Tactics or No Tactics/It’s all the Same

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Watching the Ardenne’s races this past week got me thinking about team tactics versus individual tactics. As I watch a lot of these races I wonder to myself why so many teams race so defensively and less offensively.

I have ridden on some pretty good teams. But the tactics, or what are considered the best tactics have changed dramatically over the years. For some reason, these professional teams have come to the conclusion that you don’t have to race your bike and put someone in the break, because eventually someone, maybe even your team, will put all its riders on the front and reel the break back in.

I think it is dumb bicycle racing. And lazy bike racing, which might seem wrong at first glance. By lazy bike racing, I mean that the riders of any certain team don’t have to be doing much of anything watching the front of the race until the given moment when they are called upon to work. The have a general plan of keeping a couple riders out of the wind and up front, where sometimes it seems safer, but other than that they just ride along and don’t pay much attention of what is going on.

I think that races such as Liege need a riders full attention. In general, tricky races such as these, you need to be in very good positions throughout the race to have any chance of winning the event. And by good position, I don’t necessarily mean in the front. I mean out of the wind and relatively safe.

I could use the BMC team for example. The last 3 Ardennes races, they eventually put all their guys on the front, somewhere between 60 km to go and 30. They’ve missed the move, but they really didn’t, because no one on their team had the any intention of making the move.

Yesterday in Liege, they put 5 riders on the front, with Gilbert sitting in 6th. And they chased. So they burned 5 guys to chase down a break, but never really did it. Wouldn’t it have been a ton better if they had put one guy in the break and then the other 5 guys get to sit on and not work? Knowing how well Gilbert was climbing, from his previous two finishes, wouldn’t it had been nice if they had 5 riders rested the last 10 kilometers and then had more cards to play than just Gilbert trying to drop everyone up to the finish. It didn’t work the previous two times, I’m not sure why they thought it would work the 3rd time.

I know by watching the races, it looks like all these teams are trying to execute plans. They tend to ride in groups of team mates and the announcers keep raving about how good a job someone is doing sitting at the front setting tempo. When I see a guy setting tempo at the front, I think what a horrible job. Who wants that job?

But in reality, most of the team tactics in races such as these go completely out the window. Joaquim Rodriguez, Katusha came just about as close of you can get to winning the race. He was my pick. Did you see Katusha sitting at the front trying to control the race the last hour? I think not. Did you see Garmin sitting at the front doing a team time trial? Nope.

It might have looked like Garmin had a great plan, perfect strategy. Send Ryder off the front and then when Dan Martin bridges up, Ryder buries himself and Dan Martin wins. Yeah, it worked out great for them, but let me tell you for sure, Ryder was trying to win the race. He was making a race winning move, that didn’t quite work out, so of course when his team mate came up, he gave him all the assistance he could.

Here would be my pre race meeting if I had a team in the race. Hey guys, hope you all feel good today and got a good nights sleep. You all know the last hour of the race and know that it is super hard. I want you all to use absolutely as little energy as possible the whole day and get to the last hour as fresh as you can be. Then, I tell a couple guys to watch the front the first hour to get a rider into normal suicide move. I go on to say something like, Let’s not miss a move of over 4 or 5 riders the last hour. You don’t have to tell your team to keep your team captains out of the wind. Everyone should be good enough bike racers by that point to know how to stay out of the wind. Of course, if something strange happens, or there are crazy cross winds, then yes, the team has to get together and protect a couple guys. And I’d wrap it up by saying something like, This is a big race, but have fun and stay safe.
My team meeting would take about 5 minutes max, probably 1/2 that. All these guys are professional bike riders and should know how to race bikes.

But that is the problem. The team tactics of the current generation have dumbed down the riders. These stupid tactics have taken the thought process out of the sport for the majority of the field. They are like robots, getting rewards for doing insignificant tasks. Let me tell you, there is always going to be someone on the front of a field in a bike race. There has to be. I try never to be that guy unless I have a specific reason to be that guy. And I hardly ever have that reason.

All these guys like to brag about how much wattage some specific rider put out during whatever race. I think the rider that puts out the least amount of wattage in the race, with the best result should get a prize. That is the key to bicycle racing. Use the least amount of energy until you need to use it. That isn’t how it’s playing out anymore in the classics and it’s a shame. The racing would be way more exciting that way.

For a exact opposite point of view, click here to go to the Boulder Report and read how Joe thinks Garmin’s plan worked to perfection.

This doesn't impress me much.

This doesn’t impress me much.

This does.

This does.

13 thoughts on “Tactics or No Tactics/It’s all the Same

  1. Bill Laudien

    Totally agree. Modern tactics are silly.

    The worst is the tour, where teams help pull to secure their 3rd placed GC rider. Or where a guy in the top 5 will work with the leader to bring back another dangerous rider. Or any other sprinters team doing anything to help Cavendish’s team…ever.

