Newbie question: Team Strategy



Mr. Bill

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Sep 4, 2007
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I'm a newbie to following professional cycling; enjoying the hell out of it, but I've got a question. At the end of the Versus coverage of the Greenville race, which Levi Leipheimer won, they interviewed George Hincapie, who said something to the effect of "I had the legs to win today, but couldn't use them because I had to be a team player."
Now, does that mean that Discovery instructed Hincapie not to go for the win, but rather to ride mainly in support of Leipheimer?
And then, of course, Hincapie wins the Tour of Missouri, and other than taking the time trial, Levi isn't a huge factor. Was it Levi's turn to be a team player and forego an assault on the podium in favor of aiding a Hincapie win?
It would make sense, I'd think, for Discovery to actively work to get as many of their team onto the podium as possible in a given season, rather than to have one "golden boy" bask in all the glory.
This is the first season I've taken an active interest in following professional cycling, and it seems that teamwork and strategy play a far greater role than I'd ever thought.
 

iliveonnitro

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Mar 29, 2006
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Mr. Bill said:
I'm a newbie to following professional cycling; enjoying the hell out of it, but I've got a question. At the end of the Versus coverage of the Greenville race, which Levi Leipheimer won, they interviewed George Hincapie, who said something to the effect of "I had the legs to win today, but couldn't use them because I had to be a team player."
Now, does that mean that Discovery instructed Hincapie not to go for the win, but rather to ride mainly in support of Leipheimer?
And then, of course, Hincapie wins the Tour of Missouri, and other than taking the time trial, Levi isn't a huge factor. Was it Levi's turn to be a team player and forego an assault on the podium in favor of aiding a Hincapie win?
It would make sense, I'd think, for Discovery to actively work to get as many of their team onto the podium as possible in a given season, rather than to have one "golden boy" bask in all the glory.
This is the first season I've taken an active interest in following professional cycling, and it seems that teamwork and strategy play a far greater role than I'd ever thought.
You got it pretty right. Welcome to politics...err, professional cycling.
 

gstein

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Aug 24, 2006
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Mr. Bill said:
It would make sense, I'd think, for Discovery to actively work to get as many of their team onto the podium as possible in a given season, rather than to have one "golden boy" bask in all the glory.
Right: The season is too long and too hard for one Golden Boy to get them all. So teams have different riders 'peak' in their fitness for different races, at different times of the year.

Hincapie has traditionally been a 'classics' rider, doing well in early season races before settling into the support role for the Tour. But, as he's pushing his chances as a stage-race guy, he's starting to cross over into Levi's territory.

So, I didn't watch the coverage...but he may not have been totally happy about having to be a 'team player' just then.
 

Mr. Bill

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gstein said:
So, I didn't watch the coverage...but he may not have been totally happy about having to be a 'team player' just then.
No, he didn't seem totally happy, but then, having just cranked your heart out, and not gotten to the podium - yeah, I can see that.
To extend my question to a few more specifics: when a rider is competing largely in a support role - a "team player" as George was in Greenville, exactly how is he "supporting" his team-mate, other than simply not going for the win himself?
I can see where, if the breakaway forms a pace line and they take turns pulling, being a strong team-mate in the breakaway would certainly qualify as support, but it seemed to me that during most of the Greenville race, George was way back behind Livi most of the time. Was there something he was doing back there that still comprises active, rather than passive, support?
Pro Cycling is obviously far more of a team event than the uninitiated might think, but I'm still trying to get a handle on the team strategy thing.
 

gstein

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Aug 24, 2006
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You know, I didn't watch the championship, so I'm not the one to say. I don't really know how it played out.

However, I do know that if your team-mate is off the front, you got no choice but to sit, sit, sit (especially if he's got a chance of winning).

