Freeman Cebu Sports

Bicycle Racing 101

ALLEZ - Jose Vicente Araneta - The Freeman

Bicycle racing is simple, to win, you have to be the first to cross the line. Or is it?

Well, it’s actually more complicated than that. There are teams looking for the yellow jersey and there are teams looking for stage wins. But in the day-to-day race action, it’s more and more complicated. And simple. Confused?

The first rule for those with ambitions to win the Tour is to expend as little energy as possible. Even between racing, rest is very important. “Why stand when you can sit? Why sit when you can lie down?”

“Drafting” is the key word during racing. Drafting is staying behind another rider for as long as you can. Drafting means you don’t have to fight the wind. Riding at the front means expending energy to move the bike forward and at the same time, expending energy to fight the wind. That is why cyclists have a crouching posture when racing at high speed, which is to minimize the frontal area.

There are 9 members of a Tour team. For the teams with yellow ambitions, it’s ideal to have one leader and the rest are just team helpers – getting food and water for the leader, giving up their bikes when the leader has a mechanical (that’s why it’s a plus when the domestiques has similar bike size with their leaders) and of course to give leaders their draft. You’d never see Vincenzo Nibali leading the race until the last K’s. He’s just sitting behind his teammates for their draft.

Drafting allows the rider to expend 20% less energy than the rider at the front. Convert that saved energy for 200km for three weeks and you get the picture.

In one of Lance Armstrong’s seven wins in the Tour, it was estimated that he spent less than 20km during the 3,000+ kilometers at the front. Why? He had domestiques to shield him from the wind. How many times have I seen Nibali in the front of the race up to this point? Three times, in stages 2, 13 and 14 and all in the final kilometers.And in those three occasions where he expended energy, he gained time over his rivals. Smart.

So why not just jump at the start and race hard to the finish? Well, you can, but the peloton behind will a relay of small group of riders to chase the lone breakaway. The chasers can rest during relays while the breakaway is not afforded any of that.

Drafting is not only important for the Nibalis’ but also for the sprinters. For Mark Cavendish, Andre Greipel and Marcel Kittel, the only time they show their faces is in the last 200 meters of the race. Sprinting mechanics dictates that the domestiques will ride all out, at 55-60kph, in the last few kilometers, to discourage breakaways. Once their job is done, they peel off, just like fuel loads in a rocket ship and ride slowly to the line hoping that their sprinter will get lucky. The last domestique will drop Cav, Greipel or Kittel in the last 200 meters for the sprint.

Of course, it doesn’t always work out when ten teams are doing the same thing in a four-meter wide road. Shoving, screaming, cutting, elbowing, head-butting – you name it, happens during the last 5km of a race and crashes are a consequence.

So if you think bicycle racing is for sissies, think again.

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