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Racing Strategy and Tactics: Bike Racing 101
By Staff
Date: 4/3/2007
Racing Strategy and Tactics: Bike Racing 101

Racing Strategy and Tactics: Bike Racing 101
Preparing your team's strategy, roles and tactics to win as a team.

Jacob Fetty

When viewed through the eyes of non-competitive cyclists, bicycle racing looks like an individual sport. Bicycle racers and fans of bike racing know that this is not the case at all. Bicycle racing is like a chess match on wheels where teams will use strategies such as blocks, attacks and sacrifices to help increase their team’s odds of winning. This is perhaps best illustrated via a Pro Tour team competing in Grand Tours. However, by following and implementing some basic guidelines and tactics any team or club can race strategically and increase their odds of winning the race.

Team Members Roles: Know Them!
The most valuable thing your team can do is to have a meeting and discuss roles for the event. Your team should meet prior to warming up to discuss tactics for the race. Once your team gets into the habit of having these meetings, these pre-race meetings will not take much time at all.

One of the key aspects of the pre race meeting needs to be, to establish each racers role for the event. Each team member should have a specific and detailed role for the race. Although these roles need to be clearly outlined and defined they can still be flexible. When each rider leaves the team meeting he/she should very clearly understand their role as well as other team member’s role for the day within the context of the team’s objective.

By assigning roles you can address each rider’s strengths and weaknesses and factor them into the game plan for the day. By dispersing roles your team will increase their chances of winning! Be sure to factor in that the team needs to cover important moves in the race and work to have a “man up the road” if the group up the road looks like it could stick to the finish. Factor in attacking, counter attacking, climbs, wind direction and speed, as well as other elements that can affect the race’s outcome.

Have A Rider In The Break: Be selective and aggressive!
Do not go with every breakaway attempt. Be selective in the moves your team chooses to cover and be aggressive if the opportunity comes to attack and put other teams into difficulty.

Use Your Head in the Breakaway !
If you are the one on your team that made it into the breakaway, use your head! Can you ride this break all the way to the finish line? More importantly, if this break goes to the line can you win the race? Usually, racers are so excited to be in the breakaway that they work too hard and effectively ride themselves out of the break! The worst thing that can happen is you get dropped out of the winning break. Imagine explaining that to your teammates. Look up; look around. Is one of your teammates trying to bridge the gap? How far to the finish line? Are there stronger riders in the break? How are you going to win from this break?

If your team has more than one team member in the breakaway you have decisions to make. Are you going to start one, two-ing the break as the finish nears, or can one of you win the sprint and ride with that goal if the breakaway comes to the line together?

In the Peloton: The day is not over!
Blocking is perhaps the most misunderstood term in bicycle racing. If you have rider (s) up the road and a team wants to chase, then let them. If teams want to send attacks up the road, follow the attacks but do not work unless it benefits you and your team more than another team. Teams do not need to gather on the front of the peloton in an attempt to slow the race down. Sometimes you might be on the front and open a slight gap for a teammate who is trying to escape, but never get in the way of sporting competitors who want to chase or bring the break back. In the same breath, never use dangerous or “sketchy” riding to disrupt the flow of the race or slow racers down.

What you can do though is set a false pace or tempo on the front of the field where your competitors think you do not like the odds of your teammate in the break and are actually working to bring the break back. The reality is that you are not making time on the breakaway but rather allowing it to increase its gap on the peloton.

If your team missed the breakaway be prepared to chase or attempt to create a chase group to get team members up the road. Again, riders should know their roles. Do not let anyone rider work to the point of “blowing up” by taking one big pull. Spread the workload around. Even communicate with other teams to encourage them to help. Another point to keep in mind is not to start the full on chase until all your riders are at the front ready to work. The worst thing is to have half of your team chasing and the other half still trying to get to the front. In this scenario you will have too many racers in the wind at the same time!

Your team will need to have a plan to work to bring the breakaway back should your team miss the it. Is it more effective to work/pull as a unit to pull the break back or to have guys continually attacking to keep the pace high to bring back the break? These two different methods both can be effective and you should know which one fits your team’s strengths the best.

Is the race coming to a pack sprint finish? If so, again everyone should know his/her role and be prepared to start a lead out. To effectively execute a lead out, the racers doing the lead out need to be aggressive and patient at the same time; being ready to take charge at the exact time and not a moment too soon. The racers conducting the lead out need to also be at least as strong as the sprinter, ramping the pace up and “dropping” the sprinter off at a pre-appointed spot (last turn, 200 meters to go, etc). The sprinter, in this scenario, has a great responsibility to communicate and direct the lead out.

Racing is a dynamic event. Not one strategy is a perfect formula all of the time. However, if you and your team know your roles, communicate clearly and implement some simple guidelines you can increase your team’s chances of winning.

Guidelines for Team Tactics Success
• Know your role: Each rider should have a clear understanding of the team’s goals and how he/she fits into these goals
• Always have a rider in noteworthy breakaways: Do not put your team behind the 8 ball. Place a rider or riders in key breakaways.
• One team member in the wind at a time: No more than one team rider should be working in the wind at any given time. Share the work and be aware of what is going on around you. Do not push the pace in the breakaway if you have a rider bridging and trying to make contact with the break.
• Work benefits you or your team: Never do any work that benefits someone else or another team more than it benefits you or your team. Do not ride in the wind or pull for no reason.
• Know when to attack the breakaway or peloton: Is everyone tired or feeling fresh? If you attack is it to win? What is the purpose of the attack?
• To chase or not to chase: Know when and why to chase. Is it better to bridge or to chase?
• Practice Lead Outs: Know how to effectively lead out and take charge of field sprints.
• Communicate clearly: Be sure to communicate with your team members as the race changes and changes to your team’s strategy are made. Don’t whisper. Talk clearly and loudly enough for your team to hear you. Even if others hear you they still have to stop you and your plan.
• Do not get clumped up: As a team, do not ride all together. Spreading out will increase your chances of following attacks and decrease the odds of more than one team member being involved in the same crash should that occur.

FS Concepts specializes in custom coaching and custom training camps. Check out the latest camp on team tactics held for the Summit Freewheelers.

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