The Coaches Roundtable series ran in the summer of 2009, but the advice is (as we say in the publishing biz) evergreen.
When in doubt about your training, race tactics, etiquette or nutrition, ask a coach. Or if you're GamJams, ask a whole bunch of coaches. GamJams Coaches Roundtable takes reader-submitted questions and poses them to some of the best-known coaches in the region all at once. You get answers, perspectives, advice, counterpoints and, if you pay attention, faster.
This week's GamJams Coaches Roundtable question comes from Rich, who asks:
Q: How can unattached riders or riders on small teams take advantage of tactical plays by other, more well-represented teams? Thanks.
I think the primary thing to keep in mind is how can you use your energy in a way that aligns with the bigger teams. Or, to think of it another way, how can you get those teams to work for you?
The easiest way may simply be to ask. This is really only going to be effective at a stage race or an out of town race. That fosters and us vs them mentality against the locals eg think about racing at Superweek or Toona. Also, there’s less pressure on a given day so cooperation is less costly on a given day.
Another way is to look at the dynamics of the race and figure out how best to work with them. For instance, you’re probably not going to get away alone in a tightly controlled situation. And if you do get away for awhile you might only have one teammate to counterattack when you get brought back. Think about what teams are present and what combination of teams will be necessary for a break to succeed because the larger teams have no interest in chasing. Also, once you see one or two of these teams send someone up the road be prepared to jump on the wheel of someone from the third or fourth team so that you’re not doing all the work to get up to the break.
Beth Anne Leasure
Coach | Team Director | Inspiration
There are many ways to take advantage of tactics of any competitor(s) and team(s), and these ways are applied according to multiple race variables. This answer cannot be confined in this paragraph. Simplistically, a tactician’s tools are knowledge – of self, course, and competitors, as well as insight – reading a race and its participants. The most brilliant example of employing underdog tactics is seen in the races of Jeannie Longo-Ciprelli, who has more significant wins than any rider in history. Jeannie frequently declines team situations, preferring to race alone and be outnumbered. Beyond her physiological dominance and exacting preparation, she comes with considerable instincts and Monsieur Ciprelli – a brilliant strategist. Two chief abilities separate Jeannie for the top step of the podium – incredible timing and ruthless attack repeatability. She waits for the right moment to counterattack but trains as if she must match every attack.
Pyramid Training Systems
Rich, if you are the type of rider that can work hard in a breakaway to assure it's success, then the smart play is to know who the strong breakaway riders are from the well represented teams. Ride near them at all times, and when crunch time comes and they make their move, then you go with them knowing that their teammates will be working to control the field. You then need to work enough to command your breakaway partners respect, especially with them knowing that you have little to no representation in the main peloton.
If you're a sprinter, the smart play is to jump on to the strong teams lead out train. In our local area racing this is typically only 2-4 people, and not nearly as powerful or organized as a Team Columbia High Road for instance, but never the less, if a team is making a concerted effort, is moving toward or staying near the front, then ride that sprinters wheel until it's go time at 250 to 200 meters. Be aware enough to know that a big effort by a small train from too far out will usually not succeed and is a common mistake in local racing. For instance, a 3 person train ramping up over 30mph from 5k out will most likely not make it, especially in the lower categories. They will leave their sprinter out in the wind with about 1k to go. At our level, each man might be able to pull for a solid 1k, so have a good sense of the course and use the train to your advantage if it's sensible.
The better advice in all of this is to know who the strong riders are. A well represented break may go up the road, but without the heavy favorites, chances of it coming back are great. So sit tight, have some patience, and play your cards with the favorites, more often than not, the strong people in our region end up with the results.
I hope this helps answer your question.
Even though cycling is considered a team sport, at the amateur level, being an individual isn't necessarily a disadvantage as long as you ride intelligently. What does this mean? It means being patient and analyzing the race in addition to knowing what you are capable of at your current level of fitness.
First - a couple rules. Never hit the wind unless there is a reason to. Use others to move up through the field as you are going to need to conserve as much energy as possible. Never pull at the front of the field. This will only set you up to miss the attacks that will go off right after you are done pulling. Pulling the field along is fine if you have teammates you are working for but in this case you need to look out for yourself. Let others do the work.
Second - know what you can do. If you don't have the fitness to be in a breakaway for 30-40 miles at a threshold+ pace then you need to be realistic with yourself and save your energy for the latter part of the race. Doing too much too early will certainly take you out of the mix and you won't have teammates to cover the moves you'll miss.
Once you are in the event, know who the teams are that are active and are willing to go to the front. Know who the key riders are and where they are situated in the field. Know which teams are going to be willing to block for their riders. Also watch others to see how the race is affecting them. Are they tired? Is the pace slowing? These may be times to attack - but your odds of succeeding will be increased if you attack with riders from other well represented teams. Their blocking (or lack of a chase) may be the determining factor in the success of your breakaway. The more riders from each of those large teams you can have in your break the more likely it is to succeed.
Now if you're down to a field sprint, again watch the riders who are the consistent sprinters - but be careful to not mark one person. They could be having a bad day or get boxed into a bad position. The key to sprinting without teammates is to properly place yourself without expending any more energy than necessary. This means getting near the front early while staying out of the wind and using other wheels to move up along the outside. As you get into the closing kilometers plan backwards from the finish. Where do you want to be at the line - 1st right? Ok, then where do you need to be at 200 meters, the last corner, or 1 km out to make that happen? Place targets on where your position should be throughout the end of the race and you'll find yourself relying less on other riders and more on your own tactics and strategy.
Peaks Coaching Group
Good Question. I think there is lots you can do, but the key to the whole thing is having an idea of what the bigger teams can and might do in the race. If you key off a big team expecting them to do the grunt work, you may find that they are unable or unwilling to it. Do a little homework to get an idea of who you are up against in the bigger teams and what their strengths and weaknesses might be. You might be able to predict how the big teams will ride and who in those teams are the key riders to pay attention to. Do they have someone who can win off the front/ Do they have a killer sprinter? Do they like each other? Are their inter-squad rivalries that may affect the way a race plays out?
Once you have some idea of what might happen, you can decide what you can do to take advantage. This is not that different from racing in general. You need to know who the dangerous riders are and who is likely to just survive.
One other note, strength in numbers is not a rule. A big club with a bunch of weaker riders is usually not as affective as a smaller club with 3 or 4 strong riders. Think first about the strengths and weaknesses of your own team and the tactics you might use, and then think about how those tactics may be affected by the rest of the field.
Add your own thoughts to this topic or follow-up questions for the coaches in the comments.