Riding Smart, Staying out of the Wind

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I just finished watching the finish of the Tour of Spain and it never ceases to amaze me how badly guys work in breaks at the Grand Tours.  It is like they have never raced bikes and have no idea how to make a group go faster and ride efficiently.

When I’m in a break, a break that I want to succeed and work smoothly, I do everything in my power to make that happen.  I do that by trying to get the riders into the correct order where everyone is contributing their most for the break to ride smoothly and fast.

And when some guy is pulling through too hard, or we start rotating the wrong direction after turning, I will immediately say something to try to correct the mistakes.  Not directing or anything, just casual conversation saying we need to pull left or if a guy is pulling way too hard for the rest, I’d say something like, “maybe pull a little longer and slow it down a tad”.

This is imperative if you want a group to ride in an efficient manner.  But, watching the break in the “Pro Tour” events, it constantly bewilders me how it doesn’t seem like anyone in the break cares what the other riders are doing.

My first observation is that breaks tend to always want to ride double echelon when they should be riding single.  I’ve posted about this before.   You need more than 4 or 5 riders to do a rotating paceline.  I’d say 7 would be the minimum.  Guys always try to do it with 4.

With 4 guys, you end up being in the wind twice as much as if you were riding a single paceline. 50% of the time compared to 25%.  I don’t know what these guys are thinking?    I’ve been in many races where a small group tries to do a rotating paceline and I put an end to it immediately.  I do this by not participating.  Take one guy out of a 4 riders rotation and it is impossible to do a rotating paceline.  Then I join back in a continue pulling.  It is as easy as that.

Anyway, the break today should have made it to the line.  They did the normal attacking each other with a couple kilometers to go, but if they would have been rotating correctly, they would have been going a couple kilometers an hour faster and the break would have succeeded.

Too many guys train for power nowadays and don’t understand the fundamentals of bicycle racing.  Sometimes it seems like the sport has evolved into a bunch of unbelievably strong robots with no ability to adapt to ever changing conditions.  And that is what cycling is all about-Being able to adapt to your surroundings at all times.

This was with maybe 3 km to go in today's stage of Tour of Spain.

This was with maybe 3 km to go in today’s stage of Tour of Spain.

60 thoughts on “Riding Smart, Staying out of the Wind

  1. SB

    Steve I think you’re forgetting the “game theory” aspect of being in a breakaway – the reason guys do thru and off is that nobody wants to do more work than anybody else, and thru and off is the simplest easiest way to make sure that everybody works, and nobody shirks, and nobody has to do more work than anybody else.

    Agreed, it’s less efficient than other formations such as a single line; but in a race where the break is a group of individuals on different teams, any time a strong rider pulls single file, it just incents the other riders to let him pull. Then, he pulls off and gets mad because the other riders aren’t pulling hard / long enough. We’ve seen that so many times, and it means the break blows up or gets caught.

    So, there’s a reason they are doing that, and it’s not necessarily ignorance.

  2. Joe C

    But how many of those guys are in the break solely to keep their team and/or GC guy from having to work in the main group?

  3. bob

    Clearly there are things you aren’t considering in your short-sighted analysis, because you’ve never raced at their level.

    Sorry, the Milk Race and MTBing isn’t a grand tour, Steve.

  4. orphan

    After racing amateur for 20 years I’ve noticed the guys with the most talent seem to have a harder time learning how to ride smart. Guys with less talent seem to learn fast or die.

  5. Tim

    I totally agree. I had this conversation in a break once and it didn’t go well. Everybody disagreed with me. There were 5 of us – meaning we were spending 40% of our time in the wind, when we should have been doing only 20% (1 out of 5).
    I said it was simple math. I started to explain, but we were caught.
    Afterwards, I was telling a teammate about it and his response was, “Well that is only true if certain guys are there.” It made no sense to me.
    I think this goes back to yesterday’s post and math. Some people just don’t get it.

  6. Steve Tilford Post author

    bob-I’ve raced plenty at “their” level. Why don’t you explain to me what I’m missing in my “short-sighted” analysis. I guess, by your reasoning, you can’t, because most likely, you’ve never raced at that level.

  7. Peter Dreesens

    It is the Tour of Spain , historically the race has a chaos factor that is attributed to climbing and climbers being the majority of the peloton …. watch the Tour of Belgium if you want to see skill . … or better yet Gent Wevelgem .

