THIS IS THE SECOND ARTICLE IN A SERIES REGARDING THE INTRICACIES OF BICYCLE ROAD RACING…MORE TO COME!

All of the disciplines of cyclesport involve tactics of varying depth, but road racing takes the cake.  There are 2 major pieces involved in racing; spending energy and conserving energy.  This article will discuss best ways to conserve energy.  Tactically speaking, conserving energy is more important than spending it as there is a finite amount of energy you can spend before blowing up.  I like to think of it as a credit card with a strict limit; you can spend energy to a point, but eventually you will reach your limit and need to pay some of it back (recover) by decreasing the intensity of your effort.  Fortunately, there are many ways for you to conserve energy during a race to have more of it available for the final few kilometers, or to establish that winning break away and power it to the line.

Drafting

Drafting is by far and away the number 1 way for you to conserve energy during a race.  Unbelievably, in a peloton (group of cyclists), riders can save up to 40% (1) of their energy by riding behind others or to the side opposite where the wind is coming from.  This means that if the rider pulling the pack is laying down 400 watts, the riders behind him only need to put out ~240 watts to keep up.  The further down the line you are, the greater the energy conserved, so if you find yourself coming to the front of a peloton or paceline in a race, slow up a little bit so you stay in the slipstream and make the other riders work.  This will conserve your energy, but definitely wont make you any friends in the peloton.  Plus, you will be labeled a “Wheel-sucker”, but hey if winning races means I need to suck wheels more, so be it!

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Riders behind the person pulling at the front can conserve up to 40% of their energy by riding in the slipstream created.

Descending

Screaming down the backside of a mountain climb can be both an elating and terrifying experience.  It can also be an excellent opportunity to put some serious distance between yourself and the peloton with the best part being you don’t even need to pedal most of the time!  Descending is all about becoming as aero as possible while being able to control your bike in a safe manner.  Performing a reconnaissance of the race course before your big day to practice the descents can really help!  Doing this will shed light on road surface conditions and what areas to avoid, plus you will gain confidence in taking turns more aggressively while at the same time decreasing your chances of over-cooking one and ending up in a ditch.

The above image has the most popular descending positions ranging from safest but least aero (top left corner), a good middle ground between safety and aero (bottom left corner), and the most aero but also most dangerous descending position (right side).  The position you choose should reflect your skills as a rider and also the terrain/road you are plummeting down.

If you want to be on the edge of your seat, check out this video of Peter Sagan putting on an absolute clinic in the Tour de Suisse.  Watch how easy he makes it look and compare that to how hard the others have to work just to keep up with him!  He is surely conserving a lot more energy than the others.

Utilizing a Team

Teams are crucial to win races and especially stage races.  General classification (GC) riders usually won’t feel any wind on their face until the closing kilometers of a race and are kept in the safest position possible to avoid any mishaps.  Remember, a rider in a group can conserve up to 40% of their energy by drafting.  The more energy a rider conserves, the better chances they have of delivering a winning sprint, or attack up the final climb.  This is why you will see the domestiques of a team dropping back to the team car to secure bottles and energy, pulling their leader back up to a break away, giving their wheels or sometimes entire bike to their leader in the event of a flat tire, and basically anything else you can imagine to save the team leaders legs.  The team is sacrificing their chances of winning to improve their leaders chances!

So, if you want to have the best chances of winning a race, CONSERVE YOUR ENERGY!  Don’t race based off of emotions and attack up the first climb, pull back the first breakaway, or try and solo off the front holding 300 watts when you have not been able to hold 280 watts for more than 10 minutes!  Race objectively and utilize tactics to improve your chances of seeing your adoring fans from the top step of the podium.  Also remember, you are racing and not making friends out there.  Don’t feel bad missing a pull or staying in the peloton for as long as possible; do whatever it takes to improve your chances!

Further Reading:

BICYCLE ROAD RACING 101: TYPES OF RACES AND RIDER DISCIPLINES/ROLES

WHAT IS AERO?

For more information on GC Coaching and how we can help you improve your fitness, please visit www.gaffneycyclingcoaching.com

References
https://www.exploratorium.edu/cycling/aerodynamics2.html

About the Author Shayne Gaffney

Shayne holds a bachelors degree in biology, is a USA Cycling Level 2 Certified Coach, USA Olympic Committee Safe Sport Certified, and a Category 3 road and cyclocross racer. He is the owner of GC Coaching and the creator and director of P2 Cycling. He can be contacted directly via info@gaffneycyclingcoaching.com

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