How to Win Bike Races Even if You Are Out Numbered!

28 11 2008

Thanks to David Heatley from Cycling-Inform for this excellent tip. At Cycling-Inform they can help you set out a training plan that can incorporate where you are at in your cycling career with specific attention to the style of riding and racing you intend to do. It can be done remotely and is specifically geared for a busy cyclist that has to fit their training around family and work commitments.

Cyclists frequently face situations where
coming into the last closing kilometers of the race they are outnumbers by far better sprinters. It’s the scenario of a the little climber coming into the final lap of a criterium with a bunch of burly sprinters, or the big guy trying to figure out what to do a few kilometers out from an uphill finish. The best way to improve your chance of winning is to look for an opportunity to attack at a time that doesn’t suit the other riders around you. If you’re with sprinters, go early. They won’t want to waste their sprinting power chasing you so they’re likely to look around to see who else will go after you. If they wait too long, you win.

For the big guys trying to win uphill finishes, use your power advantage on flat ground before the climb to push the little climbers over their limits. Keep attacking them, because they know they’re only hope is to stay with you until the climb, where the advantage shifts to them. But if you break them before they even get to the hill, you’ll have a time gap to exploit and hopefully they’ll be so spent that being lighter isn’t enough to help them beat you.

What if you are not an extremely fast sprinter? The best plan get to get to the line with as fewer riders as possible. The least people to content with in sprint to the finish line the better. But it’s still almost as difficult as winning a bunch sprint as winning from a small breakaway group. Even though your competition is much reduced in number, you’re still going to need a rapid jump and nerves of steel to play out the final few kilometers of the race. No sense in getting to the finish after managing a wicked breakaway only to not have a plan for the sprint and end up being beaten by the handful of riders you broke away with.

Whether you’re part of a small breakaway or part of the bunch your ideal scenario is one where you get to contest the finish alone and that means dropping all the other riders that you are with. This will be hard if you’re still in the bunch as it speeds to the finish because the pace will likely be extremely high! Winning a race like this can be done though. What you need to be able to do is to hold an extremely high speed for over a kilometre and then launch your winning attack.

Your goal of course when beginning your attack is to go like a bullet so that no one has the chance to hold your wheel and draft you. Make your move as smoothly as possible to disguise your speed as much as you can. You’ll need a little luck on your side as well.


Inside vs. Outside

25 11 2008

It’s no secret to anyone who took high school geometry that the smaller the circle, the shorter the distance.  Did you know that the difference between riding in a 250m velodrome on the black line versus the red “sprinters” line is 8m per lap?  That’s only over a distance of 250m!  That means that if you’re riding on the red line (outside) for the entire lap you’ll need to be riding faster than the rider on the black line (inside) since he/she has not as far to go.  (sorry, I have very limited internet access right now and can’t remember the math of this to figure out “how fast” off the top of my head)

The same thing obviously applies to any course you’re doing laps on.   Why does this help me you ask?  If you’re in a break away move in a crit over a 1km course for example, take the inside part of the road as much as possible.  This can save you approximately 20-30m per lap! (this is just a quick calculation based on the 250m velodrome example above. This can vary depending on the shape of the course you’re riding on).  Of course you’ll need to account for the quickest line to get around those corners at high speed.  Many times the large bunch who is trying to chase you down is not taking the optimal line around the course and not taking those corners as quick as your small group in the break can, so not only will your average speed be higher, but you’ll also be travelling less distance.  This will increase your chances on getting to the finish line before you’re caught!  Every little bit helps…

Race Conservatively, Train Aggressively

5 11 2008

Success in road racing is all about being ready for brief explosive efforts lasting only a few minutes or seconds. Break-aways, cross winds, sprints, gaps and climbs will determine the race outcome. You have to be ready for these moments by having enough energy left to initiate or respond to the best of your ability. By the time a key move goes up the road you won’t be able to respond if you’re pulling everyone around the course and you are completely spent.

This is exactly why you need to race conservatively. In order to be successful with the moves that you either follow or create, you need all of your energy. You have a limited bucket of energy and you have no idea if the guy next you you has the same size of bucket.

The opposite holds true for training. Train aggressively! When you’re doing your intervals or group rides (when appropriate), you need to try to spend most of your energy doing the types of things that will lead to success in races. Give it all you got! There is no consequence in burning all your matches during a training ride. It will only help your body adapt to those short bursts of effort that will be required during the winning moves of a race.

How To Pace Your Time Trial

29 10 2008

Okay, I’m the last person on earth who should be giving tips on how to ride an individual time trial. However I can still pass on the “theory” behind a successful time trial. I don’t claim to be very good at them (in fact, I HATE them). It’s more that I don’t train for them rather than not knowing the strategy behind them. “Strategy behind them” you ask? There’s slightly more to a ITT than going as hard as you can.

Next time you go out and practice your TT over a set distance, try dividing it into four parts. This is advice from Dirk Friel – former professional cyclist and coach at

The first quarter. Ride at less than what you are capable of doing. You’ll need to hold yourself back here. The tendency is to go out too fast in this quarter and struggle at the end due to a build-up of lactate that can’t be eliminated without slowing down considerably.

The second quarter. Ride at the effort that you want to average for the entire race. You’ll begin to feel the strain in this quarter. If you find yourself struggling, back off. It’s still too early to go hard.

The third quarter. This quarter is the hardest and most important to get right. If you went out too fast in the first quarter, you’ll begin to slow down now. If you controlled quarter 1, stay focused now as it will make or break your race results. Check to make sure that you’re still aero. Ride hard. It will start to hurt. Try shifting to a harder gear to see if you can maintain cadence. If not, shift back.

