Old School meets New School. Old school wins.

I said I had more to say about the Herman Miller Brickyard Criterium in Grand Rapids, and here it is. Make of it what you will.

As you should have read in the previous post, Bissell-ABG had a rider ‘up the road’ with a good-sized lead. They also had a posse at the front of the field mucking up any chase efforts.

At one point, the other teams got their collective shit together, went to the front, took over the first seven spots, and began a concerted and organized chase effort. The gap started to fall.

So now, at this point, if you’re on the Bissell-ABG team, what do you do? Do you…
A. go up to the front and actively/forcibly get in their way? Or…
B. sit in and allow the other teams to work without interruption?

And if you choose Option A, how active/forced do you get?

Opinions vary. I think the answer comes down to which school you come from: Old School or New School.

Classic old school tactics would have Bissell-ABG riders going to the front throwing elbows and jabbing their brakes to intimidate the other teams. They would pinch riders into the curb to slow them down. They would get verbally abusive. They would take scary lines through the turns to discourage other riders from overtaking them.

That’s what Eddie B. taught us. That’s what everyone did back in the day. It was considered normal. Ask Jonas. Ask Thurlow. Ask Frankie.

(I remember a time when the rider next to me reached over and squeezed my brake lever to slow me down. I won’t name names.)
(I remember a time when a rider grabbed my jersey as I started to accelerate to chase his teammate.)
(I remember having a rider stick his shoulder into my ribs and push me off the road when I tried to pass.)

More modern tactics (not necessarily New School) would see Bissell-ABG mixing things up at the front of the pack. Not in a physical way, but in a passive “get-in-the-way” way, which is what B-ABG was doing until the other teams took over control of the front.

But something changed about the time that Lance Armstrong was “winning” his 7 Tours de France. In a nutshell, more people watched the Tour on TV, got interested in racing, took notes while watching the Tour, and then brought those tactics to an American bike race.

Today’s generation of bike racers thinks Eddie B is just a lame store at the outlet mall.

In the TdF, there is no ‘blocking’ to speak of. When it’s time to reel in the breakaway, the sprinters’ teams go to the front and bring back the breakaway unimpeded by blocking tactics. The breakaway riders’ teams get out of the way and give the chasers a free reign at the front.

That’s what these New School cretins have brought to American criteriums: the lameness of Eddie Bauer.

Well, it became an issue in Grand Rapids when Bissell-ABG decided to get a little more assertive in their blocking efforts. They moved to the front, barged into the line, bumped a few elbows, and made a lot of riders angry.

The other teams felt that since they had control of the front, Bissell-ABG should back off. (This was actually verbalized by a rider later.)

Things got argy bargy after that. Riders began chopping each other and brake checking each other. It was awesome. Even the spectators noticed what was going on. It was old school.

For a minute there, I thought I caught a whiff of wool.

Things finally settled down. No one got hurt in the exchanges. But there was a decided rift between the two styles of riding and which one was thought to be more acceptable.

And of course, we can blame Lance. For making cycling popular and therefore influencing the modern bike racer with a kinder and gentler set of tactics. Or maybe we can just blame society, come to think of it.

My advice to new riders is to go find a quiet grassy area in a shady park somewhere, ride back and forth together, and beat the hell out of each other until you are completely unfazed by bodily contact.

It’s going to happen; there are a lot of Old School guys still racing their bikes.

To learn more drills and skills, there’s a book I want you to read…

Reading the Race Chris Horner Jamie SmithWhether you’re a new racer, an aspiring pro, a team manager, or even a roadside fan, Reading the Race will elevate your cycling IQ for better racing.

Find the book in your local bookstore, bike shop, or online:

VeloPress.com
Amazon.com
Barnes & Noble
Chapters/Indigo
your local bookstore

Advertisements

When it’s your turn to attack.

Bissell-ABG brought numbers to the Herman Miller Brickyard Criterium in Grand Rapids, Michigan last week. It’s the hometown of their title sponsor, and they wanted to win one for the gipper. OK, no problem. You’ll still need a plan.

Their plan was to launch one attack after the next and force the other teams to respond to each one. By doing so enough times, they would soften up the field sufficiently to launch a winning move later in the race. Classic team maneuver.

The attacks began on the first lap. Two Bissell-ABG riders went clear. All the other teams chased like hell. When those two Bissell riders got reeled in, another Bissell rider attacked. Nate Williams, who had spent the morning on his feet as the volunteer coordinator for this event, didn’t really intend to stay away. He only wanted to make life hard for the other teams. And that’s what happened. He stayed away for about 4 laps before getting reeled in.

Mac Brennan was the next to attack. Same plan: just go out there and ride tempo for as long as you can and make the other teams do the work to bring you back. With 54 laps to go, no one expects you to stay out there all day, Mac.

Ha.

With his Bissell-ABG teammates stationed at the front of the pack, his lead grew steadily.

The Herman Miller Brickyard course is, for the most part, a wide and flat 4-corner loop with a good long stretch of cobbles between turns 1 and 2. But there was a challenging chicane located between turns 3 and 4 that forced riders to handle their bikes.

That chicane was challenging enough to create solo winners in three of the previous races that day. It wasn’t as bad as the “Ann Arbor Meat Grinder” that I wrote about in Reading the Race, the greatest book ever written (on bike racing strategy). But this one did have an effect. A solo rider could fly through it, but a field could get clogged up in it.

Mac languished out in front for several laps. Other teams tried to mount a counter offensive, but Bissell-ABG had the numbers to really control the effort. The word ‘throttle’ can be used as a replacement for accelerator or to choke.

In this story, it means choke. The field was throttled.

So let’s think of Mac’s effort for a minute. He attacked with the idea that either a few riders would bridge across to him, or that he would wear down the other teams until he was caught. He never intended to stay clear for 54 laps. Solo.

At some point, his solo breakaway reached a turning point. He had to decide whether to let himself get caught or commit to going the distance. And if he commits, the pressure to succeed is immense. The weight of his entire team and sponsor rides on his shoulders. And if he does fail, he knows it would be disaster to get caught too late. If he gets caught within the last ten laps, his team won’t have time to get another breakaway started. They’ll have to sprint against everyone else, and there were some notoriously fast sprinters in the field who were not wearing Bissell jerseys.

Well, it ended up being a monumental effort. He stayed away for 54 laps. By himself. He won the race. It all worked out in the end. (I have more to say about this race, but I’ll save it for another time.)

But I want you to know that this is what you sign up for when you attack in a bike race. If you find yourself in this position, whether you’re on a solo breakaway or in a small group, you have to know that your teammates are now betting all their money on your horse. And that your game plan that you agreed to in the pre-race meeting can get tossed out the window when the race starts.

Reading the Race Chris Horner Jamie SmithWhether you’re a new racer, an aspiring pro, a team manager, or even a roadside fan, Reading the Race will elevate your cycling IQ for better racing.

Find the book in your local bookstore, bike shop, or online:

VeloPress.com
Amazon.com
Barnes & Noble
Chapters/Indigo
your local bookstore