Basics - Objectives & strategy
Cycling isn’t all about getting there first.
A number of tactics are employed to achieve the objective of a race. This objective is being the first to cross the finishing line, in the case of a single-stage race, and clocking the lowest overall finishing time in the case of a multi-stage race. Managing time and energy can sometimes be more crucial than arriving first.
In order to produce the best time, managing your team’s energy is vital. Wind having a major impact on effort and speed, drafting offers several advantages that can reduce its effects.
A rider following behind another, in a single paceline or full peloton, stays out of the wind and in good position, thus allowing protection for the leader. In drafting, riders can switch positions in order to take turns against the wind and thus conserve energy.
When a group of riders « breaks away » from the peloton, they form a smaller group that can effectively and smoothly escape from the peloton, riding ahead, reducing the numbers of contender for the win. In breakaways, cooperation between riders, by team or ad hoc is crucial to maintain a successful break.
Relaying consists of sharing the effort at the front of the paceline over short periods of time. The rider at the front is not protected from the wind and therefore tires faster than those who are positioned behind him. By constantly renewing the front rider, the chain of relays allows for each rider to play his part.
Follow a rider to the head of the group (diagram 1 and 2). When he peels off, it’s time for your rider to set the pace (diagram 3). When you think he has relayed enough, let him go back behind the others (diagram 4) and follow them until the initial rider is again back at the front. And so on…
If you are in the peloton, there are situations in which your team should set the pace. This is what we call “shouldering the burden of the race.” Your team should set the pace of the peloton when:
- one of your riders is wearing the yellow jersey,
- on a flat stage, and your team has one of the best sprinters in the peloton.
In a breakaway, you must systematically take relays to “breakaway alive”, otherwise the other riders will attack to get rid of your riders who shall be considered to be “sitting in”. This may be a strategy to adopt in order to disorganise a breakaway or to force your opponents to attack.
Nonetheless, there are situations in which these rules change:
- if you place a rider in the breakaway, you no longer need to shoulder the burden of the race (except if your team has the yellow jersey and your team-mate is not the best placed of the breakaway riders in the general classification).
- if your rider has broken away and you have the yellow jersey, he doesn’t have to relay so that his team-mates, who shoulder the burden of the race in the peloton, do not have to make up too big a gap.
- if a team-mate is nearby and close to re-joining the group, your rider may not relay in order to help him catch up. Once the team-mate has joined the breakaway, however, the rider should cooperate.
Placing an attack at the right moment is important because an attack consumes a lot of energy and it is preferable not to waste effort.
To increase the effectiveness of the attacks, it is best to gain momentum beforehand. The perfect scenario is to accelerate to the head of the group and unleash your attack the moment your rider hits 2nd or 3rd position.
At the start of the stage, if you wish to be part of the early breakaway, it is preferable to follow others who attack. Firstly, sitting on the wheels in front, your riders save some energy. Secondly, if the peloton reacts to this attack, your riders may counter-attack to try and break away. Finally, it is preferable to break away as a group, rather than alone, because this saves energy; provides more protection against the wind and grants a higher chance of holding off the return of the peloton. Be careful, though; the peloton very rarely lets large groups get away.
At the end of the stage, if you think your riders have enough of a lead on the peloton to resist alone, they may attack to drop their breakaway companions. It is thus advisable to check the profile in order to take advantage of any difficulties and gain the upper hand. If the last kilometres are flat, a lead of more than one minute at 10 kilometres from the finish is needed if you are to have a chance of making a successful move. If there are difficulties, the lead should be greater still.
Managing the gap
It is much easier for a team to manage the gap between the peloton and a breakaway on flat and hilly stages, because it is less difficult to set up a group that works effectively together. In the mountains, it is rare to have a team made up of enough good climbers for it to be able to set a pace for the duration of a stage. This remains possible, but not easy.
Managing Time Trials
To know how to manage one’s effort, it is important to keep an eye on the profile. Riders consume more energy in climbs than on the flat, and hardly consume any when on a descent. It is therefore necessary to anticipate the climbs and descents to know if the riders have consumed too much, or not enough, energy.
To help you, check the distance gauge (yellow bar at the bottom right.) as well as your remaining energy. The distance gauge also allows you to anticipate the vertical gain your riders will have to make during the race.
In team time-trials, the rules of the individual time trial remain important. To achieve a good time, it is essential to know one’s team well, and to have the time-trial specialists take longer relays than the weaker riders.
The time of the team is calculated on the 5th rider to pass the finishing line. It is important to finish with the leader placed among the first 5.