“How do you win a bike race?” is a question I am often asked and the answer changes every race and situation but for myself the first thing I try to figure out what I have to do to win. What are my particular strengths and what do I have over the other riders I am with? Reading the race and situation plays a big part and reading how the competitors are looking, feeling and their strengths and weaknesses and how to take advantage of them.
More often than not for me to win I have to be in a break, as bunch sprints are not my strength. A lot of the time I will back myself sprinting in a small group, especially if everyone has been working with me. Even if I know a better sprinter is in the group with me I will try to wear him out to make it a more even sprint. The longer he’s working with me and more isolated the better my chances. It’s often not so much who can put out the most numbers but who can do it at the right part of the race, the end, and the more tired a better sprinter is the more even it can be. But nothing beats, for me, winning solo as it removes all chances of something going wrong in a sprint.
A great example of this was at the recent Tour of New Braunfels Road Race. I was in a 4 man break (5 for a start but one rider flatted), for more than 2/3rds of the race. With 2 riders from Elbowz Racing and no teammates from my Boneshaker Division 1 Racing Team I set about working well in the break but didn’t need to drive it as if it didn’t stay away I knew I had teammates in the bunch I could rely on. Because of this, I did no more than my share of the work as I didn’t need to be the one “driving” it. While it was hard to hide in the cold windy conditions I did my best to eat and drink properly and do it as easy as possible when not taking my turn on the front. Eating and drinking was vital on this particular day as the cold takes more fuel to keep the body pumping, and warm, and I wanted to keep my glycogen stores up so I had enough left for the push to the finish.
With under a third of the race to go the gap to the chasing group had come down a lot but by this stage I wanted the break to stick even though I was outnumbered. We had all been working really well and I think we deserved the chance to race to win. Also, everyone was showing fatigue as the effort of the move began to show. Luckily I had looked after myself pretty well and was able to up the intensity and we took time out of the chase again.
From here I turned my thoughts to what I had to do to win the race and made sure I had enough food and sugar in me for the last push. I had faith in my sprint if it came down to it but really wanted to try to break up the group or go solo if possible, as it can be one of my strength’s in this situation and takes away the probability of a mistake or the unknown of a sprint. It was hard to tell how good I was feeling, as by this stage we were all looking a bit tired.
With the numbers advantage to Elbowz I was really waiting for them to attack and start the racing so I could get a gauge of what they’ve got left and possibly counter attack. Unfortunately this attack wasn’t coming so I turned my thoughts to trying to attack at the right time. For me this would be on an uphill when the pace would drop a bit and I was at the back so I could use a bit of the element of surprise to start a gap. This never came either, making it clear to me they were tired.
In the end, on a slight rise while mid group I could wait no longer and had to go with a full out attack. (I couldn’t wait any longer as if I was caught I wanted enough time to be able to try again). With a full sprint out of the saddle, another 30sec+ full gas in the saddle the gap opened up and I was able to keep an eye my power and make sure I didn’t go too far above my lactate threshold and risk blowing up. Thankfully this was enough, and the closer we got to the finish the better my chances and more the small gap I had meant. If I have 10-15sec with a mile to go that’s 10-15sec+ faster the chase has to be going to catch me in a mile, which adds up to a lot of speed, unless I blow up! While the numbers weren’t through the roof by any standards it’s often more about being able to produce the right numbers at the right time and thankfully on this day all my best numbers came when it mattered, at the end.
The race winning attack