Riding in “Team Formation” is Idiotic.

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Okay, by now, many of you have seen the self-inflicted carnage the BMC team suffered at last Sunday’s Tour of Flanders.  5 guys down at once, Van Avermaet out with a broken collarbone.  It was pretty ugly.

This could have, and has happened, in race after race, to virtually every professional team riding World Tour races the past decade.  This isn’t unique to BMC.  I can’t stress enough that this tactic of riding in team formation throughout the race doesn’t work and is stupid and dangerous to the whole peloton.

I don’t really know who came up with this idea?  Whoever it was, did a real disservice to bicycle racing worldwide.  And why the other teams tried to emulate the practice I’ll never know?  Now everyone, from juniors to elite teams, watch it on television and think that is how it is supposed to be done. I can’t understand how everyone involved can’t see that it is a losing proposition if done throughout the season.

When Marcel Kittel wrote a Facebook post about safety in the peloton, he didn’t even mention the riders, or probably more accurately, the team directors, telling the riders to ride dangerously.  Trying to follow a team mate’s wheel is tough.  Try putting 5 of those guys in line and then say that you have to never leave your wingman, it will always cause conflict.  And when there is conflict in the field, everyone is twitchy, and riders fall.   Fighting for position, when it isn’t important to fight for position is one of my pet peeves in the sport.  Elbowing for no other reason than to elbow is idiotic.

The video below isn’t the best example of what could and does go wrong when a team lines up. The BMC guys are on the side of the field moving up in the wind.  This is over 100 kms. from the finish of the race.  More than 2 hours from the finish.  How many guys does it take to escort a rider to the front of the field?  Look at the field, it is 10 across, it isn’t close to going full gas.

Remember a few years ago at the Giro when virtually all the contenders of the race crashed and lost time early in the race.  Cadel had his team position him at the front the last hour of each stage and it seemed to pay off.  But in reality, he was the last man standing.  All the other teams were trying to do the exact same thing, but their GC rider fell.  So one guy staying upright and 5 riders losing time through crashing doesn’t make Cadel’s tactics correct.  The announcers kept saying that Cadel was so good at positioning and staying out of trouble, when in reality, it was just blind luck that he wasn’t one of the casualties.

And I hate to say it, once again, but radios play a big role in this problem.  What are the chances that the BMC guys would have all gotten together at this point in the race and decided to move up to the front independently?  Virtually zero.  Someone was talking into their ears telling them to do this.  I think one riders would have been sufficient to escort Greg up to the front of the peloton. When I hear riders saying the radios are there for safety, I laugh.  99.9% of the chatter going on isn’t anything about safety.  Much more of it is about doing stuff that is unsafe for the peloton. Information that makes riders make stupid moves.

There is so much collateral damage when these teams do this.  No one mentioned the Astana guy or the others that fell here.  It isn’t only the team that is riding in formation that falls, tons of other guys.  This just makes the peloton more twitchy, from the start, thus the race less safe.

You can’t regulate this tactic. No rule will cover who a rider chooses to follow during a mass start bicycle race.   The teams came up with this on their own and they need to quit doing it own their own.   They need to quit fighting for position when it isn’t important.  They need to think that they have the right to put their whole team at the front of the field when they aren’t riding in the wind.

If they want the benefit from not being exposed to other riders from other teams, then they need to be at the very front of the field riding hard.  Not riding at the edge or in the middle of the pack getting the benefit of the drafting.  It is lazy and stupid bicycle racing and the practice needs to stop.  I don’t see that happening though.


Look in this screen shot of the video how many teams are riding "in formation" on the interior of the peleton, riders on both sides of them. How impossible is it to follow one rider through the field for the whole race. Really impossible.

Look in this screenshot of the video how many teams are riding “in formation” on the interior of the peleton, riders on both sides of them. How impossible is it to follow one rider through the field for the whole race. Really impossible.

Tucker adores Hawkeye.