Oh, and if the pack catches him, you counter attack...right at the moment of contact.
 

sogood

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Isn't it true that well before the season that the teams have already decided who are the lead riders for a particular event? So it's a case that I help you in one event and you help me in another. I remember during the Pari-Roubaix this year, it was commented on that O'Grady was signaled by his team leader Cancellara, who he was supporting, to go ahead and take the win? Sounded like that Leipheimer didn't give Hincapie the go ahead here.
 

Frigo's Luggage

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Sep 16, 2006
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Cycling has been described as a high speed chess game. I couldn't figure out any of the tactics for the first few years I followed the sport closely. Basically, you have to take every situation in context to determine the tactics. Tactics change based upon the type of course, the riders in the break, whether the race is a stage race or one day race and based upon competition for jerseys, awards, primes other than the overall victory.

The Hincapie/Leipheimer situation is even more complicated because Hincapie, Leipheimer and Bruyneel are probably going to be on different teams next year. So, Hincapie may be annoyed at Bruyneel and/or Armstrong for choosing Leipheimer.

There are a couple of different generalizations that govern tactics:

1. Never chase a teamate.

2. If a teamate is in a breakaway, it may be acceptable to try to bridge over to the breakaway as long as you don't bring the peleton or a dangerous guy with you.

3. If a teamate is in a breakaway and has a chance to win, you don't do any work and you cover any attempt to bridge accross to the breakaway.

4. If you don't have a teamate in the break and have a sprinter on your team, it is not always beneficial to catch the break early because there will be counterattacks once the catch is made. It is easier to let the break just dangle and wither a manageable distance off the front and only catch them in the last few kilometers. This is the reason why so many breakaways get magically caught in the finishing straight. I believe the general rule is that the peleton can close 10 seconds per kilometer over a small break.

5. Counterattacks always occur when the break gets caught.

6. The guy that leads out the sprint loses.

7. Its all about numbers and comserving energy. The goal is to get a mismatch, either in numbers or skill, and then exploit the mismatch. You also want to save as much energy as possible. The guy that does the least work frequently wins.

These are big picture tactics. However, there is a whole world of micro-tactics that frequently play a role in a race. For instance, if a gap opens up, you may want to allow or encourage someone else to close the gap so you can save energy. Pack position is very important. You want to stay in the first third of the bunch to avoid crashes and to avoid the elastic effect of the group. Problem is that everybody has this same desire yet 2/3 of the group is not at the front. So, there is constant mixing and stirring of the bunch with people fighting tooth and nail to keep their position. Then you get issues about wind and crosswinds etc. It all effects the race and the tactics on many different levels.

Keep watching and you will pick it up. Try watching the spring classics on www.cycling.tv. It is a whole different world from the Tour and the stage races. In my opinion, the clasics are much more interesting and fun.
 

Mr. Bill

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Sep 4, 2007
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Frigo's Luggage said:
Cycling has been described as a high speed chess game. I couldn't figure out any of the tactics for the first few years I followed the sport closely. Basically, you have to take every situation in context to determine the tactics. Tactics change based upon the type of course, the riders in the break, whether the race is a stage race or one day race and based upon competition for jerseys, awards, primes other than the overall victory.

The Hincapie/Leipheimer situation is even more complicated because Hincapie, Leipheimer and Bruyneel are probably going to be on different teams next year. So, Hincapie may be annoyed at Bruyneel and/or Armstrong for choosing Leipheimer.

There are a couple of different generalizations that govern tactics:

1. Never chase a teamate.

2. If a teamate is in a breakaway, it may be acceptable to try to bridge over to the breakaway as long as you don't bring the peleton or a dangerous guy with you.

3. If a teamate is in a breakaway and has a chance to win, you don't do any work and you cover any attempt to bridge accross to the breakaway.

4. If you don't have a teamate in the break and have a sprinter on your team, it is not always beneficial to catch the break early because there will be counterattacks once the catch is made. It is easier to let the break just dangle and wither a manageable distance off the front and only catch them in the last few kilometers. This is the reason why so many breakaways get magically caught in the finishing straight. I believe the general rule is that the peleton can close 10 seconds per kilometer over a small break.

