Team Riding – Probably Don’t Bother

This entry was posted in Racing on by .

I was interested in watching Brandon Dwight and Peter Webber race together the last couple weekends. I’ve been following them for the past year or so, from afar, and was interested in watching in person to see how well they worked together. It is weird how many races that they seemed to be riding with each other nearly the whole time. This doesn’t mean any disrespect to either of these guys, but I didn’t see anything that made me think that they were doing much to help each other. They just happen to be on the same team and have about the same amount of ability.

In Madison, the course was sketchy. Brandon was climbing better than Peter, so Peter was always playing catch up the whole day. In Louisville, it was a little different, but not that much different. They weren’t really riding together like you would think that team mates would. Brandon was behind with a lap to go and had to make a big surge to get back up to Peter to get into contention. They did ride nearly identical times on the last lap, but unless I missed something, it really looked like they were racing each other to the finish line at the end. But, it is cross and there isn’t a whole lot that someone can do when it gets down to just you and your team mate.

I was thinking more about team riding, in all aspects of the sport, and I don’t want to burst too many of your bubbles out there, but it really doesn’t apply to the majority of riders. I’d say that if you’re a Cat 2 and lower, maybe just go ahead and forget any type of team tactic discussion before the start of nearly any race. Most the stuff you would discuss is in Bike Racing 101, so it really doesn’t need to be rehashed before the start of every local event.

I think it is so strange listening to guys that are Cat. 4’s, talking about the previous weekends races and they are saying how they buried themselves for a team mate with a lap to go, got shelled, and then the team mate finished 6th or whatever. It is pretty apparent that they have no idea what they are talking about, but everyone (other Cat. 4’s) agrees that it was an honorable sacrifice and good team work. What they don’t realize is that the newer the riders are to the sport, the more unorthodox the tactics are, making them nearly impossible to read.

I’d say that a lot of time, even in the Pro Tour ranks, team work is pretty meaningless. Modern day team work that is, team work that puts your whole team in the wind for kms upon kms. Most of that is really done for TV time I think. There is a ton of team work done by riders wearing the same jerseys that really help each other out. Stuff like letting your team mate out of the wind when it is in the gutter, etc., but the majority of stuff that these guys do as a cohesive unit is usually for naught.

I’m not saying here that all team work in the Pro Tour is wasted, I know they have to do something to try to win races, but many times, ultimately, it comes down to which one guy can sprint faster, climb better or is just that much stronger that usually wins.

But, the Pro Tour and local races are far apart. There is too much diversity in riders abilities in local and regional teams to allow much real team work to happen.

I think that most riders in local races should do their best to try to win each and every race themselves, without chasing down a team mate down in the process. That is probably the most that should be expected from someone wearing your jersey. It’s hard enough trying to keep track of what you’re trying to accomplish, let alone trying to watch out for a bunch of other guys whose race tactics are all over the place. Save most of the interaction with your team mates until after the race, when you talk about it over a few beers.

These guys were never more than a few seconds apart for the last three races of the season.

Oliver Zaugg, here winning Lombardi, after letting Sky and Garmin use all their riders up on the final climb.

18 thoughts on “Team Riding – Probably Don’t Bother

  1. Dan D.

    I pretty much agree. I am a Cat 4 and “team” riding never seems to work out, if we actually get more than 3 guys at one race in the first place. But I did have a race, an Omnium, where I needed a top 5 in the final crit to preserve my second place podium spot. A teammate drilled it for like 3 laps with me riding his wheel, while riders started dropping off and getting pulled. He all but ensured me my podium spot by doing that, because my closet rival couldn’t handle the pace my teammate set and all I had to do was go along for the free ride. Steve, what are your thoughts on that?

  2. tilford97 Post author

    I’m glad that worked out. But the reality is that anyone could have been at the front pulling. When guys are getting dropped in a race because one guy is at the front pulling, then the other riders weren’t that good to start with. With drafting in cycling being so critial, one guy has to be tremendously better than everyone else to ride them off the back on the flats.

    If your closet rival couldn’t handle your teammates pace, while drafting, then he didn’t deserve to be there at the end to start with.

  3. AP

    I disagree with you about this. Just because you arent paid to ride on a team doesnt mean that you shouldnt ride like a team. If one person on your team has the ability to win a field sprint, then why not set up a leadout on the last lap or to? Or what about trading attacks so that a teammate can establish a break?
    I think the problem with most teams is that it is always the same one or two people who expect to win. The point of teamwork is to get everyone a high finish, kind of like rotating through who gets to be the sprinter. That way everyone on the team can eventaully get enough upgrade points and cat up together. Team tactics are one of the aspects that make bike racing fun. More people in the lower categories just need to understand how team tactics work, and not chase down every move that goes off the front.

  4. PS

    I agree with you that teamwork in lower cats is pointless, but that doesn’t mean it’s not fun.

    99% of the time it doesn’t work, but that 1% that it does makes it worth the effort.

    As with anythign else in life, you have to practice something if you want to get good at it.

  5. Dan D.

    I think in the case of my teammate drilling it for me, it created a gap. He, myself, and maybe 2 or 3 other riders were all drafting in a lead group, and then it was a 5-6 bike length gap to the main pack who were caught out by the acceleration. I cannot say for sure because my teammate and I were busy working. The group that got caught out had to work hard to close the gap, and the riders on the back of that chase group couldn’t handle the pace and started to fall off. This was just a Masters 30 Cat 4/5 race, so yes, you’re probably correct in your assesment of the ability of some of the riders. But one thing to use as an arguement FOR team tactics in the lower categories, is, me and my teammate had this discussion BEFORE the race. He had no aspirations of a top finish, so he told me beforehand what he was planning to do and when. Other riders were caught out and it really jumbled up the field.

