Sunday, April 6, 2008

Tactics 101

Hopefully you were able to catch the Tour of Flanders on Vs. yesterday. While the coverage itself was mediocre at best it did happen to catch some really great opportunities to watch tactics unfold. On three seperate occasions I felt as if I was watching a tutorial on Tactics 101.

Towards the end of the race Sebastien Langeveld (Rabobank) was in a break with two other riders from different teams. At the same time Juan Antonio Flecha (Rabobank) was bridging up to the trio ahead. What did Langeveld do in this situation? He sat on the back of the trio, much to the consternation of the two riders in the break. And what did Fleha do? He also had the tactical smarts to sit in and let his companions try and bring bak the trio ahead. These were both simple yet very effective tactics that we can all learn from. Langeveld needed the help of Flecha and so did no work with his break in an effort to let Flecha latch on. Meanwhile, Flecha also did not contribute to the efforts of the chase. In not working with the group he also assured that the Langeveld break might be able to stay away from the chase.

The other tactic that was of note may have actually been planned to work out a bit different than it actually did. Tom Boonen (Quick Step) appeared to have been on incredible form yesterday. On a few occasions he actaully rode the lead group off of his wheel while climbing the bergs. All indications were pointing to a Boonen win. When Patrick Lefevre launched Stijn Devloder at around 26k to go he figured that at least the attack would cause a split and whiitle down the possible contenders to threaten Boonen's win. If Boonen had tried to make an attack he surely would have been a marked man. However, by sending Devolder down the road the plan was that if he was caught, Boonen could make a counter attack.

By sending Devolder away, Boonen was able to sit in while everyone else was forced to try and bring him back, or risk losing their chance at the win. Theefore, Boonen got a free ride for the final 25 kilometers from the rest of the group. Although the group never reeled in Devolder, and Boonen was never able to lauch his counter attack, the tactic still netted Quick Step the win. One would think that Boonen would be upset at not bagging his 3rd win of the Ronde, however review of the finish reveals that as Boonen's group crossed the line he was sitting up pumping the air in victory for his teammate Devolder.

Sure we will never race the Tour of Flanders, but as aspiring racers we can watch and learn how the pro teams can use tactics to their advantage. Each race allows us the opportunity to try something new, to see what works, and what doesn't work. And the best way to try and use tactics is to race as a team whenever possible. So next time you have the chance to view a PRO road race, sit down with a notebook and see how it should be done. There are so many nuances that might not present themselves at first, but a 2nd viewing may provide insight into why a particular move won, and perhaps why one didn't. In bike racing it isn't always the strongest man that wins, but the smartest.

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