The fourth quarter. This is where the very painful portion of the TT comes in. The finish line beckons and there are only a few minutes to go. Work on maintaining cadence, effort and breathing. Don’t allow any slowing. Are you still aero? Are you riding with the hardest effort you can maintain?

When you see the finish line, try to accelerate. If you can, you held back too much. The perfect pacing leaves you completely exhausted and unable to continue when you cross the line.

TIP: Going harder up hills and resting on descents will save you a lot more time than going hard on the descents and wasting the energy you could be using to go up hills.

If You’re Not Moving Forwards, You’re Moving Backwards

27 10 2008

Since my last post was on a more personal level, here’s a real tip for the day:

You’ve probably been in a situation where some shifty bugger keeps stealing the wheel you were sitting comfortably behind. As this happens again and again the next thing you know you’re at the back of the bunch. If you’re not the guy moving up wheel by wheel then you’re not going to keep a decent position in the pack. Since there’s always people moving up in the pack, you’re position is never static. Even if you keep the wheel you’re sitting on, you’re still moving backwards in the peloton. It takes some confidence and skill but once you master how to move up in the pack, it’ll save you a lot of energy and allow you to be in a better position.

One thing that works well is moving up on the inside of the road (watch far ahead for changes in the road or obstructions!). Carefully move up until there’s no more room to continue. Gently put the back of your hand on the hip of the guy in front of you who is blocking your path to let him know you’re there and coming through. Usually the guy will move over and let you keep rolling up through the pack. Don’t do this aggressively (or TOO GENTLY – he may get the wrong idea!  ).

This is only one of many maneuvers you can use to move up through the pack. Its one of the easiest and most polite strategies.   I’ll write more tips on this subject in future posts.

Pre-Race Warm-Up

14 10 2008

Sometimes the intensity of a race can start out extremely high. I find this sudden fast pace particularly difficult as I get older. Crits and time trials can be the most painful. A good warm-up before the race is essential. It’ll get the leg muscles full of blood, get the body warm, and make the start of the race much more tolerable. You can change your position from being in the hurt-box to putting everyone else in the hurt-box.

Here’s the warm-up routine that I’ve been using for years. It’s best done on a trainer so you can achieve the proper intensity and times. My max heart rate is 189bpm so I’ve used the percentages in the 3rd column to calculate my HR zones.

Don’t worry about tiring yourself out with this before the race. This isn’t long enough or intense enough to do much damage to your muscles. Just make sure you eat and drink the appropriate amounts and you’ll be fired up and ready to go!


13 10 2008

Another great Cycling Tip from Jeff Bolstad. There’s good reason why he wins 1/3 of the races he enters….or was that Merckx? Either way…pay attention folks. You’ll learn something from this guy.

At it’s most basic, an attack is an attempt to distance one’s self from other riders, but an attack can have a more subtle purpose. Here are a few examples:

1. Kicking the hornet’s nest

Radios didn’t ruin cycling, but they did take some of the hilarity out of it. Back before radios, and when races were less formal affairs, one of the racers (his name escapes me) was infamous for attacking, getting out of sight, and then hiding in the bushes. When the peloton came by, he would jump out and tag onto the back, while his rivals chased away on the front.

You can’t do this anymore, but a well-timed attack can set up a miniature version. Say, for instance, that a break that you don’t like the looks of has a gap and any moment now the guys driving the chase are going to look to you to work. It would be much better if these other chuckleheads would chase the move down for you. Attack, but don’t give it all that much. This will leave you fresh enough to slide back in near the front of the pack as you’re caught, and give you a good view of the flury of counter-attacks it provokes. This will often put an end to the breakaway, at little cost to your self.

Two beautiful things about this move are that the more heavily marked you are, the better it works, and that it works as well with 2 laps to go as with 20. Timed properly, it can set up a teammate-less version of the Poor Man’s Leadout.

2. The Poor Man’s Leadout

Speaking of which, the Poor Man’s Leadout is one of the most basic and effective of team tactics. It only requires one teammate. Of the two teammates, the weaker sprinter puts in a late attack, while the sprinter sits on. Like all great cycling tactics it gives your opponents two choices, neither of which has much appeal. Namely, they can either chase the rabbit down and lead the sprinter out, or they can not chase, and let the rabbit win.

This can work in field sprints when you don’t have enough people to do a proper leadout, but is most effective out of breakaways. Because the sprints are slower and there are fewer people to keep track of, normal leadouts are fairly pointless in breakaways. The Poor Man’s Leadout, however, is incredibly effective, since everyone is probably tired and therefore more likely to hesitate. The rabbit wins more often in this situation.

3. Attacking as blocking

The time honored method of blocking is to sit on or near the front and refuse to help set the pace. This is fine, but once a chase gets organized, it’s bordering on bad manners to get in the rotation and mess it up. That’s not to say that people don’t do it, or that it’s not effective – they do and it is, but push your luck and you can get all kinds of hate coming your way, some of it physical. Instead of making enemies or getting put in the ditch, try attacking the chase. Experienced riders may ignore you, realizing that you won’t ride away from a paceline on your own. On the other hand, they may respond to your attack. When you’re already working hard in a paceline, making an anaerobic effort hurts, bad. Some of the chasers may start thinking about getting some shelter; those that remain will have some of the wind taken out of their sails; the chase will take some time to get organized again.