Bicycle Racing at the 2014 North Star Criterium in St. Paul. photo Stephanie Williams

Understanding Bicycle Racing – How Teams Use Tactics and Strategies

Understanding bicycle racing opens up many questions for potential spectators and amateurs. With the North Star Bicycle Festival & Grand Prix coming back to Minnesota this coming week and the Tour de France beginning July 1st, we wanted to review some of the technical facets and show you a video below on race strategies from this fun sport.

Bike racers at last years North Star Bike Festival and Grand Prix, in Stillwater, MN are jockeying for position as they head up Chilkoot Hill.

Bicycle racing has many similarities to auto racing. They both offer adrenaline rushing excitement for spectators. Plus, each of these sports offers their industry an opportunity to test the latest equipment and safety features, for our future use. However, cycle racing is somewhat of a mystery? What’s a time trial, a criterium or crit vs. a road race, a pelotone, a breakaway and how does team sport advantages and strategies play into an individual winning the race?

Understanding Bicycle Racing Can Be Fun!

As a spectator you don’t just watch bicycle racing. As the racers fly by several of your bodies senses may experience a slight bit of excitement. Your eyes may see a brightly colored blur so close that you could reach out and touch them. You can feel the wind they create as they pass, blow your hair back. While your ears are sure to pick up the buzz of their chains and hum of their tires.

As people from all over the world prepare to flock to these bike races or watch them on TV this summer, you may find the following information helpful. Especially for one of the world’s greatest annual sporting spectacles, the Tour de France. This race starting July 1, runs for three consecutive weeks through Europe starting July 1st, ending in Paris July 23rd. And, if you are new to cycling, here are some key things that might help you better understand what is going on.

Some terms used in this team sport!

Echelon: A line of riders seeking maximum draft in a crosswind, resulting in a diagonal line across the road.

Shelled: A rider who is having extreme difficulty keeping up with a fast pace race in a way they did not anticipate. They will probably end up in the grupetto. (Meaning ALL riders finish in the time needed to ride the next day.)

Musette bag: A small shoulder bag filled with food and drink given to riders at a designated point each day out on the course.

Peloton: The main group of riders in a race.

Breakaway: When a group of one or more riders are ahead of the peloton.

Domestique: A rider working for the benefit of another rider.

Hitting the wall/bonking: When a rider no longer has any energy and is struggling to make it to the finish.

How can I tell whos winning?

There are a couple of different competitions going on at the same time. The overall leader wears the famous yellow jersey. This means he has taken the least time so far overall the stages combined.

The green jersey is for the general points jersey. This jersey is mostly obtained by the sprinters. At various times during the race, points are awarded for certain sprint sections. The green jersey goes to the rider who has achieved the most points during a race.

The white jersey goes to the “best young rider”. In order to qualify for this, they have to be under 25 years of age.

Last, but not least, is the polka dot jersey. This jersey is worn by the best climber. Similar to the green jersey, there are certain mountain sections at various stages of the race where points are awarded to whoever wins the climb – more points are awarded for harder climbs.

Do teams really matter?

Cycling is very much a team sport. A pro race features nine cyclists selected from a larger group of teammates. Teams work as units and each rider has various responsibilities based on their strengths. Usually, they are all working together to help one key person win. Those team members who are not in the frame for major awards are known as “domestiques”-they do the donkey work that enables their leader to achieve their goals. Sometimes this means going back to the team car and getting water and supplies and other times it may be “pulling” the rider or allowing him to catch a draft behind you in the peloton. Sometimes riders may even turn around and go back to pace a rider back up into contention.

Keep these things in mind as you watch cyclist this summer. Pick a team to follow and watch the many strategies they use to get their leader onto the podium. Stay tuned for more information about race tactics and debriefing of the races!

 

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