USA National Cycling Championship - Road race basics
While the name might seem to explain it all, the tactics used in a pro-level cycling road race are increasingly complex.
Multi-day stage races, like the Tour de France may use similar tactics, but since the race is a three-week ordeal, teams employ a wider range of riders' specialties to attempt to win the coveted yellow jersey.
The USA National Championship differs slightly; it's a one-day race that runs a circuit, or multiple laps on the same course.
Road races begin with a mass start of all riders from all teams.
Traditionally, cycling teams are broken up into several areas of expertise, depending upon a rider's strengths and position within a given team.
- Captain or team leader - usually the strongest rider overall on the team, but can be re-assigned for a given race
- Sprinter - the person who can win the flat-out group sprint, with banging elbows and wheel-to-wheel final seconds
- Climber - typically one of the smallest, and thinnest riders among the group, needed for hours of leg-searing climbing
- Domestique - the utility player of the team; serving as a windbreak for the team captain, surrounding him (or her) and giving protection from crashes
For the USA Nationals, some teams will have chosen the rider in their group with the best chance for taking the coveted USA National Championship. The other team members will be working to help him (or her) be successful.
This could be anything from bringing him (or her) water bottles or food from the team car or allowing him (or her) to sit in the slipstream.
This is one of the primary reasons cycling it a team sport. When a rider "sits in" another cyclist's slipsteam (or draft for NASCAR fans) they use about 30% less energy than if they were facing the oncoming air directly.
This energy savings keeps the captain's legs fresh for a final climb or a sprint to the finish. A strong team can help an average rider earn a spot on the podium in the right circumstances.
Racing is also strong on tactics. Riders watch each other carefully during the cycling season as well as during the race itself.
If a rider is having a good season, he's watched more closely than another who might not have trained as hard during the off-season or sustained a recent injury.
Team cars, which travel in a pack are the rear of the peloton (the group of cyclists) use two-way radios to give riders information on other teams, or decide on the fly who might have the best legs that day. In some cases, information such as rider's heartrate or power output (usually measured in watts) can be sent to the team car as well, giving unbiased information.
In those team cars you'll see the director sportif, which is the team director. That person is responsible for the decisions made for the team on the road.
Also in the team cars, you'll find mechanics, who quickly swap out wheels if a rider flats, or grabs a new bike from the roof for a mechanical issue. This is usually faster than tinkering on the bike while the seconds tick away.
All of this makes for some interesting watching for fans. At the end of the day, one lucky, hard-working winner with slip on the Stars-and-Stripes jersey, being named the USA National Champion.
READ MORE | USA National Championships Road Race course map