A successful bike racer needs to be fit, be able to risk some things and most importantly be ready to make game time decisions on the fly. As a slightly different way of addressing this issue, let’s approach a bike race with a series of questions you and your team can ask before, during, and after the race. For clarification, I am not providing answers, just good questions to get you thinking about how to approach a race with a good checklist.
• What is the course like? What (hills, turns, pavement quality) and where (location) are the important points on the course? Are there any “out of sight, out of mind” features like narrow roads that take a rider or break out of sight quickly.
• Where do you want to be in the field at the critical locations on the course? (Start of hills or climbs, corners, tricky descents, etc.)
• How has the race been won in past years or weeks? How has the race played out recently, e.g., solo break, sprint finish, group breakaway, etc.?
• What are the wind conditions on the course? What direction? What strength? When in the race? In other words, a stronger crosswind at a certain location earlier in the race will do less damage than the last part of the race, when riders are more tired and there is less room for error.
• What does the finish line look like? How do the last few miles look going into the finish? What visual markers can you look for as you approach the finish line, so you know where you are on the course, assuming you don’t know the course well?
• How important is it to be near the front during the start?
• Did you plan enough time to get to the race, register, change, relax and warm up properly?
• Where is the feed zone and what is the course like around that point? Is it chaotic? Is it a place where riders are getting dropped? Where is your feeder? Did you setup a position for your feeder and is he/she visible with your team jersey?
• Is there a strong team that can dominate the race? Do they really work together or do they focus on themselves? If you are alone, how can you capitalize off a strong team?
• What individual racers are here and good at this type of race?
• Who has a strong finish or who seems to fade?
• In a stage race, do you know who the top 10 riders are on GC?
During the Race:
I want to make a very important point about races as they progress. There is always less room for error because riders are getting ever more tired. Wind conditions that don’t do much damage early on, now make a whole new impact. Gaps that open farther back are harder to close for you and you can’t always be sure the rider in front of you can close one either. For example, you are suffering on a wheel going up a climb and you are staying with that rider. All of a sudden you look up and the third rider in front of you opened a huge gap. Always look at the whole picture and what is happening and always pay attention to what is going on around you.
• Who is attacking more? Are teams sending weaker riders up the road trying to get others to chase them?
• Who is sitting in? Where are the strongest riders sitting in the field?
• How does the pack react to attacks?
• What do key riders’ body positions look like on the bike? Are they upright or look tired? Whose pedaling looks supple versus choppy? Who’s looking forward versus down?
• How long are attacks staying off the front?
• How big are the groups getting off the front and where is it happening?
• What happens over the hills? Does the pack always re-form or do a lot of riders get dropped?
• What is the general mood of the field? Are they aggressive? Passive?
• Were you physically prepared for the event? If a TT, were you able to maintain your wattage goal or HR for the necessary length? If a crit or road race, were you able to cope with the surges, the hills, and the speed?
• Did you have any physical issues aside from your fitness that impaired you during the race, things like: cramping, knee or saddle pain, hotspots on your feet, bonking?
• Were you able to recognize moves that happened on the road and respond to them? If not, why not?
• Were you able to communicate with and work successfully with your teammates? If solo, were you able to work with, and utilize a larger team?
• Were you able to play your role within your team? If domestique or leader, were you able to do your job when the time came? Were you in the right position to give or receive help?
• Did you bring along some food and/or recovery products with you for immediately after the race? Did you bring along some street clothes in which to change?
• Did you spend a few minutes stretching after warming down from the race?
• Was there an opportunity to debrief with your teammates immediately after the race?
• Did you have fun??
The main point here is to get you thinking about how important strategy and tactics are in such a dynamic sport as bike racing. There is no magic formula, only riders who are smart and thinking about different options they have during the race that will benefit both them and their team. Being physically capable, by preparing with proper training is very important, but it’s only one piece of the puzzle. You need a good game plan and ability to execute on the fly. Hopefully these questions will get you thinking in the right direction!
Ride safe, ride strong,
Bruce Hendler is a USA Cycling Coach and owner of AthletiCamps in Northern California. For the past 10 years, he and his experienced team have helped athletes of all levels achieve their goals in the great sport of bike racing thru cycling training camps, cycling coaching and performance testing. To contact AthletiCamps, visit their website at www.athleticamps.com or follow them on Twitter.