Monday, March 26, 2012

Deer Trail/ Breakaway Tactics.

I wrote this as an email to a friend on how to do well at Deer Trail Road Race in 2011.  It ended up being a very long article about road tactics for a certain type of rider (the type I had become).
The fun part is that I ended up winning this race in the P12 field also.  That makes 3 wins in 3 categories for me and Deer Trail.  woo.

I'm publishing it now for a friend, in case they want some unsolicited advice, and for anybody else who happens to be reading and wants to comment.

Take a look at this:
The course is laid out like a big "L."  After a rollout through the
small town, you go east, turnaround, west, right turn, north,
turnaround south, left turn, east, turnaround, west.  The finish line
is on the west facing leg, meaning you'll see it while passing it on
the east leg, and you'll cross the finish line during the first lap of
the east/west leg.
I won this race twice:  Once as a 4, and 2 years later as a 3.  As a 4
the course was slightly different, but the same idea.  A teammate
drilled it into the turnaround and as we sprinted out of it, about 10
of us got a gap and formed a group.  The group eventually weakened, so
3 of us attacked it.  Later, 1 guy got dropped from our smaller group,
and I beat the last guy in the sprint.
As a 3, I just rolled off the front about halfway through the race and
nobody cared.   I kept it steady, 2 guys bridged up, and I beat them
in the sprint.

Things to think about:

The beginning of the race is likely to be slow and intensely
claustrophobic.  This is my least favorite part of racing and it sucks
but you have to play the game.  DO NOT cross the yellow line.
Especially to move up.  You will get kicked out of the race, or at the
very least, relegated to the back of the pack.  It's also bad form and
makes the team (and you) look bad.  If you have teammates to play
domestique, it's nice to have them push the pace at the front a
little.  Not enough to burn anybody out, just enough to make people
want to ride 2 or 3 wide, instead of 4 or 6 wide across the entire

If you're going to win the race, you need to either attack, or win the
group sprint.  I've never even participated in a group sprint, much
less won one, so Imma stick to attacking:

The goal of attacking is to get yourself separated from the group.
The group is inherently stronger than the individual, but nobody wants
to work if they don't have to, or if somebody else might gain from it.
 In order to attack successfully, you need to go when either:
A) Nobody else is capable of going with you, or,
B) Nobody else is willing to go with you.

Of course, in reality, it's some combination of the two, but in my
opinion, one of these features is dominant in successful attacks. If
you're going to go with A, you need to know your own strengths and
weaknesses.   You also need to know which parts of the course you'll
be best suited to use your strengths while excluding others from using
theirs (they're stuck in the pack, they're recovering from an effort,
they're going too slow at the moment, etc.)

If you're going to go with option B, you're going to have to do things
which others may consider stupid, suicidal, not worth it, etc.  I
spent most of 2009 doing this poorly, and finished 9th or 14th in
plenty of races I could have done better in if I hadn't spent hours
off the front and then gotten caught.  In 2010 I got just a little
smarter about when/where to go, and had more success.  Hopefully you can learn from my bad decisions instead of wasting your own time
figuring it out.

Wind Patterns:
In a tailwind, you get less of a draft, so it hurts even if you're
sheltered.  Understand that it hurts more for everybody, not just you.
 Since everyone is working harder, people are less rested to do things
like cover attacks or bridge to breaks.  Since it hurts so badly,
nobody wants to leave the shelter they think they're getting from the
group.  In my opinion, this is a good section for a hard, fast attack,
because everybody is tired and they're thinking about rest, not extra

In a headwind, you get more benefit from hiding in the group.  People
in spots 2-10 are well rested and ready to pounce on anything that
moves.  People think that the headwind might make it easier to keep a
gap once you get it, but since everybody is thinking that, it's harder
to get a gap in the first place.  In my opinion, this is a good
section to try to roll off the front nonchalantly.  When the gap is
small, people think, "let that idiot twist in the wind."  Then if you
can get some distance, nobody wants to be the sucker that drags the
entire pack back to you.  Attacking hard into a headwind can work too,
but people will be expecting it, so you need to be serious.

Crosswinds Suck.  The concept of an echelon is a good thing to learn,
but in large groups, the reality i've seen is different.  The first 6
or 8 guys will form an echelon until the road runs out, and everybody
else will just line up on the downwind side of the road behind them,
not getting a draft.  If you're in the first (and only) echelon, and
try to rotate through, it's unlikely that you'll be able to get a spot
when you try to get back in.  Teammates can be very useful here.  Take
turns letting each other in, and you get some relief.  Attacking here
can be tricky because the guys in the first echelon are usually the
strong guys, and all of them except the first wheel are being
sheltered.  I've tried to start my own echelon, and ride so that it's
only wide enough for the people who are willing to work to get in.  It
doesn't generally work that well.