    The traditional tactics are propagated by those with all the power and imposed on the weak.

    And organized controlled bunch favors only the strongest rider or two in the race. Everyone else should be making the event as disruptive and chaotic as possible.

    Voelker and Europcar are chacky, but they do show what can be achieved with through brass ball. Everyone from AG2R to BMC should start taking note.

  2. scott

    for starters eliminate radio communication or, at the very least, restrict to one or two riders if safety is a legitimate concern.

  3. Anton

    Race radios have killed this sport. Too much information all the time. I miss the days of ‘heroic efforts’ and 70km long solo efforts that sometime succeed. Unless your doped up and grubered up like Cancellera you have no chance of pulling it off. It’s turned the peloton into hopeless mules with a ‘maybe next week’ attitude. ‘Advancements’ in cycling are killing the sport.

  4. chad

    steve, im going to disagree with you (but not really). you know as well as anyone races are a self-fulfilling prophecies. almost all races follow a script that plays out the same year to year. if you want to deviate from the plan you better be smarter than the average bear, or stronger. all that really matters is having your best guy in position when the time comes. That being said, i miss the long lost art of team attacks. its been almost a decade since CSC would throw down in crosswinds a blow races to bits (maybe with some extra-curricular help), but as a TEAM that was a display for beauty and power and wits. its showed 8 guys could dismantle a 200 rider field. for the superteams that have “the guy” they have an easy day- keep him in position, everyone else needs to make life difficult, but they dont. i was waiting for an explosion on la redoute but it never came, but the tactics were interesting none the less. sky played a great hand there.
    that old boxer saying, “you always have a plan, until you get hit” same with bikes. some guys can read whats happening and some cant. but being able to do anything about it is a whole ‘nother story. i always tell people “race the race” if you expect anything different from normal to happen, well thats silly. the race will happen if we are there or not, and someone will win, the rest will lose. its know how to tip things in your favor that make you good.

  5. Steve Wathke

    I agree. Team meetings should be short and to the point. Have fun and try to win. Keep out of the wind and save your energy for where it matters. The finish line. Just one little guys opinion.

  6. channel_zero

    Don’t forget Eurosport in the team car! Between team radios and Eurosport broadcasting splits reeling in the break is measured to the last kilometer for stage races. Honestly though, I don’t think it’s likely the UCI could limit that kind of thing.

    The safety issue is a non-issue. If riders really want some safety notices, a one-way radio broadcast by a road commisar is sufficient. Ban two-way radios back to the team car.

  7. tilford97 Post author

    Djracer-The point is there doesn’t need to be any quarterbacks. That’s one of the beauties about the sport of cycling. Each rider in the race, even though they are a member of a team, in theory, have the ability to win the event. Arm Chair Quarterback? I guess my beef is with ex-racer, director, car driver quarterbacks. They are making the sport very boring and uneventful. But, like everything written here, it’s just my opinion.

  8. Jim D.

    How do you race now? It seems like teams are not sure to throw their weight behind. To be blunt no one particular rider is glowing any more. So team managers are throwing bizarre plans based on doped riders. It makes me wonder about P. Gilbert success in the past. No AC or there of a year or 2 ago. I thought at one time radio’s were ok, not any more. Like RS team, no one without Fabs. Sky; fired all their managers and are really spending to much time on Tenerife, kudos to Garmin and thanks for good luck. Lets see what the Giro has in store and How far Wiggins can throw his bike. WE used to have a bike throw at FTBW but that was with a 26 dollar klunker that weighs35 lbs not 10,000$ and 15lbs, pussy show a little respect. Keep healing Steve and don’t push it . Jim

  9. Bob

    It’s kind of comical when amateur teams try to duplicate these tactics in weekend stage races. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it come close to working.

  10. Steve O

    I’m not so sure Joe’s analysis is the exact opposite. In fact, I’d say you two are about 75% in agreement. You kinda sorta say you’re advocating no plan (Which was a get smart episode, by the way… “This is an impossible situation, and there’s no plan that could possibly work… So our plan is to have no plan.”), but then you lay out a basic framework or operating principles. Garmin’s plan fell in line with your generic principles, save for whether Ryder was going rogue or being a loyal teammate. (And isn’t it entirely possible that he was doing both?)

    But I agree 100% on your basic premise. Personal experience, your mileage may vary, but around 20% of professionals in any field understand strategy and tactics, and 10% understand logistics. And there’s a lot of dumb racing out there. That’s one reason I’d like to see smaller teams. If you don’t have seven worker bees available to support your one card, you’re less likely to put all of your eggs in that one basket.(Personal foul… 15 yards… Unnecessary mixed metaphor.)

  11. Bill Laudien

    race radios do not negatively affect racing. That was a red herring floated out by the UCI to cover up doping.

    The entire peloton being able to cruise at 50k over any terrain killed all tactics and racing excitment for 15 years…and that was caused by blood boosting agents, no radios.


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