March 2012: from the Coach -BICYCLE RACING 101- by Coach Steve Lehman

Here are a couple of pointers to help you understand and execute a well thought out race. Racing a bicycle is one of the cruelest forms of competition. It will tax your cardio and muscular systems to their maximum while demanding your complete attention and ability to respond to the ebb and flow of the race without a moment‘s hesitation. It is an extremely violent, explosive, aggravating activity that requires execution of tricky tactics at the moments of greatest duress. During a properly executed race you should feel powerful, alert, in control, as well as a bit guilty for making others work harder than you or a bit like a bully as you continually force your way into the desirable position in the bunch. There are a number of different scenarios for executing a successful race.

Racing with strength as an individual (without a team):

1. There is only one reason to race and that is to win.

2. Never let anything get up the road. Use your teammates (or anyone else you can coerce) or do it yourself, but always control the race.

3. If you are the fastest sprinter, do no additional work beyond what is necessary to keep the group together until the sprint.

4. If you are not the fastest sprinter use your strength to make everyone work chasing down your repeated attacks. Do this until you are off the front, either alone or with a small group, that contains no sprinters.

An attack works something like this. From a position in the peloton, let's say four or five riders back from the front, you launch your attack. First you should shift into a gear which is the best to accelerate in for the speed you are riding. At a peloton speed of 22 mph this might be a 53x15. Subtly allow a gap of about one bike length to open between you and the rider in front of you. Once that gap opens accelerate through it and swing out along the line of riders. Continue to accelerate and possibly shift to a higher gear as you blow past the rider at the front of the peloton. Your effort at the beginning of this attack should be a maximal, maximal effort. That is, your effort should be as hard as you can possibly go, but only for 5-6 seconds. Any full-on effort beyond that amount of time will blow your leg muscles and your race will be over. Once you have a gap quickly assess the damage you have caused. If you are up the road and the group does not seem to be chasing, then go into a time trial pace you believe you could hold for at least ten minutes. Again, do not kill yourself. If, or when, they bring you back, you must be ready to go again.

Racing with teammates:

1. You are racing as a team and not as an individual. The main goal is for the team to win. If that means you are the first one across the line, all the better, but the team must win.

2. Never let anything get up the road. Always control the race.

3. If you or a teammate are the fastest sprinter, then keep the field together until the final run into the finish. No real sprinter is happy with a "bunch sprint win" behind the ultimate winner who is up the road in a breakaway. At this point, if you are not the "designated" sprinter, go to the front and ramp the speed to such a point that attacks are discouraged. Lead your sprinter out and win.

4. If you don't want to wait until the sprint then institute what I call a one/two attack strategy. This can be a one/two/three/four strategy if you have three strong teammates. At any rate there should be an attack by you or a teammate. The attack should be from at least a couple of riders back, so the speed of your attack is much faster than the speed of the group as you pass the lead rider. This move will open a gap quickly and force the group to chase. Just before the group connects with the attacker, you or a teammate should counter attack viciously, thus forcing the bunch to chase again. This scenario should be continued until you or one of your teammates is up the road either alone or with a small group of riders that you can handle at the finish. If not you or your teammate should stop working with the breakaway and even thwart their progress and another counterattack should occur when you are brought back.

5. If your team's breakaway is a success, that means it includes one of your riders and other riders of lesser ability, then your team should begin to block the field. Blocking is simply getting into the rotation often, soft pedaling as you arrive at the front and otherwise thwarting the progress of the bunch to bring the breakaway back.

Pulling through:

Rotation in the peloton and eventually winding up at the front is referred to as pulling through. Now, how and why you pull through can mean different things.  If the purpose of your effort is to help move the peloton up the road quickly, then you want to encourage your "workmates", move smoothly and purposefully and do everything you can to maintain speed. You will advance in the rotating line safely.

On the other hand if your intention is to slow the peloton down, then you should be as subtly disruptive as possible. Why would you do this? Well, if you have a teammate up the road that has a real shot at winning the race you want to thwart the effort of the field (and other teams) to bring him or her back. So, how do you do this without being obvious or at least preventing others from working you out of the rotation? Here are a few tips. Get in the rotation and pull through to the front. As the rider in front of you peels off pull through slowly, not a dramatic decline in speed, but slower. This may seem like a subtle change in speed, but every mile per hour helps that breakaway up the road that contains your teammate. This action (or lack of it) will infuriate the riders in the line who are interested in bringing the breakaway back. They will berate you and tell you to get out of the line, but you will continue your slow pull. The rider or riders behind, in their impatience, will jump around you. As they do a gap will open up behind them which you or a teammate will fill, thus putting you, and your interest in slowing the speed, back in the rotation.

I will not tell you anything that hasn't been helpful to me or led me to ultimate accomplishment of my goal (winning). I do not know another cyclist who has been as successful as I have been in nearly all types of bicycle racing on the road and track. I am not telling you this to beat my own drum. I am telling you this, because I am a mediocre cyclist who learned how to train and how to race over a the nearly 30 years since my first bicycle race. Listen to me. Employ these individual or team methods and watch the victories roll in?

Steve Lehman Tours, Ltd.
Cyclo-tourism and Coaching

648 West Spring Street
Fleetwood, PA  19522



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