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Preface: the race tactics below are relevant for Singapore courses that are flat and fast. There are always exemptions to every rule, so take the following suggestions as a general guide. We encourage all competitive cyclists to also what professional cycling regularly to see how clever the games can get!
With the Tri Factor bike race swiftly approaching its now time to review some advanced cycling race tactics. Cycle racing is very different from Triathlon because in most age group Triathlon races there is no drafting. In cycling you have to contend with a bunch of rides.
Tactic one - Staying on the bike! For anyone who has watched professional or armature cycling you will know there is a very high risk involved in bunch riding. Risks can come in many forms such as a loose drink bottle on the ground, pothole or overlapping wheels. When a rider in the bunch has to avoid a hazarded or causes a crash, those cyclists behind have an few split seconds to react and take corrective actions. The easiest way to mitigate this risk and lower your chances of getting caught up in a pile up is to stay toward the front of a bunch. Basically it is simple, the fewer riders in front of you the lower the % risk of one of them crashing. In professional cycling the clearest example of this is action is sprinters coming into the last 5km for a sprint finish. You will notice the riders ‘team’ will drive the pace of the bunch and ride their appointed ‘pace man’ right up until the final 200-50meters before it’s on, thus keeping their sprinter safe for the longest time possible as well as placing their speed man in the best possible position to launch.
This clip demonstrates some crashes at the top level that have been caused by various reasons from overlapping wheels, swerving, taking corners too aggressively, hazards on the road and more. (warning - do not watch this if you have a weak stomach!)
Tactic two – Attacks. Though the course of the bike race you will have to deal with attacks on the bunch. Fortunately for armature cycling races individuals make attacks rather than by a coordinated team that have radio link ups to team cars. The relevance of an attack can be broken into two key aspects:
Point 1: In Singapore where courses are flat and fast, if a solo rider goes off the front of a bunch it is highly unlikely they will be able to stay off the front of the pack for any length of time, with the exception of a rider who is simply substantially better than anyone else in the pack (which is not likely). A coordinated pack will generally ride much faster than a solo individual (with the exception mentioned earlier and also with the provision in aspect #2). The main concern is if a group of riders, 3-10 strong, can create a gap on the main bunch. In this situation if this break away group works well together, lapping off and each taking turns to maximize speed and decrease wind resistance it can be tough for the chasing bunch to catch up.
Point 2: Attacks as can be broken into sections of the race in relevance.
Attacks very early in a race need to stay off the front of the bunch for a very long time. Due to this, unless there are several riders in a breakaway; or, the race is very short; or, there are superstars in the breakaway, it is unlikely a breakaway early will stay away (hilly courses or technical courses with many corners can pose exemptions to this rule). Often jumps on a bunch early in a race will be done by a strong riders in order to observe who are the other strong riders in the bunch. Once this is established these riders are watched through the race. In professional cycling where teams have researched the competition, usually attacks early on have a different purpose altogether, ranging from team tactics to getting TV coverage for the team and its sponsors.
Trying to jump on the bunch in the mid-section of a race will often be done to simply create pace changes. Once strong riders have analyzed who the threats are in the bunch, they will attack simply to drop off the weaker riders or max out the legs of key riders in the bunch.
Finally it is in the last 5km down to 1km of the race where attacks become very important. This is where the key riders in contention for a podium position will start to play games. Attacks will come at speed from behind so a rider can make a jump on a bunch at the maximum speed possible. If there has not been a smaller break first, as the race draws close to the line, so to will the pace of the bunch. As the pace increases it becomes much harder for riders positioned at the back of a bunch to move upward leaving possible key positions to those who are positioned at the front of the pack. An all out sprint can start a long way off the line, as many cyclists in the group miss-judge how far they can be at max for. To stay in 2-3rd position until the last 30 meters is ideal to make a final charge and win at the line.
Cycling is a chess game on wheels. Being a smart rider is very important. Although the above race tactics could vary completely for different courses and levels of racing in our experience it has proved as sound rules in dealing with Singapore courses and participants.
The following video is of Mark Cavendish, one of the worlds best sprinters showing how its done. There are also a couple of crashes in this clip as well proving the first point, attacking is only as good as your ability to stay upright.
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