Tour Guys – How to ride in a Break, once again.

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I have been watching the Tour everyday and still can’t believe how often, nearly always, a break of 4 or 5 guys ride in double echelon instead of single. Can anyone come up with an answer for why they do that? I have two answers –

1. They ride in double echelon because they want everyone to do nearly the same amount of work, so they are willing to sacrifice extra energy and time by riding in a square.

2. Most the guys never ride in a break and they don’t have any idea how they should ride to use the least amount of energy and ride the fastest.

I can’t think of any other answers. Anyone? Yesterday, I can’t believe after Luis Leon attacked Gilbert, Sagan and Co. that the remaining four kept rotating in a square, double echelon. So, 2 out of 4 riders were in the wind at all times. So, in theory, they were going just as fast as if two guys were chasing, and they were riding single echelon, obviously. I wonder if we’ll eventually see a 3 man break riding in double echelon. That’s the only thing I can think of more stupid than 4 guys riding it. Then, each rider could be in the wind 66.6% of the time and sitting in the draft only 33.3%.

Not even in a 9 rider TTT, do we see team ride double echelon. There is a different reason for this, mainly allowing different riders to sit at the front, in the wind, for longer periods of time and at different speeds, but it is still an example of why people ride single echelon to go fast. A 9 man double echelon would work fine normally in a break when everyone isn’t drilling it, but once there is a big diversity in abilities and speeds, then it has to go back to single echelon.

And what is weird and amazingly right is that the guys in the field that are trying to control the field, and usually catch the break, they nearly always ride in a single echelon, leaving a rider at the front for long periods, going the speed that suits him. So, you have a break, riding inefficiently trying to win and the field riding efficiently. No wonder so many breaks fail to make it to the line.

And as long as we’re talking about yesterday final break, what’s the deal with the hand position that Sanchez was using at the end. I’ve seen a few other guys doing it? I really don’t get the weird hand positions. The one that Luis Leon was using doesn’t make any sense. I can sort of understand the aero bar, no hands on the bars style, but to wrap you hands around your brake levers backwards, is dumb. Why not just put your hands over your brake levers the normal way. You’d have way more stability and control. I’m wondering if he thinks he’s getting more aero in that position, maybe he thinks his arms are narrower. It doesn’t seem like it. I’m worried that there are a bunch of young guys out there honing their skills at this new technique right this very moment. Heaven forbid.

The remaining 4 from yesterday’s break, chasing Sanchez. Doesn’t surprise me that they didn’t catch him.

And, Luis Leon’s hand position. Do you think he sometimes trains with his hands like this? That would amaze me.

27 thoughts on “Tour Guys – How to ride in a Break, once again.

  1. patrick

    i wondered the same thing about hand position. servais knaven used to ride with his hands like that also. it must be comfy for guys with double jointed wrists or something. i tried it just to see what it felt like and could barely even ride with my hands like that-not to mention the fact that i kept pulling on the brake levers.

  2. dicky

    Maybe his new hand position allows for an easier transition to his proprietary finish line salute he’s been working on?

  3. Lou

    I’ve always used the double echelon when we were in a position where I couldn’t trust the other guys in the group. By taking shorter pulls you are more prepared if someone attacks. Alternatively, if you make a standard paceline and take long, hard pulls at the front, true that it is more efficient, but you also expose yourself to not being able to respond if someone attacks. So, yesterday the chasers must have been concerned that one of them would attack and try to bridge to Sanchez so they played it safe and everyone lost. my .02

  4. charlie

    Actually, I have ridden like this. It is a close assimilation to aero bars. It gets you a little lower for aerodynamics and can let you rest your upper body a bit as well. If the road is clean, little wind…I will simply hang my arms on the handlebars and achieve same. However, too risky with the low amount of control if conditions are not ideal.

  5. Nick

    If your levers are placed high enough, it’s actually a pretty safe way to get a little more aero while taking a load off of your arms. Only to be used while solo and on a smooth road. It’s my goto position when I’m off the front and starting to fall-apart, great for just focusing on putting power to the pedals.

  6. -kw

    I tried that LLS hand position yesterday for about three seconds. I’m sure I upped my speed by about 10mph. Amazing, but way too advanced for me.

  7. Barry

    as for the hand position, it seems he gets the aero benefits of the usual fore arms on the bar tops, but gets a little more control by actually having his hands on the brakes. seems reasonable so long as you can reach.

  8. Formerly Jim

    Talking out my ass here, I think the double allows all riders in the break to cover an attack with less distance to make up and less potential traffic to go around if one were caught at the back.

    Maybe also the double also allows the riders to look at each other more to gauge each other’s fatigue.

    Also the stronger ones may want to tire out the weaker ones, assuming they think it will go to the end.

    Sanchez looks very flexible; perhaps he’s stretching his back a bit,creating less frontal area while relaxing his shoulders, arms and hands. Lots of guys don’t really like to ride in the drops or their bike is set up with the drops too low to sustain position. You see Cancellara with elbows on the tops a bit without hanging on to anything; I can see softly draping your hands over the levers.

  9. Mike Rodose

    Never assume any young rider, especially euro, is using rational thinking, facts, logic, physics, nor any empirical data when showing off these “advances”.

