Teaming Together

FIAC-ABR 4-Man TTT National Championships
September 7, 2008 – Utica, IL
Masters 30+ – 5th – 1:11.54
263 watts – 25.9 MPH

Most people see cycling as a sport for individuals.  The first guy to cross the line wins.  It’s all about who‘s the fastest and most fit.  While, that’s true in some cycling disciplines, most bike racing is all about the team.  From the amateurs to the pros, many of the most successful racers have been members of well trained and drilled teams.  I won’t get into the details of the reasons why, but I’ll use the team time trial is a good example.

Back in July, four of us guys on the XXX Racing/Athletico team talked about putting a team together for the ABR 4-man TTT National Championships. This event has been a favorite of Chicago area teams for over 20 years.  Many of our teammates extolled the thrill of this race, and one of the guys on our team, Brian Morrissey had done it last year and was anxious for blood this year.  Jeff Holland had also gotten the bug earlier in the year and had looked forward to this race the whole season.  They picked up Jeremy Anderson and I along the way, and we were pretty jazzed to have four guys with fairly similar fitness.  You’d think that would be a recipe for success, but this was a team event, not a solo race.

Unlike an individual TT, the team time trial relies on the abilities of each rider, not just the fitness of one. The team needs to know each other’s strengths and weakness, and be able to execute cycling tactics like a well oiled chain. The team can’t rely on one rider to pull the others the entire way.  Over 70% of the energy a rider uses to pedal the bike, is used to overcome wind resistance.  Thus, drafting behind another rider allows others to save significant energy.  Riders want to be as close to each other as possible, and in different formations (aka, echelons) depending on the direction of the wind. The goal of the team is to allow one rider to pull off the front for awhile, then rotate to the back to rest and let someone else do the work. The timing and fluidity of the team’s rotation is ultimately what leads to success.  So, how do you get a good team together?  Practice.

Yep, easier said then done.  When you’ve got four guys with different schedules and goals, it takes a lot of commitment to get together and practice for an end of the season race that tends to fall off the radar until a couple of weeks before the race.  At this point, it’s usually too late.  The best teams start practicing earlier in the year and get a rotation down so it comes naturally during the race. Brian, Jeff, and Jeremy got one practice together in August, then the four of us met up the day before the race for a short ride.  Boy, it was ugly.  I won’t get into the details, but it was pretty evident we had our work cutout. In all fairness, we didn’t even know if the race was going to happen . The flyer wasn’t posted until two days before the event and many of us were experiencing end of season distractions.

Thankfully, we had time to practice on the warm-up.  We got to the race about 90 minutes before our start time.  We also found out the race had been shortened to just 30 miles.  This changed our strategy slightly, since we would be able to push more early in the race. There was a slight 5-10 MPH our of the west, so we would want to ride echelons at several points during the race.  Umm, what’s an echelon?  Yep, I at least knew what it was, but I had never ridden in one. Did I mention that this was going to be ugly?  Jeremy soon started drilling us and shouting orders. The group riding was freaking me out.  Not that I normally get freaked in criteriums, but I’ve been a really chicken since my crash and surgery. I really need to fall a few times to get over my fear, but I wasn’t ready (physically and mentally) to fall.  Still, I was committed to the race.

Come race time, the four of us were anxious to go. We would have a tailwind for about the first 5 miles, and it showed since our average speed was about 30 MPH. We actually did a good job of getting a rotation together and taking pulls, but things fell apart a little on the first corner.  This is where I become a bit of an anchor. Jeremy, Brian, and Jeff were are able to take turns at close to full speed, but I had to drop off the back, slow, and then punch it to catch up as they also slowed to let me catch back on.  We got back together and echeloned fairly well the next couple of miles.

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