Thursday, July 9, 2009

Tour de France - Voekler's Big Win

Hey, so Thomas Voekler won yesterday's stage after a long, dramatic breakaway that outlasted the peloton by just seven seconds.

My friend Sarah Beth was amazed that "the lead withstood the winds with only six of them while the rest of the peloton battled it together and got totally split apart."

And it brought up a really important bit of cycling dynamics that sometimes allows these breakaways to work and thrill us all with the audacity and grit of a single rider.

See, it all depends on when the attacks come and where the wind is at the time. Also, the peloton is harder to organize than a six man break. A disciplined break can be very efficient. On the other hand, it can be hard, within the main group, to decide who is going to do the hard work of chasing down a break.

Typically, in the flats, you expect the sprinters' teams to do the work, but there has been some controversy in recent days because Columbia has felt they were doing too much work, while the other sprint teams (Garmin, Cervelo, et. al.) sat back and rested. Any ambivalence in the peloton about who is going to set the pace gives an advantage to the breakaway. That ambivalence, coupled with unpredictable wind conditions, can make the peloton an unwieldy weapon.

Also, specifically as regards side winds, when the peloton is forced into echelons (those diagonal formations across the road) to fight the wind, it is far less powerful than when the riders are arranged in an arrow formation into a head wind.

This bike, highlighted on one of my favorite cycling blogs, is an excellent primer:

No comments: