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.
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.
Whether 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.
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