NEGATIVE RACING 101

This Sunday (9/13/09) the Tri-State Velo 55+ team gave our field at the Yuasa Criterium a good lesson in negative racing. This form of racing is not the first thing you think of when you envision a bicycle race. It is relatively slow. All breakaway attempts are brought back and the field is kept together for the final dash to the finish. Most cyclists hate this type of race, but sometimes is the best strategy. Sunday was such a race for our team.                                                                            

Bike Line's Andy Buck and I (Steve Lehman) were first and second, respectively, in the Pennsylvania Best All Round (PA BAR) contest with just this race and next weekend's PA State Time Trial Championship left on the calendar. While Andy had a commanding lead of 151 points, it was still possible (but maybe not probable) for me to win the PA BAR. Points toward the PA BAR Classification are awarded per race with 80 points going to the winner, 60 to second, 45 to 3rd, 35 to 4th, etc. Championship races are awarded double points. I am usually a better time trialist, so with a much better result then Andy in both remaining races I could "theoretically" pull it off.                     

For most of the season's races I have won with an attack relatively early in the race. I would attack and my teammates would block or otherwise thwart attempts to bring me back. This is a solid strategy for the win. Andy Buck, however, is usually able to get up the road with me. Today, I needed him to finish several places behind me, so unless Andy was having a bad day, that strategy would not give me the advantage in points I needed. Lately, I have sprinting better than Andy, as have some others in our field. Therefore, a sprint finish with a few riders between us would deliver the desired result, but we'd have to see how the race played out.                                     

The field contained my team of Ron Ruggiero, Tom Kellogg, John Capaldo, Steve Laverty and Jay Hoffman. Also present were Andy and teammate, Roy Detweiler, Guy's Bob Kehl and Carlos Da Silva, BiKyle's Kevin Tuttle, ERA's Barry Free, Big Daddy Phil Stanley and several others. It was a very good field for this final "mass start" race of the PA BAR.                                                                                              

Our race was 20 laps of this .8 mile, four corner circuit. Between turns one and two and halfway down the backstretch was an accent which gave opportunity to launch an attack and/or shed weaker riders. Halfway down the back stretch we would descend to and through turns three and four. Negotiating those corners at high speed with their high curbing was at the least somewhat scary. The home straight was not straight, but kind of boomerang shaped. Again, there was the protrusion of a curb midway and at the fastest point of this tailwind driven section of the circuit.    

Shortly after the start of the race riders started to test their legs. There were attacks and counter attacks, all brought back. I jumped Andy several times and each time he was able to respond. He, likewise, attacked several times and I had no problem finding his wheel. It soon became obvious to me that I would have to rely on my sprint and revert to negative racing to put any "distance" between Andy and myself. There were several attacks by Kehl, Tuttle, and Kellogg, but all were brought back. Twice, I reluctantly dragged the field over to Tuttle in my effort to keep the group together. This provided a race that probably averaged no more then 20 miles per hour. It is an agonizing way to race, but the desired result necessitated it today.                  

With two laps to go Bike Line's Detweiler went to the front and led the group in a moderate tempo. It was just fast enough to discourage a late race attack and played into my hands. As we entered the final lap he slowed the pace in an effort to get off the front. No one came around and as we exited turn two of the back stretch the field mushroomed from curb to curb. At this point an attentive Tom Kellogg attacked with great fury and was up the road on the blink of an eye . . . Perfect! I hoped this would encourage another rider to chase, give me a wheel to sit on and get me through turn four and onto the finish straight with a minimum of effort. At that very time a rider I didn't recognize in a Navigator uniform went to the front and buried himself in the very move I had hoped for. He made no gain on Kellogg, but got me through the final corner without incident. For his effort I jumped with everything I had as I came around his wheel. I hit my final shift into the 53x11 and still had 150 meters to go. The entire way to the line I thought I was hearing the riders on my wheel coming around, but the fear only fueled my flight. With less than 20 meters to go Kehl came into my peripheral vision. This drove me even harder and I bettered him by little more than the width of a tire for a second place finish. Kellogg made good his long run to the finish and was far enough off the front to cross the line with a crowd pleasing, two-handed salute.                                                                                                     

My second place finish wasn't ideal for me. Winning would have awarded me more points, but with Andy Buck's 4th place finish the points separation wouldn't have been significantly better. It was, however, our team's best finish of the year with a first and second place finish. Today, all the guilt we felt bringing riders back, sitting on rider's wheels when they look back pleading for us to help, and otherwise disrupting everyone's desire to race fast delivered a very satisfying victory. Sometimes a negative race can deliver a very positive result.                                   

Respectfully submitted by Steve Lehman