  8. Bill K

    Agree. Seems that if they would ride their bikes as if in a 4 man TTT, they could go a little faster. Little things like the man pulling off, doing the old “pull back and push forward” to get back on with the least effort, would save valuable seconds.

  9. euro

    Steve, I respect you greatly as a rider, but this post makes you look kind of pathetic. Thinking you can tell Grand Tour riders how to ride a paceline is silly.

  10. Donkybhoy

    Too many riders have stopped using their brains as teams wont let them. Race radios wont let them.

  11. Steve Tilford Post author

    euro – okay, pathetic is kind of a strong word.

    Do you think all “Gran Tour” riders know how to ride their bikes? Do you think that they are a level above in all aspects of the sport?

    I’ve ridden with tons of guys that have won the Tour. On the same teams, with them and against them. They mostly all knew how to ride pretty well. But the rest of the guys, well……..

    I am not close to, or ever was close to the strongest guy in a bike race. I could compensate some by using the other aspects of the sport that are important. That is what is so cool about bicycle racing.

    I used to race a ton in Belgium. Think I was one of the strongest guys there, in the kermesses? Hardly. But I always got to the finish, nearly always in the front group. With 80% of the field quitting. Positioning in cycling is key.

    Do you think that I could teach Darwin Atapuma how to descend better? How about Andy Schleck? Who would you bet on in a descending contest, like the old Red Bull Road Rage?

    Lots of riders have different talents. Many guys on “Gran Tour” teams don’t know how to ride a proper echelon. It’s as simple as that.

  12. Larry T.

    “Too many guys train for power nowadays and don’t understand the fundamentals of bicycle racing. Sometimes it seems like the sport has evolved into a bunch of unbelievably strong robots with no ability to adapt to ever changing conditions.”
    Geez, I thought it was just me (another old geezer) who wondered about this. I wonder about the handlebar drops. What are they for? Back-in-the-day the rider got down low and powered along, hands on the drops, back flat, elbows in…beautiful to watch. Nowadays they slog along with hands up on the hoods, elbows out, back hunched up like a turtle….ugly, ugly, ugly. Watts per kg seems to trump all these days, but then the rider’s career has so often been spent with a DS yelling instructions into his earpiece, so how many even understand tactics, etc?

  13. Carlos F

    Right on Steve,

    I’ve been in one properly functioning break or chase group in the last 5 years.

    In a rotating paceline you’re only as fast as your slowest guy – that’s why it’s so easy to destroy one.

    In a straight paceline, even if a guy is slower he can only slow you down for a small fraction of the time. Or he does a sprinter’s pull and pits the next guy in the wind straight away.

    A lot of this is coming from group rides where the fashion is to attack a group or drop as many as possible, rather than keep a group going fast without dropping anybody.

  14. Paul Fleshman

    I agree with everything you say Steve. I think I know the problem. Team radios. Nobody is on their own anymore. It used to be a uncooperative rider was dealt with by the riders in the break. Now a rider says my director says I can’t do that and the rest say,”OK”.

  15. bob

    Ooh, struck a nerve with your fragile “me me me, also, have I told you about me” ego?

    “Their level” is selection on a grand tour team.

    When has that ever been you?

  16. bob

    Hey, I’ve raced with CVV and Chris Horner too. Doesn’t mean I’m fit to comment on grand tour riders.

    Trudie probably knows more about grand tours than you.

  17. Ken


    Looks like you’ve hit the media tipping point. You started out as a rider with lots of experience doing a simple blog – which I began reading some time ago and enjoyed because it was a guy with a lot of cycling cred sharing his thoughts. You built numbers and got a following; now apparently you’re big enough that some of your “readers” can’t wait to take a shot. I guess it comes with the territory, but still…
    Hey, commenters. For Christ’s sake, lighten the F up! “Steve never rode a Grand Tour.” Utterly idiotic. “The Milk Race isn;t a grand tour.” “Bob” can say that because he’s ridden all the grand tours and actually won the Tour de France a couple of times.
    Are you guys simply taking a break from writing awful comments about Obama and Muslims over on the Fox News website? Hatred is easy from the safety of being behind a computer screen. Try tuning down the bluster and negativity. If you have a counterpoint, offer it. But F-ing relax a little, dudes.