Tucker adores Hawkeye.

He is growing into a dog.

He is growing into a dog.

15 thoughts on “Riding in “Team Formation” is Idiotic.

  1. James

    I’m guessing when the lead BMC guy got bumped he then got caught up in a gap or edge at the edge of the road surface. Otherwise he took a dive far too easily.

    Radios got to go.

  2. Stephen Schilling

    Really happy to see someone else not buying the ‘safety from radios’ argument. And what bugs me the most about it is anytime there is something dramatic (like a weather issue) that affects the race, you see the riders riding like they have no idea what is going on, followed by post-race comments saying the same thing. Then DS’ who got it wrong blaming race organizers. They all have two way communication at their disposal. And if the DS’ weren’t busy yapping over the team radios telling everyone to move up or watching the live broadcast, they would hear race radio telling them what the situation is.

  3. jac

    I’d say let the team work as a team, get the outside managers out of the pic… let the pack be the judge of their movements… not some bone head manager on the outside… of which many have never raced. That’s what gets me – including trainers, as many have never raced as well. Sure they have the piece of paper, but many have never experienced being in a race, the pain, the stress of preparing, etc… how can someone train an athlete without having fallen and experienced it all… gets me. The best of teachers are those that have experienced it, have gained wisdom and felt the pain.
    Same goes for managers of sports, can’t just put some bone head in the position of power without ever have felt the pain, the experience, etc…
    Jimmy Hendrix has a great tune – are you experienced… I think they should play that tune before every race… it takes years to build a great athlete… And even more years to build a great coach and manager… why they put complete bone heads in positions of power is beyond me… that to me is wrong. A good teacher/managers takes years of struggles and pain to create through experience to gain the wisdom required to teach/train/manage an athlete… that to me is part of the underlying problem…

  4. Joe

    I’ve always liked riders that preferred to look after themselves without the need of a phalanx of teammates to protect them. Did this mindset start with the leadout trains of Cippolini and HTC-Columbia?

  5. Big E

    I’ve often thought this is a descended reasoning from lead out trains of the 90’s.

    It use to be that it only took one guy to get the leader towards the front and maybe one other teammate to aid them once they got there. But now with all DS’s telling their entire teams they have to be at the front to stay out of trouble it becomes nothing but a drag race. Requiring a bunch or all of the team members too have enough horsepower to get and stay at the front. It’s a dumb ideology that probably also has something to do with the male athlete thought that if some is good, more is better.

  6. Mike Rodose

    No reason for team trains unless it’s Sprinter time or Chase time when nobody else is willing to share the workload.

  7. Spinner

    Perhaps one solution would be to have LESS riders on each team? I think four per team would produce an entirely new type of racing…….

  8. BZ

    “I don’t really know who came up with this idea?”

    Valerio Piva was BMC’s Director. He insists the crash was from the “stress of the race” and in saying so takes no responsibility for the impact of the crash caused by his guy on his team’s chances. I suppose Piva’s approach is monkey see monkey do when it comes to strategy. Better to fail like the others than think outside the box and take a chance, I guess.

  9. dave

    Maybe reducing the starting field size would help. Instead of upwards of 200 riders, limit it to 100. It would be more selective before the race even started. A secondary category of riders with their own schedule of races would feed into the top category as openings became available and according to their results. But the key is limiting the start line to about 100. Maybe 20 teams of 5 riders.Things would be a lot safer and the top riders would have more direct race confrontations with each other.

  10. Joe

    Lots of good comments, although I’m not sure how reducing the size of the asylum will fix things when the administrators and doctors seem to be the problem.

  11. mike

    The science behind the burning is not there – they burn because that is the way they have always done it. One definition of conservative.

  12. dave

    Just look at the compressions that happened in milan-san remo at any squeeze in the roads and streets. And other hazards hard to see because of the huge field. I know races would be safer if limited to the best 80-100 riders. It could be worked out and it would be a higher quality race.


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