Good times to go:
The turnarounds are good places to attack, but everybody knows this,
so every turnaround will be followed by an intense sprint.  Expect
this.  Make sure you don't do too much work if the entire pack is
sitting on your wheel.  If you have a real gap, by all means exploit
it, but keep an eye on what's going on around you to make sure you
aren't just dragging 50 guys down the road.

Everybody is going to be working hard on the up-rollers.  A good time
to attack is just as the group is slowing at the crest.  Of course,
attacking on a descent isn't the greatest idea either, but you gotta
go sometime...

As soon as another attack gets brought in:  This works especially well
if one of the guys off the front was your teammate.  You've identified
the people willing to work, and you know that they're tired from
reeling the last break in.  If you go now, they'll be a little tired,
and they'll expect that it's somebody else's turn to chase you down.
Of course this method requires patience, and the faith that the first
attack (that you weren't a part of) will get brought back.  Having a
teammate in it means that you don't have to worry so much because even if it stays away, your team will have a good chance of doing well.
Also, having a teammate in the break excludes you from having to work. If you're lucky, someone might try to bridge.  You can simply hop on their wheel, and do no work until either they tire out, drag you to the break, or get you close enough to drop them and bridge the rest of the way solo.

It's important to recognize the difference between an attack getting
reeled in, and some random guy just going off the front and then
coming back.  If the pack is just riding along at the same speed they
would have been going if the guy hadn't been off the front, then they
aren't really chasing, and this stuff doesn't apply so much.  People
won't be tired, and the strong guys will still be willing to
accelerate if you try anything.  If a teammate wants to be the guy
that goes early, make sure he knows this.  He's just wasting his time
and energy if the pack is able to catch him without trying.  Also,
don’t put somebody into a break if they’re likely to get dropped from
it.  It’s bad form to chase your teammate, but if they get dropped,
your team has a lot of work to do to bring the rest of break back.

How to go:
If you're going to attack hard and fast, you can't do it from the
first 5 wheels.  People will see what you're doing, and they'll just
hop on your wheel.  You need to do it from farther back, so by the
time you hit those first 5-10 guys, you're going too fast for them to
accelerate to match you.  This can be hard, because the farther back
you go, the murkier your pathway to open road becomes.
You're looking for the perfect combination of:
The group is going a little slow,
you're far back enough to be going way faster than the leaders by the
time you get to them, and
you have a clear shot to the front.

If that opportunity arises, you should take it.  If not, do the best
with what you have, but make sure to get a clean separation.  Don't
waste yourself cuz you think you made a gap, but you really didn't.
Also, when you attack, do it as seldom and as hard as possible.
Throwing out a bunch of half assed attacks will just wear you out and
make it less likely that you'll succeed.

The sneak attack, where you simply roll off the front, is a lot harder
to plan.  This generally happens by accident (to me at least).  If you
can manage to make it happen that you're more than a few bike lengths
away from 2nd wheel, then just quietly lay the hammer down and see if
you can make it grow.  You need to get at least 10 or 15 seconds
before they can notice that you're working.  If you look back and see
a single file line chasing you down, it's probably over.  If you see
guys lined up 6 wide across the road, then it's on...

You need to work as hard as possible for the first minute or so of a
break.  After that, you can look around and see what's going on.  If
you have a small group, pull off and see who is willing to work.  If
you're alone, you're at an impasse.  Keep the effort steady, but not
urgent.  Realistically ask yourself if you can do the rest of the race
as fast or faster than you were just going in the pack.  If you're
lucky, a few guys might bridge and you'll have a breakway.  If not,
you have to make the decision to go solo, or return to the pack.
Don't get yourself into a situation that you'll regret by pulling
others along, or soloing when you know you can't hold the effort.  You
did a lot of work to get a break going, but if others aren't willing
(or able) to help you, it's going to be doomed whether you destroy
yourself or not.

Of course once you get away, you need to stay away, but that's more
about fitness then anything else.  If you find yourself in a group
with someone unwilling to work you need to get rid of them.  They're
either weak, and thus useless, or they're expecting you to drag them
to the sprint.   Make the decision to drop them, or be willing to live
with yourself if they punk you in the sprint.

damn that was long.  I hope it was more useful than it was time consuming.

No comments:

Post a Comment