From drafting to attacking, it’s a complex ride

By ADAM LAPIERRE

News staff writer

May 27, 2006

The 2006 Mount Hood Cycling Classic will kick off on Wednesday evening with the Panorama Point Prologue, a three-mile climb from The Fruit Company in Pine Grove to the popular viewpoint overlooking the Hood River Valley. Next Sunday’s Three-Summit Road Race will conclude the Classic with 75 miles of grueling but beautiful racing that starts and finishes at the Cooper Spur Mountain Resort.

And in between the first firing of the gun and the final crossing of the finish line, competitors who survive the five days of racing will have completed six stages, 300 miles of racing and about 25,000 feet of climbing.

For the inexperienced spectator, road racing might seem like an individual sport where the fastest and most in-shape riders win. But that is not the case. Although individual ability and conditioning is very important, competitive cycling is very much a team sport.

The following are breakdowns of some basics (info provided by www.internationalcycling.com) to help spectators better understand what exactly is going on in the Mount Hood Cycling Classic:

MHCC basics

The Mount Hood Cycling Classic is a stage race, like the Tour de France. Racers have to complete each stage in order to advance to the next one. If a rider does not complete a stage or is disqualified, he or she is out of the event and can not participant in any further stages. The rider in each division with the lowest accumulative time from all six stages is the overall winner, or the GC winner (GC stands for General Classification).

Smaller competitions within the race also exist, like the King of the Mountain and stage winners. The KOM is won by the rider in each division who has reached the top of every major climb first. Stage winners are simply that; those who win an individual stage.

Racing tactics

Drafting

Aside from individual conditioning, drafting is perhaps the most key element in road racing. Wind resistance accounts for a major part of the force cyclists have to fight against. It is estimated that a racer can reduce wind drag by 20-30 percent by drafting behind another rider or a group.

Attacking

If riders in a stage pack together for most of the race, the winners are decided by the final sprint to the finish line. Although advantageous for strong sprinters, many of the top racers try to break away from the pack, or attack, before the final sprint, to avoid the race coming down to who is the best sprinter.

The Break

Riders who successfully attack and pull ahead of the field are forced to fight the force of wind resistance, which means they expend much more energy than those who stick together. Because of this, riders often attack together to form what is called a breakaway group. Tactics within a breakaway group get convoluted, as riders within the break have their own objectives in mind. Some will refuse to take the lead to allow others do draft behind, thus leading to the failure of many breaks.

Meanwhile, riders in the main field will try to catch the break, particularly if a member of his or her team is not represented within it. A secondary pack perusing the break is called a chase group.

The Sprint

The sprint is the final push to the finish line, and it is more complex than all the riders simply sprinting as fast and hard as they can to the end. Sprinting is a team affair. As riders near the finish line, teams usually have a strong sprinter already chosen. The sprinter relies on team members to help shelter him or her from the wind as they increase their speed. Ideally, riders try to draft off others and conserve energy until the final stretch, where they will rocket out in front and sprint for the finish.

Protecting a leader

Several top-notch teams will be represented at the MHCC, and team strategies are most apparent when a team is protecting their lead rider. The lead rider is most often the rider who has the most overall points in an event or has the best chance of winning. For example, teams can shelter lead riders and help them conserve energy and they can increase or decrease the pace of a field to allow riders to catch up or pull away.

How to watch

Knowing what to look for in a race can make watching it far more interesting and entertaining. Some things to watch are: Pay attention to what teams are well-represented in the main field. Those teams are often trying to control the pace of the field. Meanwhile, notice what teams are represented in the break. By comparing the two, you can often tell the efforts of different teams to either let the break pull away or to catch back up to it.

Pay attention to whether the main field is riding in single-file or bunched together. If the field is single-file, this means the pace has picked up and riders are working to keep up with the front rider. If the pack of riders is bunched, it indicates the pace has slowed.

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