    It’s true that anyone could have been pulling on the front. But that “anyone” would not have been mindful of me, and made sure to keep a steady and smooth pace, hold their line, trade equal pulls, etc. Nor would I have possibly known about any sudden jumps in speed or when “anyone” might really lay down an attack.

    With all due respect, I think there are some tatcics that are worthwhile in the lower categories. Thanks for your reply, Steve!

  6. chad

    Team tactics work best in a windy RR. How many times have you had 4 out of the 6 guys in the Ia City RR because Bill and yourself gutter everyone leaving just enough room for your mates.

  7. Jim

    Yes, Sky and Garmin have been instrumental in stringing it out just enough so that someone else wins. They’ve done a great job in demonstrating they don’t have any sprinters, aside from EBH.
    That’s about to change this year.
    Since Cadel won last year despite having a weak team, making that even more impressive. Sorry Trudi.

  8. SB

    Steve, I agree that most American lower cats simply don’t have the ability to follow through on their planned tactics, once the whistle blows. I know my clubmates have been victim to that problem many times. The strong riders, no matter what jersey, are still going to end up at the front end of the race, once things get fast.


    Even with a mixed crew of overweight 3’s and 4’s, using basic tactics such as leadouts and alternating attacks, we were able to get results many times.

    So, it’s not impossible, it’s just uncommon.

  9. tilford97 Post author

    Guys – I wasn’t trying to say that tactics are to be completely ignored in lower class races, it just shouldn’t be the emphasis. There is way too much learning to be missed if you try to do the tactics of someone else. And that is what you’re trying to do racing lower class races, is to learn how to be a better bike racer.

    Like I said above, Bike Racing 101 is the basic knowledge that any guy that been doing it over a couple years should have. Leading a team mate out to the last corner, not chasing a team mate, etc. is all included in that. As a group, a team shouldn’t need to discuss that before each and every race.

    I’ve raced more races than about anyone on this planet and I still don’t see the whole picture some of the time. Seeing the whole picture is what allows you to better your chances at having your best results.

    The strongest rider doesn’t usually win a bicycle race. It takes lots of different attributes and some of those are very hard to attain. And you aren’t going to absorb them as quickly when you’re worried about how to help John finish top 5 and keep his 3rd overall in the series.

  10. Aki

    I think that in ‘cross, just like in road racing (read: hills), teamwork is less important in the lower categories (I count myself as being in a lower category). In those races it’s all about fitness/power, kind of like running. I haven’t done cross and I got shelled in every road race I did save one (but I was in a group that got lapped by the winner on a 5km course).

    At the same time, in crits, especially ones where breaks rarely succeed, teamwork can really help (or hinder). I’m not very strong but when backed by a strong team I can do pretty well. I averaged about 175w for that race (which is about what I average in a crit – at 200w I’m either off the back or I can’t sprint). My teammate Cliff was over to 350w for the same race. Incredibly, in the leadout, my HR dropped 5 bpm, giving me a great launchpad for the final sprint. If I’d been fighting for position in that last lap I don’t think I’d have had quite the same position going into the sprint.

    Yes I know it looks easier (and it is easier) than a Cat 2 or M35 race but it’s what it is 🙂

    I do agree that working hard for a sprint too early is a no-no. I watched a local pro (Adam Myerson) take advantage of some huge leadout trains, launch his own guy with 500m to go, slaughtering the leadout train in the process. One of the last Hartford Crits I think 9 guys from a Canadian team went to the front and got totally derailled at the end.

  11. Dan D.

    Looking up other pre-registered rider’s results before a race (so you know who to mark), watching the pedaling motion (or general body language) of riders in a break to judge if it will stick, observing how a guy is wearing his helmet, checking for a smooth or wrinkled bib AND how well it’s pinned on, avoiding pulling in a crit, asking riders you don’t know – during the race – if they’d like to “try it” on the next lap, etc….is that still Bike Racing 101? Or am I starting to learn a few things? I ask this with 100% sincerity. Steve, you probably have ridden more races than anyone on the planet. So, the stuff I mention above…Bike Racing 101 or is that maybe 201? ??

  12. mike

    Great post
    I should forward this to my team,I figure until they’re fit enough NOT to get dropped they shouldn’t be worried about tactics.And no riding at 30 mph for a 100 yrds 100 ft in front of the peleton is not softening up the pack(for my teammates that read your blog).

    Also watching you down in Louisville you really didn’t look like you were working super hard compared to Myrah who looked like he was trying to rip his cranks off every time he passed us

  13. carlos flanders

    Dan D,


    You had teammates in the race?

    You were winning that omnium when the race started but came 2nd overall because it was a sprint finish. The guy who won has never lost a sprint and vaulted over you to first.

    How’s about trying to drop the sprinter and thus winning the overall, rather than aiming for 2nd and handing the victory to someone else?

  14. Jody Prummer

    I love working for a teammate and then with 10k to go he say’s he dosen’t have the legs and gets droped. Even when he sucked wheels all race. I agree with you Steve. The only race tactic I like is to have fun.

  15. Shaun w

    Couldn’t agree more Steve. the pathetic degree of team-work, even in masters racing, is why I never got into local crits out this way.
    In contrast, on the track (San Diego) the attitude of the riders is exactly as you suggest: everyone doing their best to win for themselves, as long as they’re not chasing down a team-mate (though I’ve instructed mine to NEVER hold back).

  16. matt

    I disagree. I have been worked over by team tactics a number of times as a cat 2. In many cases the result would have been different if all racers were in it for themselves. Think of the old one- two. It sucks to be without a teammate when that one starts. What about if one rider is high on GC and needs teammates to chase down attacks? Ir they aren’t there it changes everything.


Comments are closed.