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From The Archive: Teamwork

This is from the PezCyclingNews Toolbox archive circa 2016, but it continues to stay relevant year over year – and serves as a springboard to deeper thinking about the role of a rider within a team plan. I’ll tackle that more in a future post. For now read on and I hope you enjoy…

Last week at the Tour of Qatar, Team Katusha offered viewers a day to day primer on the value of a solid team plan executed to perfection, netting 3 stage wins in the process. Read on to learn how you and your teammates can begin to emulate the sort of selfless racing on display by the big dogs.

The pros live and breathe by the fact that cycling is a team sport, with each rider doing what is best to accomplish the goals of the team. Unfortunately, in the amateur realm this sort of effective execution is at best hit or miss, and more often than not completely missing.

You may recall a few weeks ago that I wrote about the value of having a team training camp. A training camp offers you and your mates the chance to get better acquainted, set some goals for the coming season, and enjoy long hours of our favorite activity! So what’s the next obvious project for you to tackle? How about building some effective team tactics? Trust me, it involves far more than a last minute discussion on the starting line about “doing a leadout!”

Who’s the Man/Woman?
This may seem completely rudimentary, but having a thorough race plan is the first step to success. Far too often riders arrive at the start line with no idea of who is the team leader and what sort of help is needed, much less an idea of what “help” really means.

Here is an interesting caveat to the above statement – it is surprisingly common for everyone on the squad to default to a helper/domestique role! This may seem counter to the common (mis)conception that most riders are really in it for themselves and don’t want to work for others, but in my experience it usually works the other way. Offering your services to the team is selfless and frankly, it is far easier to offload the pressure and responsibility of being “the guy (or gal)” and instead accept some largely undefined role as a domestique for the day.

In contrast, I challenge each of my team riders (and you) to take on the mantle of responsibility at least once each season, especially in the lower categories. It is an essential part of learning to be a complete racer and forces the rider to step up their game and deal with the stress of responsibility.

Role Playing
Once you have an idea of who the leader is, you can start sorting out what they will need to be successful. Are they good at positioning themselves near the front? If not, who can best help them do that? Who is going to carry an extra water bottle or rice cake so the leader doesn’t have to?

I like to assign at least one, often two riders to act as sole support for the team leader. These riders should all be very familiar with one another and able to instantly identify a need, meet that need and move the team plan forward.

To that I add a road captain – someone on the squad who has shown themselves astute at reading a race and more importantly moving around the field to marshal assets to the task at hand. From there we assign roles to the remaining riders based on their abilities and fitness. Here is where the meat and potatoes work of planning comes into play.

Really Riding for the Team
Often an amateur domestique will indeed think of themselves over the team needs. Not so much for their individual result or a win, but rather in their willingness to sacrifice themselves completely to the altar of team success versus a desire to not get dropped from the raging peloton. Ego is funny that way. So one key element is to carefully create and assign roles to riders so that they feel a sense of responsibility AND a sense of accomplishment at completing their assigned task.

If one of my riders is asked to ride tempo on the front for the first two laps of a 10 km course hard enough to dissuade attacks, I expect them to arrive at the 20 km mark largely destroyed and unable to further contribute to the teams plan. That leadout guy who’s supposed to drop the sprinter off at 200m – his finish line is at 200 m and he should ride as such. Doing a hard leadout at 28 mph is not doing your job – you need to take it to 32 mph or more to create the kind of pressure that stretches the field and allows the rider safely attached to your rear wheel to thrive in a diminishing field of challengers.

Buying In
So what is the key to creating this kind of buy in? Early planning and a consistent post-mortem on the race are two key aspects that are often overlooked or under-utilized. To meet this goal I use both a pre-race planning sheet and a post-race report that is standardized and assigns tasks and grades to each rider.

Don’t let the post race meeting turn into a complaint session where everyone takes shots at each other for not doing “their job” – no, this is a team effort and each rider must put ego on the shelf and be open to the critique and criticisms on offer from those in the fray, and accountable for their contributions and missed opportunities. One of the teams I coach has gone so far as to make these forms available online well ahead of the race so we have a living document of ideas that simply need a final version, as well as an instant database of each seasons racing. It’s very handy!

Begin With The Past
A good first step in creating a viable plan is to look at how the race played out in the past, and how your team in particular performed. Has the race been run on the same course for the last 10 years and always come down to a field sprint? Building a plan where your guy solos off the front from half distance is probably a losing proposition. Has there been a break-away each of the last few years? Why and where did it go? These snapshots of previous events can help form the template of what might work for you and your team.

Subsequent to that, look at the course itself. What is the defining characteristic of the race or the course itself? What obstacles are presented? Once you have a course and event profile, take it a step deeper. Where is the wind on the finish? Is there a particular landmark or course component that gives rise to an attack, or a nefarious corner that has seen mayhem time and again? How can you use this recon to your advantage?

If possible, I like to have my riders pre-ride particularly important race courses to see what changes the road may have undergone. Perhaps your favorite corner has been repaved and is now far less intimidating. Maybe what was a killer climb last year is now a mere bump because you and your team are fitter and more prepared. What gives you the advantage? Find it and build around it.

Summary
Team tactics in amateur racing are too often all talk and no action. Riders meet up before the start and hatch together an on-the-fly plan that has no background or thought put into it save the classic “who feels strong today?” Why don’t you help take your team to the next level by creating a comprehensive race plan for your next outing? There are some fundamentals to that task; namely knowing who you have available for the race, what their capabilities are, what the course profile is and where the opportunities lie for your team. To that you should add an almost obsessive amount of detail about who is to do what and when so as to create buy in from the other riders that their contribution to the greater good is worth not making the final selection.

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