Bicycle Racing Tactics

If you have been watching the Tour de France you will see some of the top climbers use all kinds of racing strategy (or at least carry-out the directors strategy via their ear-piece). But if the more you know about what is going on the more clear it becomes why some riders make certain moves, which the commentators are so eager to speculate on.

For instance in the 2010 stage 13 of the TdF, in the mountains Andy Schleck and Alberto Contador allowed Menchov to attack them and gain valuable time, while the two of them eyed each other. It’s hard to say what they each were thinking, strategy wise. But as one person put it on twitter:

Strange day. Andy seems happy w/ 30 sec. on Bert, and Bert happy to give time to Menchov and Sanchez. Blunder for both, or smart riding?

The reason that this is so important in the TdF is that they will be facing a Time Trial coming up, where their team-mates will not be able to help, and Menchov will be strongly favored over Schleck and Contador.

It’s amazing to watch the strategy of each racer in the tour as the days go by. Sometimes the strategy changes very quickly from winning to surviving. But rarely the opposite happens. The strategy of a multi-stage race has many differences and similarities to a single day race. A good team will know how to use their strengths for an advantage, and to avoid having a team mate in a tough spot.

This is part of what it is like to be able to ‘read a race’. Knowing how a race is going to unfold before it happens. Two of the best at it that I’ve seen were: at 45 years old 1996 Olympic alternate, Kent Bostick, and Jittery Joe pro, Jeff Hopkins.

Hopkins became notorious for telling a racer on the velodrome that they would be the next one out, then make it happen. He knew the race and the dynamics so well, that it was hard to combat his combination of strength and strategy. He is somewhat infamous for sitting at the back of a local Pro NRC criterium, and crashing because he was waving at some ladies – gets put back into the race banged-up and bloody – and rallies his team to get him into the top 5 for the finish. Later, his team mate said ‘when a guy like Hoppy says get me up there, you do it!’

As I raced with Bostick he would ask people if they were happy with 2nd and if you said no, he would just attack you. He made it in your best interest to say ‘yes’ and gladly work with him to get you to the finish line ahead of the main field. He would make sure that everyone in the break took a turn of pulling and then watch to see who was stronger and who was getting tired. Bostick knew how the race was going to unfold in his mind before it even happened. Even if he was the oldest guy in the Pro1,2 field and maybe not the strongest, he was able to use strategy to overcome his opponents.

1) Create a strategy. Some good ideas for strategy is to have a team meeting before the race starts. See who has the legs and strongest desire to win that day.

2) Plan the outcome. Next figure on a plan that will have the race unfold as you would like to see happen, and a back-up plan in-case it doesn’t.

3) Action. Next, when the time comes, take action! Act upon the plan that the team has created as best as you can.

4) Learn. Regardless of the outcome, always try to learn from what happened and improve your teams results.

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