Well...here we are in February or March. You’ve got leg speed, you’ve got acceleration, you’ve got power, and you’re still trying to figure out with all these new-found physical attributes, how not to get waxed next year.
People often ask me about tactics...as if it’s some big secret thing. Tactics are really very simple once you learn a few rudiments, and then apply some common sense. Irrespective of your discipline, tactics all revolve around four basic principles:
1. Taking pace
2. Withholding pace
4. Total commitment (and I’m not talking relationships here...)
Taking pace is the ability to receive every possible bit draft you can at any one time. If you’re a match sprinter, you want to be able to sit in a position so that when you make your final move, you’ll have a pocket of still air to accelerate into. If you’re a stage racer, you will maintain a good and efficient draft for all of any stage behind either team mates or friendly opposition, until the time you can make the move to win the stage.
Always looking for the most advantageous position, and finding it almost by instinct, is the mark of a classy rider.
Withholding pace is your ability to put the other guy in a less than ideal position to take pace from you. For the road racer, it may mean many little attacks that have to be closed. For the criterium rider, it could be riding in the left gutter with the wind to your right to keep the pace away from your rival. For a points racer, it may mean keeping just a little pressure on after the points sprint to make your opponents close a gap each sprint.
Conservation is a rider’s ability to use the absolute minimum amount of energy to get them to the crucial part of the race ... the place where the "real" racing begins. For our sprinter, it is waiting until the last banking to take the run at their opponent. For the road rider, it is arriving at that favorite hill fresh, when you’re sure you can time trial the rest of the way home. For the criterium rider, it might be going into the last 5 laps feeling good, so that you can launch that solo attack 3 laps out when everyone else is beginning to set up for the sprint.
Total commitment is the final element and certainly the most important. You’ve played the games. You’ve used pace to conserve your own resources. You’ve screwed with your opponents in any way that you could to reduce their resources. Now it is GO time. If you’re our criterium rider and you attack 3 laps out, you must have the commitment and courage to press that attack as hard as you are able. It’s "no guts, no glory" time. It’s better to have gotten eaten alive in the last 300 meters of your attack than to have finished comfortably in 23rd position. Plus you’ll know next time to make that attack 350 meters later!
As I said before, these are the four basic elements of bike racing...any bike racing. By practicing, thinking, talking with other riders and coaches, you can take those four principles and turn them a thousand separate tactics, each with it’s own nuance.