Imagine if chess players were ejected for purposefully allowing a pawn to be taken.
Imagine if Bradley Wiggins had been expelled from the Tour de France because he didn’t try to win every single stage,
Or if Peter Sagan had been similarly punished for not giving his all to the G.C. hunt.
There is a subtle art to cycling strategy, usually perfectly legitimate but at other times a bit on the shady side.
The Sunny Side
In the first pro race my team ever won, we made a “breakaway deal”. A breakaway deal is when the guys in the break, for a variety of strategically sound reasons, decide to give the day to a particular rider.
This was a road stage; the second to last day of a 5 day stage race. A well-known rider had a solid hold on the G.C. He would have to defend it on the day’s road stage and on the criterium on the final day.
The breakaway that day was just two riders, my guy and the G.C. leader. From a distance it might have seemed like an even playing field. A two-man race. Mano a mano. But in fact, the numbers were stacked quite differently.
My rider had an unseen advantage in terms of winning that day’s stage. The first advantage was that he was not a threat to the leader’s overall lead.
Mull that one over for a minute. How often do you think riders purposely lose time on a stage so that they can get into the break on the next day without the leader’s team worrying about chasing him down?
Anyway, on this day, the race leader was worried about defending his lead on the last day’s criterium. He was the strongest guy in the race so the hilly road stage wasn’t a concern but in a crit anything could happen and he only had one teammate to help him out.
We had eight.
Since the race leader was solely interested in the overall win, we made a deal with him to defend his lead in the last day’s crit in exchange for him “not contesting” the individual road stage. He did and we did and everyone was happy.
I find this part of cycling to be especially intriguing and exciting. The strategy is so incredibly “big picture”. In this situation, I found a strategic value to bringing a full squad that had nothing to do with race performance. We gained that advantage a month before the race when we booked our plane tickets.
A Few Shades Darker
Sometimes the deals are a bit on the shady side. After stage one of a South American race, my teammate and I were both in the top 10. 9th and 4th if I remember correctly. Before the start of stage 2 my teammate, I’ll call him Mark, came to us with an offer from the G.C. leader.
He had offered us each $100 if we would work for him for the remainder of the stage race. We were pretty quick to turn down the offer but apparently Mark had already accepted. For the rest of the week he quite obviously was riding for the other team.
It created an interesting situation because although I was our second placed G.C. rider, the team rode for me and not for Mark who was a few places ahead. This was in part because we didn’t know how deep a sacrifice he was going to make for the leader but also because we were pissed.
In the end, despite riding for this other fellow, Mark still ended up as our top placed rider. Of course the ultimate joke was that we never saw a penny of his prize money, which like mine was supposed to be split evenly amongst the eight of us.
Deals are made every day in cycling, on and off the race-course. Most of the time these are just handshakes during a pass in a pace line or even just implied consent during the more obvious strategic accords, but sometimes they are written in ink days or weeks before the actual event and sometimes money, even large amounts of money, changes hands.
Love it or leave it, that’s bike racing.
Josh is the owner and manager of the Wonderful Pistachios Professional Cycling Team. Josh is also USCF Certified coach. For more information about his coaching services and any coaching questions you may have, check out his website at LiquidFitness.com. Also, follow Josh on Twitter for training tips and team updates. This is a great way to find out when we will be coming to your town so you can hit us up for some free pistachios. Mention PezCycling News when you see us and we’ll even crack them for you!