Sunday, May 25, 2014

Tactics - Out of Position Regarding Wind

I'm going out of order in my posts. After the importance of staying in the field, the natural progression is to discuss how to draft. All too often I see racers following one another in a straight line, like a textbook pace line. The problem is that it's called a "textbook pace line" because that's the ideal scenario. Oftentimes the real world doesn't cooperate with the textbook so you have to adjust.

How To Figure Out Wind Direction

In a criterium or any loop type race you can do some recon before the race. One of the things you should do is to try and figure out where the wind is going to hit you on a given straight, meaning from which direction.

A while ago I did a post on drafting. It's still good and it covers much of what I wanted to say here.

To rehash that post I basically tell you to poke your head up, turn your head back and forth slowly, figure out when the wind is blowing direction into your ear, and then place a rider between you and the wind. The post explains it much better but that's the gist of it.

Now, the problem at the Rent is that it's a really quick lap, just over a minute, and the stadium next to the backstretch generates its own vortices and such ("swirling wind"). Therefore you'll usually have a significant headwind on one stretch, a significant tailwind on another (or maybe the vortex is such that this one is missing), and a crosswind on two other bits.

Last Tuesday's Wind

Last Tuesday the headwind hit you after you exited Turn Three, at the beginning of the final stretch. Since that final stretch curves left, the wind changed from a direct headwind to a right side crosswind. This means that the wind was hitting you from the right, therefore you wanted to sit to the left of the riders in front of you.

There wasn't much of a corresponding tailwind exiting Turn One (which is the opposite direction as the exit from Turn Three).

Then you got a mixed up bit of wind on the back stretch after Turn Two because of the stadium. It was mainly a left side crosswind but it got mixed up just before Turn Three.

Based on this wind this is where you wanted to be in the field, starting at the Start/Finish line:
1. Start/Finish - wind from right so you want to be on the left.
2. Second stretch - wind from behind so not critical which side you're on.
3. Third/back stretch - wind from left, sort of, so right side, sort of.
4. Beginning of final stretch - wind from front, be directly behind rider in front.
5. Finish - wind from right so you need to shift left.

At the beginning of the race the final stretch had a slight right side crosswind flavor to it so I sheltered to the left just a touch. However the extremely powerful headwind made that the overwhelming important factor. I found that I had to be within a few feet of the next wheel exiting Turn Three, otherwise I'd fight the wind for a good 10 seconds to get onto the wheel. It took a lot of power to do this and I think this is where a lot of riders got gapped off and dropped.

I call the process of "managing the wind" Wind Management (duh). My goal in target races is to see less than 60 seconds of wind each hour, until the last lap. Many times I can meet this goal, and when I exceed it, it's by maybe another 60 seconds or so.

You can see from my list that there's a lot of shifting around going on. I am regularly moving to one side of a rider, then another. You need to check your six (look behind, typically by looking down) before making moves more than, say, six inches over or more.

I listen a lot so I know if a rider is there or not, plus I have a sort of "strategic picture" of the riders around me. If I looked back a few seconds ago then I know where the riders are and, realistically, where they really can't be (because they'd need to be on a motorcycle to move up that fast). Therefore I know I can make a move even though I might not have looked in a second or two.

How Hard To Go To Close A Gap Out Of A Turn

Remember that the first most important thing for finishing the race is to stay in the field. That means you need to be on the wheel as soon as possible, especially if it's in a crazy hard headwind.

In last Tuesday's race the insanely hard headwind out of Turn Three made that part of the course the absolutely most important part of the course.

If you were in the race you'll notice that I didn't offer much help to anyone in that section of the race because I was at my own limit trying to hang on. If I saw someone leave a gap I closed them as quickly as I could there and that was the extent of my help.

On the other bits I could offer a bit more help because those sections were less critical (and I was less out of breath).

As far as how hard you need to go to close a gap out of a turn, you need to go 100% to close the gap to the wheel in front of you. Once there you can recover, but if you're getting pummeled by a massive headwind you're not going to save anything by waiting to get to shelter. "100%" can mean different things (sprint out of saddle, sit and grind a gear, etc - as I get more tired my efforts get less dramatic) but basically you need to close that gap as soon as possible.

Once you figure this out you'll realize that the best thing would be to exit the turn already on a wheel. That takes practice and some knowledge on cornering, which I'll cover in different post.

Gap in Front, What To Do?

Okay, you were in the race, you knew about that headwind, but you screwed up and now there's a gap in front of you. What do you do?

You have two options. Many new racers think they only have one, the one I mentioned above - close the gap as quick as possible.

The more experienced racers know there's a second option - get someone else to close the gap. If you communicate that you've blown (you yell it, you wiggle your elbow, you stop pedaling, etc) then the racers behind you know that they can't rely on you to close the gap. Although they may not want to they'll have to close the gap themselves because they realize just how critical it is to keep the gaps closed.

You need to make sure there are riders behind you that might be able to close the gap. You need to make sure that you don't do this too many times, else everyone will just go around you before the gap opens up and you'll get gapped by yourself.

Ultimately if you're leaving gaps then you probably have a limited amount of time before you get dropped permanently. However it's better to go 100% until you get shelled versus "saving something" for after you get shelled. Use everything you have to close the gap in front of you. Remember it's easier to be in the field than to be out of the field.

Once you blow up then you can sit up. My recommendation is that you let the field pass you twice before you consider trying to get back in. Go really slowly for a bit, let your heart rate come down. For me I'll roll in a 39x25 for a bit, maybe 8-12 mph. Remember, once you get shelled your race is over. Now it's all about gaining more experience and trying to learn more about racing, about yourself.

Your goal is not to do as many laps as possible, your goal is to get as many laps as possible in the field.

