A strong team can command a race making your hopes of victory slim. Their mix of talent and strategy can seem overwhelming. When racing, the cards you have may not be winning cards, but it would be a shame not to play them. These tips from Team Clif Bar can push the odds in your favor when racing against a dominant team.
For more racing and training check out the Ask A Cycling Coach Ep 247.
What Makes a Good Team Great?
Great teams have great riders. These types of teams usually have the firepower and experience needed to control the race, while setting up their best rider for the victory. While each rider is strong in their own right, a great team will have one or two that are exceptionally skilled in a specific area. In criteriums, this is most likely a sprinter.
Additionally, a great team is strategic. They have a race plan that plays, not only to the strengths of their best rider but the whole team as well. They know what they are good at and execute a plan that maximizes the chances of victory. Each individual understands how many watts they have and how long they can hold it.
Having a plan and making it happen are two different things. That being said, the best teams practice endlessly to make sure they can execute on race day. Taking it further, they are excellent in-race communicators. Whether it’s calling out attacks or positions, they’re always vocal during the race.
Why it’s Hard to Race a Dominant Team
One rider vs. a team provides bad odds.
You aren’t going to be able to ride past a whole leadout train that’s on the gas. It’s hard enough to pass one or two, and attacking solo means that you won’t have any help. Aside from the relative lack of firepower in a last lap solo move, good teams will block your progress up the road by controlling the course. This isn’t a dirty tactic, its smart racing. If you do happen to get off the front, you will have used so much energy that you won’t have the energy to sustain your effort as their leadout train keeps ramping up the speed to the finish.
Latching onto the leadout is difficult.
Since a solo move might not be the best strategy, you may want to ride just behind the leadout train. The problem is that every other rider in the field is thinking the same thing. That means that everyone will be fighting to be the first wheel behind the dominant team’s sprinter. This fight for position is challenging, exhausting, and leaves you with little in the tank for the finish.
Upping the difficulty, well-executed leadout trains dictate the pace once the racing begins in earnest. If no one is up the road, they will go easier, saving energy to cover attacks. If a break is up the road, they will reel it back in. Controlling the pace also means they control the course. Because you can only pass in only so many riders in certain spots, the course gets effectively put on lockdown.
They have a star sprinter.
Even if you do latch onto the train, you still have to come around their best rider in the sprint. Their sprinter has been protected and saving energy, while the rest of the field has been battling for position. All things being equal, it’s already difficult to win against an exceptional sprinter. But with the team’s tactics, the odds are stacked against you.
Countering a Dominant Team
It may seem like there is no chance for you to win. However, there are a few things that you can do to increase your chances of success.
Turn up the pressure.
There are many ways to put the pressure on a strong team. Primarily, you want to aim for making a break. In the break, you turn the odds more in your favor, especially if one of their riders is in the break with you. Breaks are tricky, though. You’ll need the right combination of riders willing to work to help make the break successful.
Another way to turn up the pressure is to remind other racers that the best chance of success is to battle the whole time. Instead of waiting for the last few laps, repeated attacks from the start will whittle down the better team’s energy stores. So when an attack gets brought back, someone else will need counter over the top. If this happens in a non-stop barrage, you increase the chances of the dominant team tiring themselves out earlier in the race, and making a mistake. Remember, they thrive on control, so introduce some chaos to flip the deck.
If no other teams are willing to help attack from the start, you have the option to play the efficiency game. This means that you save as much energy as you can until the sprint train forms. Then try to wear the other team down with a flurry of attacks and counters. The challenge of this strategy is that you will need a team or alliance with other riders to pull this off.
Finally, you can use the course to turn up the pressure. Flat, four-corner crits are the easiest for teams to control. A hilly or technical course presents an opportunity to level the odds. Saving those attacks for the hardest parts of the course can go a long way in increasing your chance of success.
Form another leadout train.
Creating another leadout train can work if your team has the horsepower. But the dominant team is good for a reason. It can be difficult to overpower them. Plus, don’t forget that they have a fantastic sprinter. However, this can be a viable option if you have the teammates to do it.
Calculate a late race-winning move.
If all else fails, you can try a last-ditch attack with one or two laps to go. While this may seem like a crazy strategy, it can actually work if it’s well calculated. The best way to do this is to use someone else’s effort to get yours started. As the late-race attacks begin, hop on someone’s wheel as they are accelerating past the field, then use that momentum to carry you further into your effort.
The timing and location are crucial for your effort. Pay attention to the leadout train. When they are showing signs of tiring or have covered other attacks, its time for yours. You can go a step further and pick a technical corner or section to take advantage of the course.
Racing against a dominant team is difficult at best. But just because the odds aren’t in your favor, doesn’t mean you don’t have a chance. By calculating your efforts to take advantage of other riders and the course, you can increase the chances of pulling it off.
For more cycling training knowledge, listen to the Ask a Cycling Coach — the only podcast dedicated to making you a faster cyclist. New episodes are released weekly.
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