THIS IS THE THIRD ARTICLE IN A SERIES REGARDING THE INTRICACIES OF BICYCLE ROAD RACING…MORE TO COME!
Last week, I spoke about the best ways to conserve your energy during a race to ensure you have the strength to drop the hammer when the time comes. This week, I want to discuss the best ways to drop said hammer, make your competitors wish they just stayed home, and hopefully get yourself onto the top step of the podium! Before we get to the good stuff though, let’s talk a little about matches…
What is a “Match”?
A match is something cyclists, coaches, race announcers, and other hipsters have been using to describe when a cyclist puts in a hard effort and digs deep. Match burning can happen quickly (jumping out of a peloton in an attempt to form a break, sprinting for the finish) or over longer periods of time (climbing for >20 minutes at threshold), but whenever you
burn a match you will be doing “harm” to yourself and you will need a recovery period afterwards. I put harm in quotations above because even though you may be gassing yourself, you need to take some risks to improve your overall chances of winning a race. If this means sacrificing some of your sprinting power at the end of a race to form a break or stay in contact with the peloton up a climb, so be it!
Best ways to burn matches based on rider type
The best times to burn a match/es during a race is extremely subjective and race scenario dependent, but with a little knowledge of your strengths, power to weight ratio, and wind direction you can give yourself the upper hand!
If you are a lightweight rider with a high power to weight ratio, your ideal time to burn a match is whenever the road goes up, and the steeper and longer it is the better! Your matches will be more of the long-stick variety in the sense that they will not burn very hot, but they will burn for a LONG time. Use this to your advantage and put the other riders that are heavier, or just not in shape, on the ropes and hopefully drop them. The last thing you want to do is keep the effort level on a climb easy and drag those pesky sprinters to the line with you.
Always COMMIT yourself whenever you are burning a match and keep the pressure on for as long as you can!
If you are a heavier rider, you have the advantage when the road stays flat, is rolling, or even downhill. Your best time to burn a match is when you can quite literally throw your weight and higher overall power around. These rider type matches tend to have an extremely hot flame, but do not burn for a long time. With this in mind, be sure you are COMMITTED, no matter what happens, to your decision to attack the peloton. Even if you see people behind you and you aren’t getting a gap, you can bet you are shredding the skinny climbers out the back and improving your chances of winning! Keep the pressure ON!
Best ways to burn matches based on race scenarios
Mountains or other generally hilly races obviously suit the climbing specialists. Match burning in the mountains is not very exciting to the casual viewer, but can be awesome to watch if you know what to look for. Team Sky competes in the mountains better than everybody and have developed an efficient and effective way to utilize their team to drop every other rider except for the GC contenders. This video showcases this tactic perfectly. Forward to the 20 minute mark when Team Sky takes over the pace making and watch what happens to everyone else, then as the last domestique peels off, watch Froomey make a monster attack and burn his “Match” when it matters most. Now, we all don’t have teams working for us, but you get the idea here: if you’re a climber attack on the mountains!
This is one few people think of, especially during a flat race. If you are feeling good, sprint to the front of the field so you are the first one to enter the turn. Then, take the corner normally, but slower (while being safe!) than you would normally. Upon exiting the corner, DIG DEEP and explode to try and create a gap between the riders behind you. Doing this will cause an even greater accordion effect in the back of the pack as they enter the corner which will allow you to gain even more of a gap. A little bit of a dirty technique, but racing is racing, right?
As discussed last week descending can be a great opportunity to conserve energy, but also a chance to separate yourself from the peloton. If you are on the heavier side, posses good technical skills, and have ice in the veins, try and attack on a decent descent (see what I did there?) to get a gap. Similar to the taking a corner first technique, descents tend to cause riders to string out in one long line, become more cautious, and elicit an accordion effect. You can exploit this by being the first one to the turns, taking the corners aggressively, maintaining a low and aero body position, and DIGGING into your match book! As always though, don’t be a fool and put yourself or others in danger doing this. You need to get to the actual finish line to win the race.
Utilizing the cross winds to gain an advantage can best be seen in Belgium during the Classics season. The winds in this part of the world are notorious for ripping a peloton to shreds and causing echelons to form…
When these echelons form, all it takes is one rider to lose a little bit of a wheel and an entire field can be left behind. For this reason, when you see echelons starting to form, or you did your research like a good cyclist and know where the cross winds on the course will be (hint hint), get your butt out of the main field and up to the front of the race. Then DIG back into the match book and attack AWAY from the wind to try and get a gap on the field. Remember too, keep as aero as possible!
This can be placed into the “dirty riding” category I suppose, but can be an excellent way to get a gap on the field if done properly and safely. My favorite example of this is Peter Sagan in the 2014 Tour of Oman when he literally hopped a curb and got a gap on his breakaway companions. You can also use rough pavement, roundabouts, or traffic medians to achieve a gap by taking the better lines, short way round, or sharper turns.
For more information on GC Coaching and how we can help you improve your fitness, please visit www.gaffneycyclingcoaching.com