If you're not in the field then you might as well have stayed home and gone for a training ride by yourself. Or sit on a trainer next to the course and watch the others race. You need to be in the field and experience and learn what it's like to race in the field.

If that means sitting out two laps at a time then jumping back in for 3-4 laps, that's fine. It's better than getting in for half a lap, getting shelled, time trialing for a few laps until they catch you, blowing up two turns after they catch you, and repeating the same thing. Instead you should recover, get in a few laps in the field, sit up when you're blown, and do that. You'll get to experience more laps in the field and that's the goal.

Getting Lapped Etiquette

When I get shelled (I don't think I finished a single A race in 2013 so I got shelled a lot, and even in 2010 I wasn't finishing races regularly) I will ride on the sidewalk when the field goes by on my "let them pass" laps. On the backstretch I'll pull into those parking spaces on the left and let the field go by. It's very clear to everyone that I'm not going to jump in and I'm giving the field plenty of room to race.

This means that I'm constantly checking behind me to see where the field is.

Once I decide that I'm going to get back in I try to time it so that I can jump in on the final/main stretch. It's the widest and longest bit of pedaling so it's easier to merge into the field. If that means going super easy or even turning around for a bit then so be it. My goal is to get in the field without endangering the others.

Plus if I overestimated my strength/recovery I can easily sit up at Turn One and get off the course.

If I'm in a small group I'll stay to the right of the course (at the Rent), checking behind regularly to see where the field is relative to me. Honestly, though, for me it's better to be in the field than to time trial around with one or two riders, unless you're with very experienced riders on an off day (you can learn from them). The field is where you want to be.

Finally if I'm lapped I'll stay at the back of the group. I try to let the racers "in the race" do their thing and I tag along behind. This way if I blow up I don't take a legitimate racer (if you will) off the back with me. It's sort of funny, in many races I'd be around 4-5 racers who were all lapped like me, but a different number of laps. Since I was usually the "most lapped" I'd try to let the "less lapped" riders in front. Ultimately we were all suffering like crazy so we'd all let gaps go and get dropped and stuff. It wasn't fun but it was nice to see that even in severe oxygen debt that the racers were looking after one another, trying to negotiate and such.

"You go ahead, I've been lapped 3 times."
"Oh, I thought you only got lapped twice."
"3 times I think, so you go."

What To Do In The Wind

On Tuesdays, because it's a training race, I put less importance in staying out of the wind so you'll see me at pulling every now and then, but every second you're in the wind is super, super significant. Each of those seconds should count for something. You should be accomplishing something if you're at the front - pulling hard (to bring back a teammate-less break), pulling hard (to close a gap), pulling hard (to help a teammate going into the finale), or going really easy (to not chase a teammate in a break).

Notice that I don't say "just ride at the front". You should almost never "just ride at the front", for any reason. If you're at the front you should be going either very easy or very, very hard. In the Tuesday B race I'm talking going either under 22 mph or well over 25 mph.

You need to accomplish something when you're at the front, increase or close gaps, change the shape of the field (by stringing it out or letting it bunch up), something. Riding at the front at some regular speed (23-26 mph) doesn't do much, it just lets everyone else recover in preparation for making a race changing move.

There's an off chance that you can help your team by doing this but that is almost never the case. If you can help your team by riding at a normal 22-25 mph pace then you can realistically not pull, let yourself recover a bit, and help the team when the going gets tough.

Last Tuesday I tried to help some of the less experienced riders and then, on the last lap, I tried to give a leadout to basically anyone who wanted to go. Unfortunately I made two errors. The first is that I tried to help only those in trouble, so they were already way in the red. I'll need to help them before they're blown up instead of after.

The other error was that I didn't listen for cues from the teammates I tried to help on the last lap. They were cooked so I ended up pulling a different guy clear of the field. However it would have been better if I'd eased to let them get on the wheel, let them recover just a bit, and then pulled super hard.

At any rate last Tuesday I made one big effort and it absolutely blew the field apart.

Was I stronger than the others?

Absolutely and definitely not.

I just timed my effort a bit differently.

In fact I watched as teammates pulled literally minutes at a time (violating my "don't see the wind for a minute" rule). These teammates were also the ones that were unable to follow the last lap surge. If you do a lot of work during the race, you need to show something for it - a break that has a good chance of winning, a teammate that wins, etc.

Pulling just to pull is the most counterproductive thing you can do in a race. In a training ride, great, but in a race, never.

So in a race you need to shelter until you decide that you want to accomplish something. That "something" depends on your race situation. For me, as an allegedly stronger rider in the B race, it means closing gaps or trying to help someone out. For a Cat 4-5 racer in the B race it would mean things like closing gaps, chasing a break that doesn't have a teammate, pulling a break for a bit, or sitting and soft pedaling at the front to let a teammate get away.

At the end of the race there's always talk of leading out a teammate (typically the sprinter, although a good leadout will benefit even a non-sprinter). This requires the most speed and the freshest possible legs.


I'll leave you with another Rent race, this from 2011. During that race I had a cable stop break so I couldn't use my big ring. My biggest gear that day was a 39x11, which is a 53x15. I couldn't go with all the moves and ended up in the third group. Still, with the low top gear, I managed to salvage some of the race. If you watch carefully you can figure out where the wind hit us on each section of the course - just look for where I sit relative to the rider in front of me.

(Disclaimer/note: I am putting these posts up in response to some internal requests from individual riders for advice etc. I am not singling out any particular rider or their request, and this advice works for all racers. In fact I'd claim that these pieces offer universal advice for all new mass start bike racers.)

1 comment:

WMdeR said...

Dear Aki,

This series is extraordinarily helpful. Thank you for your detailed explanation of not just the tactical considerations, but the ratiocination that underlies the tactics.

Best Regards,

William M. deRosset
Fort Collins, CO