28 September 2010

Racing Tactics

To start, let's define some terms:

ATTACK
People, an attack is NOT a hard pull... It has to be sudden and strong. The idea is to get away from the other riders, to do so cleanly and not just pick up the pace or string things out. You need to go 100 percent right NOW and then sometimes you need to go 90 percent for a bit longer to discourage any chasers. As a former teammate (and multiple World Masters Champion on the track) once told me, "Sprint like you're going to break your bike in half!" You get the idea.

Some good places/ways to attack are:
  • From about 4th or 5th position. If you attack from the front, everyone can see you accelerate and will do likewise so you won't be surprising anyone. If you go from the very back other riders will have enough time to yell and by the time you get to the front someone else will have accelerated too. If you launch yourself from the 4th or 5th spot you can build up a head of steam before you go away thus reducing the chance of anybody else latching onto your wheel and everyone won't have so much time warn the bunch.
  • At the top of a hill when everyone else is tired from climbing the hill.
  • At the bottom of a hill if you can sustain it all the way over the top...
  • Just before a corner where everyone else might slow down.
  • Right after another attack is caught and people are trying to recover from the chase.
  • When your competition is not right on your wheel. Look around before you jump; if you are being shadowed it's probably not the time to go. Try to go when your opposition is on the other side of the pack or at least separated from you by a few other riders.

BREAK When one rider or a group of riders manages to separate themselves from the rest of the field that is a 'break' or the act of breaking away. This can be the result of an attack (see above) or sometimes it's just the result of someone sitting up and letting a gap open up. If a break goes away and you have enough riders in the race then you have to be in every move. You just need to react and GO; thinking about it only slows you down. When someone initiates a move off the front, it will only take a few seconds for everyone to see who has the best chance of actually getting there and then you support that person who actually manages to make contact or to get away from the bunch.
Getting more than one rider from your team into a break is ideal. To do this you need to attack in tandem or bridge up (see below) to an existing break.

BLOCKING This is the act of slowing everyone else down or discouraging a chase or neutralizing a chase while your teammate is away off the front. Some ways to block are:
  • Literally blocking the road by lining all your teammates up across it. This is not so hard in the US where amateur racing usually limits you to the right side of the road but it's also not the most sporting thing to do and you might catch some flack.
  • Simply going to the front of the pack and slowing the pace down enough so that your teammate can increase their lead.
  • When someone tries to chase down your attacking teammate, jump on their wheel. Then when they pull over, slow down and don't contribute to the effort.
  • Simply letting a gap open up between you and your teammate so that they can accelerate away and everyone else is stuck behind you or needs to expend the extra energy of riding around you and closing the gap themselves.
  • Disrupting a paceline that is trying to bridge up to the break. You simply enter the rotation and then slow the pace slightly when it's your turn to pull. Repeat.
When you block you need to BLOCK! This means you get on it when someone tries to bridge and you swarm any effort. You do not need to sit on the front (unless you want to physically slow the bunch down) so much as you need to keep an eye out and go with anything that moves. The idea is you give people no incentive to chase your teammate because you are always on their wheel getting a free ride.
So often I hear from a new racer that something "Isn't fair" or that "So-and-so didn't do their share of the work". Well here's a news flash for you, the winner is usually NOT the strongest rider (although they do need to be relatively strong of course), it's usually just the rider that seized an opportunity and committed themselves to it completely or the smartest rider or the rider with the strongest team.

PACK POSITION Let's just say you can't do much attacking or blocking when you are at the back of the bunch so if the field is huge or if the roads are narrow or if the pace is high, you NEED to stay very near the front of the pack. We have all been in the situation where we are marooned at the back of the field in a criterium and every corner causes the pack to slow down and then as they accelerate again you get this accordion affect and it forces you to expend so much extra effort that come the finish - if you last that long - you're beat and have to settle for DFL or some similar placing. Here is how to stay up near the front:
  • Whenever someone passes you, get on a wheel ASAP and don't let a whole train of riders pass you by.
  • Any time there is a lull in the pace, move up!
  • If you see a line that no one is using or the whole pack moves to the right or left, go the other way or take that line! No one said moving up was going to be easy, sometimes (read: usually) you need to put out some effort but if you don't, you'll never be there at the finish.
  • Know that you deserve to be there! Lots of people get into races and then get intimidated by other riders. Assert/maintain your space and don't let other people move you off of a wheel.
  • Use your teammates. If you need help moving up, ask for it; if you need in a paceline, ask for room; if you need someone to open up a space for you, let them know.

BRIDGING When someone else attacks and manages to separate themselves from the field, the act of catching up to them is called "bridging the gap". This is what you will need to do if there is a break up the road and your team is not represented in it. Or, if you do have a teammate up the road but they might need help and you think you can get away from the field cleanly, it's sometimes very nice to have two (or three or four) of you in the same break instead of just one.
Lastly, it's sometimes good to force other riders to bridge the gap by themselves... Say you have a rider in a break but one team is not represented. You will need to not only block but you will need to watch riders on that team specifically as one of them might try to bridge. If they do, your job will be to sit on their wheel so that they know that if they bridge successfully, they have just given you a free ride to the break. This will not only discourage them from giving it their all but it will also strengthen your presence in the break if they get there.

CHASING The field splits all the time! Sometimes you can draft other riders and let them pull you back to the lead group but sometimes you or your team has to do the work of pulling back the escapees. So, when do you chase a break? When:
  • you have no one in it
  • you think that you can stack the odds in your favor even more and you can get away from the bunch cleanly
  • the rider in the break has no chance and it's important that someone from your team who does gets there
You do not chase a break just because you are usually better at sprinting than the guy in the break and you wish you were up there yourself. You need to support each person's opportunity that they have created for themselves. Your turn will come and you would expect the same support from your teammates.
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