5. Counterattacks always occur when the break gets caught.

6. The guy that leads out the sprint loses.

7. Its all about numbers and comserving energy. The goal is to get a mismatch, either in numbers or skill, and then exploit the mismatch. You also want to save as much energy as possible. The guy that does the least work frequently wins.

These are big picture tactics. However, there is a whole world of micro-tactics that frequently play a role in a race. For instance, if a gap opens up, you may want to allow or encourage someone else to close the gap so you can save energy. Pack position is very important. You want to stay in the first third of the bunch to avoid crashes and to avoid the elastic effect of the group. Problem is that everybody has this same desire yet 2/3 of the group is not at the front. So, there is constant mixing and stirring of the bunch with people fighting tooth and nail to keep their position. Then you get issues about wind and crosswinds etc. It all effects the race and the tactics on many different levels.

Keep watching and you will pick it up. Try watching the spring classics on www.cycling.tv. It is a whole different world from the Tour and the stage races. In my opinion, the clasics are much more interesting and fun.
Thanks for the excellent reply. That's exactly the sort of information I was looking for. Some of the stuff you mention is stuff I wouldn't have thought of myself, like the part about not dragging a strong rider from another team with you into a breakaway. Given this, it would certainly be valuable for each rider in a team to be familiar with the strengths and weaknesses of every rider in the race. Timing has got to be a factor, too. As a hypothetical example, the last thing you'd want to do would be to risk dragging another team's best sprinter along with you into a team-mate's breakaway, with only a few miles left to go.
I'll check out cycling.tv, but I've only got a "thin pipe" here at home, so I might not get much out of it.
 

iliveonnitro

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Mar 29, 2006
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Frigo's Luggage said:
You want to stay in the first third of the bunch to avoid crashes and to avoid the elastic effect of the group. Problem is that everybody has this same desire yet 2/3 of the group is not at the front. So, there is constant mixing and stirring of the bunch with people fighting tooth and nail to keep their position.
More simply, as they say: if you aren't moving up, you're moving back.
 

Vespatude

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Oct 9, 2007
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Well said. Further complicating things is that Hincapie was the reigning US Champion and he was racing in his home town of Greenville. His motivation was pretty strong. I do recall that George was upset that everyone was racing for third place. He wanted there to be attacks so that he could legitimately bridge the gap and have a possible run for the win.

However, the field assumed that the win would be Levi with George taking second. That kind of torqued Hincapie. It wasn't so much that he was instructed to stay back, it was just the thing teammates do - as Frigo's Luggage pointed out.

Frigo's Luggage said:
Cycling has been described as a high speed chess game. I couldn't figure out any of the tactics for the first few years I followed the sport closely. Basically, you have to take every situation in context to determine the tactics. Tactics change based upon the type of course, the riders in the break, whether the race is a stage race or one day race and based upon competition for jerseys, awards, primes other than the overall victory.

The Hincapie/Leipheimer situation is even more complicated because Hincapie, Leipheimer and Bruyneel are probably going to be on different teams next year. So, Hincapie may be annoyed at Bruyneel and/or Armstrong for choosing Leipheimer.

There are a couple of different generalizations that govern tactics:
 

gstein

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Aug 24, 2006
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I seem to remember Hincapie saying something about being upset at the negative racing. If everyone is looking to keep Hincapie in check, it certainly creates a perfect opportunity for someone else on his team.

It's like when everyone used to cover Jerry Rice, so Steve Young would throw a short pass to the tight end. Everytime Hincapie makes a move, a bunch of guys jump all over him, allowing Levi a free shot at the finish. Hincapie, who should have been set up for the win, becomes the pigeon.
 

padawan

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Dec 23, 2005
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Frigo's Luggage said:
In my opinion, the clasics are much more interesting and fun.
+1
much more lively! It's like having all the best parts of a 21 day grand tour compacted into 5 or 6 hours of racing!