  18. Ted L

    Gee Bob,

    Steve and Greg LeMond seem to be pretty good friends. One could make the argument that Greg LeMond is the best american cyclist to date and possibly one of the best in the world ever. I’d be willing to bet you dollars to donuts that Steve has ridden with Greg a few times. Greg seems to think enough of Steve to count him as a friend. If Steve is naive about racing and tactics, do you really think he’d have so many friends who have raced at a high level? Why don’t you post your palmares? I for one would like to see it.

  19. 8ball

    Sorry but Steve is right. You don’t need to be a grand tour rider to figure out that 50% of your riders in the wind 100% of the time won’t play out well. I think the craft of bike racing is becoming a lost art even at the highest levels. Learning at an early stage or any stage for that matter with a mentor is becoming a thing of the past and being replaced with a power meter and a prescription from a coach for X amount of watts for X amount of time. I don’t think Pro Tour riders are riding a double paceline with 4 riders for some hidden tactical reason. I just don’t think they had someone early in their careers say do it this way, we’ll go faster.

  20. paul

    Completely agree that Steve is as qualified as anyone to comment on cycling and that is why I love reading this blog. Not sure what the hell Obama, Muslims and Fox have to do with any of this though.

  21. Ken


    You may not care for this observation, but the hatred spewing from the Fox News comments section is stupefying and depressing. A lot of really nasty people. They set a very high bar for all the anonymous hate in the blogosphere. Some of that even trickles down to an old bike racer’s little blog. Sorry, but there it is. Hate on it if you wish to.


  22. jake

    Steve is right and racing experience has nothing with him being right. This is purely an aerodynamics and system efficiency question. 5 riders in a single line will be faster than in a rotating one. Period. So, that leaves 2 possible conclusions for their behavior: 1) they are stupid, 2) they really dont want the breakaway to succeed.

  23. euro

    Yeah, EPO and the other drugs will do that to theses guys. They are so strong that there is no need for supplesse, technique or skill. It’s all pure power these days. Look at Froome. He makes a first year cat. 5 look graceful on the bike.

  24. euro

    Yeah, Ken, and on the leftist websites it’s all roses and high level thinking. You must be a BMW-driving PhD or some other overly educated prick who thinks he’s better than the rest of us.

  25. Ken

    Hey Paul,

    As a PS, just checked Fox comments for all of three minutes. The news story is the Iran nuclear deal. Comments from Fox commenters at the top:
    “Chimp in Chief.”
    POtuS” (Get it?)
    “Black America voted him in.”
    There are 5000+ other comments you can wade through, like a cesspool…

  26. Ken


    I’m actually not a liberal. Not a PhD or a BMW driver. Thanks for the hate that makes my point!


  27. paul


    Thanks for the info. Can’t say I’ve ever read comments on Fox or any other news station site. Right now I’m watching the movie “Senna” on another tab. I just like Steve’s take on cycling. Not really interested in politics or politicians, but whatever floats your boat. Best, p

  28. Ken


    I hear you, but I feel like we should be aware of what’s happening in our country. Much is at stake. But yes, time and place, etc. What started out as an analogy about commenters dumping on Steve led to a comparison. Sorry to take you away from yor movie, as this blog should be place to enjoy the sport.


  29. Jim Ochowicz

    You and I just never really had “it” to be a real pro. I moved on and became richer than you can imagine from my experience, you herd house cats or something. Not sure what it is that you do

    I’m going to send you a tiara that says “Mom Told Me I’m a Euro Pro”. Since you don’t wear a helmet it will be perfect for you

  30. OGS7619

    exactly. It’s simple physics. Or not even physics, just simple basic math really.
    Anyone who rode around, even at the club level, or did 4- men time trial, can quickly figure out constantly rotating pace line is a stupid idea. at least 2 guys are always in the wind.

  31. Mike Rodose

    Tour de Trump!

    He gets my vote…only person in the race to have sponsored bicycle racing!

    Also. Can we get John Kerry as VP? Kerry crashed on his Serrota Otrot not long ago. I love the fact that he rides wherever he is. Has a Motorcade to rival Le Tour!

    Trump/Kerry. Cycling and racing!

