I’ll use the outcome of this race to detail some crosswind strategy beyond “crosswind = attack”. I’ll use the outcome of this race to demonstrate that on an exposed road race course with constant but varying crosswinds, small changes in wind direction and course profile can influence when the winning move breaks free.
The Deer Trail Road Race has been on the local calendar for a long time. It is an interesting race with narrow roads, wind exposure, and endless rolling hills. The other defining feature is the turn arounds on the basic L-shaped course. The cones are in the middle of the narrow road and create an extreme bottleneck on the otherwise dead-straight course.
With such a course, wind is the key variable. This race featured the most common weather conditions: moderate winds from the NNE, cool temperatures, and sunny skies. The course was actually changed at the last second due to a bridge on the north leg of the “L”. Instead of two laps of the entire “L”, we would do the northbound leg once, and then three laps of the eastbound section. Below is the course map and profile for the 2012 race:
I carpooled with my teammate Joe Taddeucci to the race. He’s been racing for a long time and done Deer Trail at least a half dozen times. We talked tactics on the way down, but most of this went out the window when we learned of the course change. We also discussed the start list. The field was to be on the smaller size (30), without any local pros (all were racing Tour of the Gila), and no team had an over-whelming presence with a couple riders for each team. Therefore, we identified a half dozen riders to watch and assumed the east/west laps would have crosswinds and split the field.
As I said, the only features on this course are the turnarounds, rolling hills and wind. It is critical to know when to attack to succeed. There are a couple good articles on when to attack in general here from CyclingTipsBlog and Hunter Allen. Wade from CyclingTips makes the obvious suggestion of attacking in crosswinds.
I’ll take it one step further and say that a cross-tailwind is usually best. Any condition that limits the benefit of the draft will give individual riders less disadvantage compared to the group. Also, If the speed is very high, riders are nearly spun-out in their top gear (Always race with an 11T, I don’t care who you are!) and this can limit their ability to accelerate to close gaps.
Another point to mention for amateur racing is crosswinds from the right blowing towards the centerline. Crossing the centerline results in disqualification and can end your race. But missing the key move or getting dropped can also end your race, so riders will often risk disqualification and try to sneak into the draft when the race is about to split. I’m not saying it is fair (it is not), but it is another factor to keep in mind when reading the race and planning your escape. I can speak for myself that I have never been disqualified and I respect the rules of racing, but some racers, especially in Pro/1/2, seem to feel they’re above the law, or at least try to push the officials as far as they can to their own benefit.
We started northbound, rolling hills with no overall elevation change, into a headwind with a slight cross from the right. From what I just described, this is probably not a good time to attack, especially as the race was shortened. The pack might let a small (1-2 riders) suicide move go without objection in a longer road race, but in a race < 50 miles, it was going to be ‘game on’ from the gun. There were attacks, but it was clear nothing was getting away on the first leg.
The turnaround saw the pack strung out as per usual. I was in the top 1/3, and still had to work to regain the front. We now were rolling downhill with a tailwind and a slight cross into the true gutter. Perfect for an escape. At the very least, the first strong crosswinds of the race were less than ten minutes away following the 90 degree turn to the east, so positioning at the front was bound to pay off.
Tripp Wall was my other teammate in the race and I found myself on his wheel once the race was heating up in the cross-tail wind. He helped me keep my position during this key part of the race. When everyone else is groveling in the gutter, a teammate can ride just a few inches over to shelter the teammate behind. They can also shut down moves or help close gaps. Tripp kept me well positioned, and I was able to respond when the winning move went.
With about a mile to the turn, there were six of us. We were all strong riders but there was only a few lengths back to the field. We quickly organized and were riding full gas into the turn. After the turn we again quickly organized a nice rotating paceline and we had 10-15 seconds to the peloton with a pair between that would shortly bridge to the break making eight riders. Of the rider’s names Joe and I had tossed around from the start list, only a couple were left back in the peloton! If we could survive the seven mile eastbound leg, with a rolling descent and cross-headwind (not ideal for the break), I knew we would not be caught. We weren’t.
Part 2 coming tomorrow: Advanced breakaway strategy.