Friday, 19 July, 2002

The Role of the Team in Bicycling

If you have any doubt about bicycling being a team sport, view tapes of today's and yesterday's Tour de France stages.  On both days, Lance Armstrong's U.S. Postal Service team did a perfect job ushering him from the start line to the base of the final climb, where he was then able to achieve decisive stage victories; beating his nearest rival by more than a minute each day.  Armstrong won both stages, but he is quick to point out that his team (and especially member Roberto Heras) made it possible.

The most obvious way the team helps is by riding in front of the team leader to block the wind.  By drafting (riding in other cyclists' slipstream), the team leader reduces his workload by up to 40% on a calm day.  The savings on a windy day is even more.  The trick is to deliver the team leader and preferably one or two other team members (climbing specialists, typically) to the base of the final climb with enough energy left over to beat the other team leaders to the finish.  The remaining team members help set the pace up the hill, and chase down any other teams' riders who might attempt to break away.  The attack and counter-attack tactics are difficult to explain, but plainly evident if you watch one or two races.

Last year I said that I'd rather watch a golf tournament than a long bicycle road race.  After having listened to the stages on webcast and seen some television coverage, I'll retract that statement.  Bicycle racing is way more interesting than golf.