time towards the overall classification.

The Russian rider made several tactical moves perfectly. He was patient, waiting until the last possible moment to jump across to the leaders before the top of the mountain pass. He successfully worked with his breakaway companion, opening up more time on the chasers. He found a weakness in his companion that he could exploit, and attacked when he would likely be unable to respond. And finally, he timed that final attack so that he could ride at nearly full strength to the finish, thereby maximizing the time he could gain over the chasers.


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.