    It’s about getting attention and chicks.

    And I will mimic this and resemble a feeble praying mantis with lyme disease. But might get more chicks.

  10. Thomas

    Steve did you really mean this? 2.” Most the guys never ride in a break and they don’t have any idea how they should ride to use the least amount of energy and ride the fastest.”

    I am sure Luis Leon and Gilbert have a pretty good idea of how to ride in a break.

    We see guys ride in a double line week in and week out. You suspect me to buy none of them know how to ride in a break? If it did not work they would not do it.

    Next time you are in the break give it a shot

  11. tilford97 Post author

    Thomas-There is no way you can convince me that with 4 riders, it is anywhere near efficient to ride in a double echelon. “If it did not work they would not do it?” What makes you think that. Those guys do things all the time that don’t make any sense.

    If it is so fast and efficient, explain to me why during team time trials, 9 riders on the same team ride in single echelon. Or why the Sky riders, when they have 4 guys rotating on the front, don’t ride double echelon?

    The reason is simple, there is no reason to have 2 riders out of 4 in the wind at all times.

    Look at the math, you can be in the wind 25% of the time or 50% of the time. Better yet, you can be drafting 50% or the time or 75% or the time. You chose which is better.

    Explain to me how I’m missing something here?

  12. chiefhiawatha

    I tried to ignore this, but when you’re saying echelon, don’t you mean paceline? Echelons are diagonal.

  13. Wayne

    Steve, isnt the double paceline due to shorter fast pulls, so pulling off you dont fall back fast enough. with TTTs and team tempo riding the pulls are longer and more coordinated.

  14. TomasC

    They actually weren’t chasing Sanchez. Their primary preoccupation was not to help Sagan win. Clearly they didn’t even try to figure out the fastest way to go. So they all lost.

  15. dlshulman

    I suspect the use of double pacelines in head and tailwinds comes from its use in side winds where it allows more people to fit in the draft and seems to provide a better draft.

  16. Bernd Faust

    Luis Leon attacked while Sagan was just starting to eat a snack…the other 3 where tired I guess…not willing to work single echelon….when the peleton pulls back breaks, the guys in the front are all teammates working in single file…, breaks work smart till the last 4 -5 miles ..thereafter it’s open for graps.
    Luis Leon is not the only one riding with that weird handposition..must do something for those guys…

  17. tilford97 Post author

    Have you tried the hand position? Granted, my shoulders are jacked up, put just do it off the bike. It makes you want to try to extend your elbows backwards. I can’t see how it makes you any more aero dynamic and it sure puts a lot more stress on your arms. At least it does on my arms.

  18. Skippy

    Just can’t believe that the only time the TDF Guys in the breakaways were successfully using Paceline tactics , was on the day Dave Millar scored ! So many of the breakaways have a chance to stay away IF the racers decided to fight out the last 3kms rather than the earlier points they seem to have opted for .
    Most of these guys have been in TTT s so they must know the benefits of paceline as against banging into the wind solo ! Sponsors get more publicity when the breakaway wins , not when it folds because the racers were so distrustful of each other !

  19. ryan

    I recall seeing a lot of track riders riding w their hands on their bars like LLC. I wonder if that has anything to do w it.

  20. Thomas

    Steve my issue is with you saying these guys dont know to how to ride. Trudi works for BMC have her ask Gilbert why they rode in the break like they did.

  21. euro

    I’m wondering why Sagan was having a snack with 4 miles to go? This probably cost him the stage win…

  22. MarkS

    Problem is no one knows how to ride a pace line everyone wants to rotate ,drives me nuts.

  23. tilford97 Post author

    Thomas-Just because Gilbert and Co. win races doesn’t mean that they have any idea how to race bikes. I’m going to do a post eventually on athletic ability vs. smarts and bike handling ability. Many times when “the Pros” are going good in a break, they don’t even really draft. Just because this guys have super days, doesn’t mean they know how to ride. I’ve love to see Gilbert in a rainy criterium here in the US. I don’t think he would enjoy it much.

    You should watch the last lap of the 2004 Olympic Road Race. Paolo Bettini hardly drafted Paulino at all the last lap, he was so busy looking over his shoulder. He was just riding circles around him. That doesn’t mean that is how we should race.

  24. tilford97 Post author

    Chiefhiawatha-I call pretty much anytime that guys are riding in line an echelon. Single or double. Unless you’re on a one way road, riding directly into head or with tail wind, you are going to be riding in echelon. It is very rare when you are directly behind the guy in front of you. I don’t know exactly when I quit using the paceline word, but paceline seemed a little basic for bike racing. Maybe it’s only me, I don’t know.

  25. Formerly Jim

    It does appear a lot of Euro guys are defiantly anti-smooth paceline when in a break, each guy asserting his personality.

    Postal, Sky and Garmin were/are well-drilled tters and you can see it when one of their guys is in a break or when they’re controlling the front. Must drive them nuts when the see some guys up with them.

  26. Wayne McCombe

    The odd paceline may also have to do with them not riding flat out for most of the stage (no need to make the peloton start chasing you early), when they eventually go full gas, that’s when you start seeing more efficient riding.


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