Unorthadox Tactics

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I was racing the Tour of Southland, in New Zealand, a few years back and on the last day it was super windy. Like 40-50 mph windy. That isn’t so unusual down on the southern tip of the South island in New Zealand The last day was two stages. A 50ish mile race point to point. Then an couple hours to eat and finally a short 40ish mile stage back to Invercargill. The first stage was nearly all tailwind. It was virtually flat with one couple mile climb right in middle.

We hit that climb in our 11’s and were climbing at 25 mph. The field still split up. I was riding on a team with Thurlow Rogers, my old Levi’s team mate. Towards the top, Thurlow and I were together and a group of 8 or so got a gap. I made a big effort over the top and made the front group. It was Hayden Roulston, HTC, Greg Henderson, SKY and a few others. The problem was that I suck with tailwind. Especially 50mph tailwind. I was spinning my 11 at 48-50 mph and was hurt. I stayed on for a few miles a eventually got popped. I couldn’t believe it.

Anyway, Thurlow caught up to me a little while later on his own. Thurlow has always pedaled super high cadence. I had to tell him to ease up a few times the last 30 minutes. It is weird how short a race is at that speed. You look down and you have 25 miles to go, but you’re going 45 mph. It had to of been the fastest average speed I’ve ever had in a race.

Thurlow and I moved up on GC some because we were the next guys to finish behind the leaders. We sat around the 2 hours and got ready to race the final stage.

The problem was the wind was still blowing, but the direction of the course was different. We were going to ride about 8 miles into a direct headwind and then turn right and have 50 mph crosswind the whole way to the finish. Every rider in the race was crazy nervous. I told Thurlow that we needed to go to the front immediately and pull with Rouston’s team that was going to be setting tempo. There are only 5 rider teams in this race, so there would only be 4 guys rotating. He asked me why. I told him that if we pulled the first 8 miles rotating, that when we got to the right corner that they would be “used” to us rotating through and we would have “earned” a slot in the rotation when it was side wind/gutter riding. Thurlow didn’t sound very convinced, but when the race started and I got up to the front, there was Thurlow.

Hayden’s team was a little perplexed at first why Thurlow and I were rotating and taking pulls. But, having 6 guys rotating into that crazy of a wind was much, much easier than just 4. We were probably only going 14 mph or so full tilt. We we got close to the corner, Hayden said something about bringing up the speed. It worked like clockwork. There was a mild sprint for the corner, but we turned it was a group and instantly there wasn’t enough room. Within a mile there were probably only 15 of us left. Just enough to do a double echelon across the road. And it was super easy. A big 15 guy echelon with everyone pulling. A lot of good riders missed that move.

I don’t remember exactly how the race played out. One guy from Christian House’s team, I think David Pell got away and won. Both Thurlow and I finished in the top 10 somewhere. There was very little chance that Thurlow or I would have made that split by regular bike racing. The New Zealand guys aren’t that friendly with the Americans on the road and most likely wouldn’t have let us in the rotation..

Afterward, Thurlow came up and said that the tactic was brilliant. Coming from him, I took it as a very nice compliment. It goes to show that sometimes that obscure race tactics/moves really aren’t luck and they do win bike races.

10 thoughts on “Unorthadox Tactics

  1. Tanner

    Brilliant! I love the education that each race brings. It is such an art and a game of strategy. I don’t have a particular stance on the race radio business…..yet, but I like the comment that you had about individuals who are tactically stupid being able to win races with radios. I making a decision in a race, and having to ‘suffer’ the consequences; positive or negative!

  2. Steve Wathke

    Yeah, in my small time experience at the amatuer level I have even noticed that if you are at the front early in the race that people feel obliged to let you back in on the rotation plus a lot of guys just dont want to do any work. That’s when problems arise for them. Thanks for the story and the tactics. I’ll try to use them in my own races.-Steve

  3. Dan Lowe

    That is a brilliant tactic, Steve. And I am wondering how it came to you to suggest to Thurlow that you two should give it a try.

  4. tilford97 Post author

    Dan-I’m not sure of my thought process. But, it was obvious by the weather conditions, the race was going to explode. At a given place. A corner. It is much better trying to prepare for that event before hand that just let the dice roll. Normally, in bicycle racing, you have to make instantaneous decisions. Here, I had a while to think through the situation and that was what I came up with. I guess I wouldn’t have written about it if it didn’t work.

  5. Ettore

    Steve the other day I was organizing my book shelve and I pulled out Roger St. Pierre’s Book on Racing Tactics. What a damn coincidence you happen to post a copy of this booklet. I bought my copy back when I was 15 years old and I am now 58 and still pulling hard up at the front when the young ones allow me! Good show mate!

  6. Ken

    When you finally retire from racing, I think someone could find a place for you as a DS, then you can relay all of these great tactics you’ve learned through the years to riders who will never have the opportunity to learn them. Of course, you’ll be doing it through their earpieces via radio during the race. We don’t want them to think too hard (but then with riders like Ricardo Ricco, I think you can understand the need for radios).

  7. Steven Aesoph

    Today’s race won by the break demonstrates again your point on race radios. Without them, the teams are far less organized and those not schooled in tactics from experience or great coaching don’t win.


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