  32. Paul Fleshman

    Are you fucking kidding me. This was like no fun for the whole 10 minutes I was here. Some of you mother fuckers need smoke a joint, take a poop and eat some Fruit Loops. What a bunch of shit. Good on you Steve and you to Ken♡. Don’t bother replying to this comment because I’m outta here. I know some of you Fucks will comment anyway. Bunch of spineless haters.

  33. Fausto

    so in one week we have covered the gun issue, now we are onto politics/Fox News, who is qualified to talk about pace lines? Wow are we going places away from a day in the life of a bike racer.
    My two cents, it is a bit of chicken vs. egg: very rarely do the breaks succeed and they are just getting TV time. Do they fail because to Steve’s point, they don’t know how to ride smart and efficiently? or because they don’t think they will make it but it serves their advertising point and they don’t really care? Ask Jensie, he made some of them work.
    ATMO, I think it is the radio in the ear telling them get in the break, stay in it but don’t work too hard. And, I don’t think you need to have ridden a Tour to have a valid opinion on how to ride a smart race. Sorry Bob. Every team thinks that they have a great sprinter/climber that if it comes back together, our guy will win anyway, few do.

  34. Mike Rodose


    For gods sake man, why would you ever introduce politics into a thread about a shitty paceline?

    Penalty flag on you.

  35. Ren


    While you are 100% correct, this is not the most efficient manner to ride in a break, it does not necessarily mean that is the incorrect way. As you alluded to, you’ve finished well in races despite not being the strongest nor fastest. Similarly, you should know that the level of tactics is just as important in breaks as it is in the field. When you are in a pace line, and you are working to succeed, typically you will take a pretty good pull (15-30seconds), which has the consequence of tiring you out and makes you exceeding vulnerable to being attacked. It is very easy to take advantage of someone when you are second in line and well rested and they are just done pulling at the front. In a rotation everyone stays at a more equal level of ‘tiredness’ and thus reduces the chances of being attacked/attacking.

    This is my interpretation on the way they ride. I’d be curious to see if you agreed on tactical aspect.


  36. Carlos F

    I’m a liberal with a PhD. Even earn a decent salary, never driven a BMW. My bike is worth more than my car though, and my bike ain’t worth a heck of a lot.

  37. Carlos F

    I think Steve is probably the most qualified active rider on the planet right now to call pros out on this.

  38. charlie gillum

    Bob……Bob….Bob. what’s really goin on here buddy? Steve was not calling “off with their heads.” He simply was pointing out a fact that quite frankly I have scratched my head about. One does not have to have kicked Lance & Gregg’s ass to understand and implement common physic knowledge and bike experience. I can tell you this: If someone today offered me and 5 of my cycling buds a million bucks if we could time trial from point A to point B in X time…..I guarantee you we will be riding, single file, tight, rolling off tight, and be fully aware of exact wind angles. And whenever I seem to catch a glimpse of “pro-top notch-real studdly” team time trials…they seem to be doing it the same way.

  39. charlie gillum

    Ken. You my friend define a true “fire-starter.” Let’s go talk to those guys that were trying to pull off the break in question. We will ask them…”So why in the hell were you not trying to pull single file boys?” They can then explain to us: “Cuz those dam conservatives and Fox news made us do it.” Glad you were able to point such things out to us old boy.

  40. Larry T.

    Euro – nice comment on the PhD’s, right out of the Karl Rove quote book.
    “As people do better, they start voting like Republicans – unless they have too much education and vote Democratic, which proves there can be too much of a good thing.”
    Karl Rove

  41. Peter W. Polack

    Why don’t all pacelines succeed?

    Because each rider has a different agenda. Because not all the riders in the break have the same strengths. Because they all don’t have the same intellect. There could be a language barrier.

    Sometimes you can turn a mediocre, doomed for failure paceline into one that succeeds if you have someone such as yourself Steve, who tries to take a leadership role in the break. But if you don’t have the “cred” or the other riders don’t respect you and your leadership skills, then you can cajole and persuade all you want and you won’t be able to organize a paceline that works-it’s not just fitness but intellect and personality.

    There are so many factors in play in a break; sometimes you get lucky and it gels. Other times it’s like moths around a light.

  42. Joe

    If palmares and Grand Tour experience is required to be knowledgeable about cycling, you’d better avoid the huge number of journeyman ex-pros who are now successful DSs.


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