James Thompson, Ph.D.
Team Florida Cycling/UF Cycling Team
Gainesville FL U. S.
Registered: Sep 2005
Some subtleties of Bicycle Race Strategy/Tactics
I am a long-time student of bicycle racing, part-time volunteer coach, and former collegiate national velodrome racer and conference road racer. I happened upon your post by chance.
I understand the need to keep your model simple, and that you may not be interested in all the subtleties of race strategy, but I will offer some points at any rate:
1. You speak of breakaways in your energy spending model, but in reality there are often many "selections" prior to breakaways. A selection occurs when the peloton as a whole, or a group of committed riders (usually from a team) simply ratchets up the speed from the front, with no percievable break from the field, and "selects" out the weaker riders in the back who simply cannot make the speed, draft or no. Selections are best made on hills, around technical sections, etc . . . where the significance of drafting is reduced due to lower speeds.
2. The race you speak of is probably a shorter one, since in a longer pro-level race there is not as much of the constant jousting for near-front position as you might think. If anything, captains and stars will hang out in the middle or back, sending domestiques (worker bees) up to near the front to "cover" breakaways and/or keep the pace slightly fast to discourage breakaways. Unless you are involved in a criterium (cornering race), most riders will part way and allow team domestiques to come to the front if they want to. Even in collegiate racing (my forte') it would be considered rude to "block" a rider's progress to the front if it was clearly his job to pace the peloton or catch a breakaway for his/her teammates.
3. As more are aware thanks to OLN coverage of the Tour, cycling is a team sport. In the semi-pro, elite amateur, collegiate, U. S. pro, and UCI (global) pro pelotons, there are almost _no_ "unattached" riders. As your model increases in elegance, you'll want to consider the team factor.
4. The "breakaway" you describe is rarely done from the front. It most often happens during the tail-end of a "selection" (see above) or immediately after a selection, when riders are all weary.
5. Hitting on point 4, I think you should refashion your concept of energy conservation and spending to account for "replenishment," or what we call "recovery." The essential distinction of bicycle racing from _all_ stamina and endurance events is the variation in energy expenditure during any point in a race. You do recognize this in your dicscussion. However, you seem to think of energy as finite or as tapering off in a linear fashion. Actually, after a selection or breakaway, it may be that a rider is fully "dead" or empty, but if the peloton slows just enough, that rider (if well-trained) can return to a relatively homogenous energy level relative to other riders. This is in fact what distinguishes "stars" and talent from the other 95% of the peloton-their ability to "recover" after repeated selections and be in the elite and culled-down peloton near the end of a race.
5. On the point of stars. Your model at this stage implicitly ascribes an equal energy level to all riders. As you can imagine, this will change the closer you model to real-world phenomena. In fact, there are only about seven or eight riders in your theoretical 100-rider peloton who can likely win that bike race. There are another 20 who will make major contributions to the victory of the stars, by selecting the field, by covering breaks, etc . . . The rest of the riders are "paying the rent," and can only be expected to work in large team- or double-team efforts when a dangerous break is up the road. None of them will even be in the top twenty, and that's not their job anyway.
If you'd like to talk more about bike racing, I'm at U. S. 352-336-5429 or U. S. 352-392-0274 (my office) most days. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
I really enjoyed the posts on this thread.
James Thompson, Ph.D.
Team Florida/UF Cycling Team alum.
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