Leadouts-Do they really work?

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I was watching the finish to Vuelta a Castilla y Leon today and have nearly come to the conclusion that this leadout thing doesn’t really work. Sky was controlling the field very well for the last 4 or 5 km. But, with less than a km to go, it went south for them. I think their guy ended up 3rd.

The leadout might keep your guy out of the direct wind and a little safer leading up to the sprint. I’m not positive about that either. But, when it comes down to the finish, I think that it is a toss up whether sacrificing you whole team for one guy really works. Remember a couple years ago when Cavendish was winning at ToC. He was freelancing the whole time and was killing it. I think you, as a sprinter, have a much higher chance with maybe only one other team mate involved.

I’d be interested if there were statistics on the winners of races in field sprints and the chance that a winner actually came from the team that controlled the race during the finale. I think it would be a losing proposition.

In the US, it hardly ever works, especially in criteriums. My observation is that the “Pro” riders use so much energy just trying to stay on and protect the wheel of their team mates, that they are toast by the time they have to go fast at the end. I watched both the criterium and Sunset Loop at Redlands end without an organized winner. Fly V had it lined up the last stage, but Cole House outsmarted them with two corners to go.

I do realize that the overall safety of the race is increased dramatically by the speed being super high at the end. But, if I was running a team, I’m pretty sure I’d never put all my eggs in one basket and play the leadout game.

I guess these team directors have to do something to earn their $$$$. Why not make the riders work, even if it is for naught.

18 thoughts on “Leadouts-Do they really work?

  1. Beedee

    I wonder what Cav and HTC would have to say about that… Perhaps it only works if you have the best pure sprinter since … Insert legend here..

  2. Joe_Beer

    It took Highroad all of 2008 to get their train sorted, and they really only had it firing on all cylinders in 2009. Petacchi’s Faso train was hit or miss in 2004-2005, though Petacchi himself was pretty good. Any other decent trains in the last decade? Please, someone, say Garmin!

  3. Steven

    I watched that race, too and agree 100% Steve. If you don’t have the fastest guy in the race (which I’m sure SKY knows they don’t…) then why lead it out from 5K out only to be exhausted at 500m to go and have your guy (Downing) get past by the guys who got an armchair ride (Ventoso and 2nd placed guy) ????

    Only lead-out if you know you got the fastest guy in the peloton. Otherwise, it looks REALLY bad when your train falls apart with 1/2K to go and all the “solo” sprinters snip you on the line.

  4. flyn pharmacist

    I remember some Robbie dude coming out of nowhere to win and basically saying “I don’t need no stinking train”

  5. Joseph Jefferson

    I liked it better last year when Sky would sit back at the earlier portion of the final 5k and then make a late charge in the last two and steal the show. The lead out “only” works if you have enough horsepower on the front to keep the other teams out of the mix. The problem now is that every sprinter wants to be the star and strike out on their own. This means that there are more sprinters fighting for the front and fewer super teams to control the run in to the line. The same holds true for US based criteriums where the courses are tighter and it is even harder to get all of you power at the front of the field.

  6. Texas rider

    Interesting you mention statistics… I’ve often wondered why cycling doesn’t have stat geeks like baseball/football etc do.

    I’ve never seen ANYTHING beyond individual power numbers given stat analysis.

    Always thought it’d be interesting to dissect a couple decades worth of pro races to see the patterns.

  7. Ted Lewandowski

    Watching a race on tv is not the same as being in the field – I will never forget the Tour of Somerville (NJ) in 1987 – arguably the fastest criterium in the world (50 miles in less than 1:45 then!!!) and hanging with Paul Pearson in the back of the filed – both of us leaving a 50 meter gap for all the corners and riding through at full speed to catch back on the accordion-effect in the peloton as they made their way up to speed from all the corners – we could have literally been smoking cigars – and to watch him attack the field as it slowed just so with 2 laps to go and win the race is amazing.

    So you can have leadouts if you choose to – and then you can win solo if you have the smarts to do that on your own.

    Riders today relay too much on the director sportif – and radios – thus have no initiative like when we were racing.

  8. Sean YD

    Texas rider: As someone in professional cycling who is charged with producing as many statistics as possible, it’s extremely difficult. About the only consistent factor in the sport is that everyone is riding a bike with two wheels. It’s not like your traditional “ball sports” that are more conducive to statistics.

  9. leadout guy

    Yeah a lot of these pro teams seem to be starting from way to far out. When Cav won the last stage of the Tour in 2009, you didn’t see Hincapie till the 1k banner, and then he drilled it from there.

  10. jpete

    I think some of it depends on the type of sprinter too. Petacchi and Cipo were similar in that they seemed to fair better if the speed was already ramped way up. McEwen would prefer a snappier, more chaotic sprint, I imagine. So, I think a tour stage ending in a 2km long straightaway would definitely favor cipo circa ’97 and his red train over a more resourceful rider like a Friere or McEwen.

  11. Aki

    The thing with leadouts is that they need to eliminate the others from contention. To wit – Steegmans leading out McEwen in that one Tour. Steegmans went so hard that no one could go past him; the leadouts started at about 400m to go. Heck, in one stage Steegmans was raising his hands in celebration of McEwen’s win and he still got 9th.

    It seems that most 2-3 km leadouts, excepting Petacchi’s train with Fasso, were more like “pulls” than leadouts. The Fasso guys were drag racing everyone and beating them into submission, with 2-3 guys left at 1k to go.

    A strong sprinter can use a good leadout. A weak sprinter won’t be able to take advantage of one, although it’s possible (see Subaru note below).

    The best leadout I remember reading about was Mike McCarthy’s Subaru/Montgomery leadout at 40-42 mph in some final-of-a-series crit. Gaggioli, on a rival team, tried to move up and admitted using up his sprint to move from 7th to 3rd in line. Gaggioli didn’t win – a Subaru rider did.

  12. Jamie Smith

    Good observation, Steve.
    Brian McDonough was the “One Man Wrecking Crew”. He made a living as a solo rider picking apart other lead-out trains.
    If you know how it’s supposed to work, you can take liberties.

  13. Wayne

    Lead outs, especially over distances like 5k out keep the sprinter still in contention vs him having to slug it out with Puncheurs and other opportunists. For a lot of flat courses it makes sense as it increases the chances of your sprinter.


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