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Tactical riding on a windswept course

by Carl Brewer last modified 2006-07-10 21:38

How to use the wind to your advantage!

This article desribes how to use a windy day to your (or your teammates) advantage.  All too often riders view a wind as a negative, but it's a windy day that sorts out the astute from the also-rans, and not because anyone's stronger, but because they're thinking.

Ride the course if you can, taking careful note of the wind direction.  If you're at Sandown Raceway in Melbourne, you'll almost always have a southerly wind blowing straight up the finishing straight and a tailwind up the back straight and the hill, and little in the way of crosswind.  If you're at Casey Fields in Cranbourne, the wind is usually from the south west and you have a headwind for two short stretches, one long tailwind and three crosswind sections.

The first thing to remember is that headwinds slow everyone down, so small gaps in headwinds are equivalent to much bigger gaps in still air, and huge gaps in a tailwind situation.  It's vital that you stick like glue to the wheel in front in a headwind.  You want to save your energy for when it's useful.  On a criterium course headwinds are not good places to attack, the energy you'll use isn't rewarded well, in general. If you're stuck on the front, and there's no break or reason to chase, don't worry about what speed you're doing.  Remember who you're riding for.  Chances are it's not the lazy sprinter at the back of the bunch yelling at you to speed up.  If he wants to go faster, HE can do a turn!

Tailwinds offer a chance to close small gaps, as often riders will relax, and if they do decide to attack, it's reasonably easy to go with them, as everyone's going fast, they will struggle to get an effective gap.  So, attacking with a tailwind is often a poor choice, but using a tailwind to gain position before a crosswind section is a very good thing to do.

Crosswinds are where you can put the hurt on everyone, and often, if the bunch isn't crosswind-aware (all too often the case!) you can use it to move up the field easily. 

So how do you use a crosswind?

A crosswind situation is one of the few times that it makes sense to be right on the front.  If you're on the front you can :

  • Force everyone to work, which is good for getting rid of lazy sprinters and anyone near their limits, reducing the size of the bunch
  • With a team mate or team mates, bump up the speed of the bunch to split it up by rolling turns in an echelon or protect a team mate while making the bunch work
If you're not on the front, you can :

  • Move up the field with minimum effort if the riders aren't riding to the wind
How do you do these things?

If you want to make the bunch work, this is the time to be at the front, and hard up into the leward gutter of the road.  A crosswind blows your slipstream off to the side, so riders trying to hold your wheel have to work just as hard as you're working if they can't sit off to the side of you.  By riding in the gutter you force them to either work, or let you roll off the front.  If you want to take a rest, they have to pass you on the windward side, and you can then sit on their hip and enjoy the draft.  Beautiful ...

If you're riding with friends or team mates, you can use a crosswind to considerable advantage.  If your aim is to protect a rider (and sacrifice your own energy to do so) you can simply sit one bike width off the leward gutter with your protected rider sitting in your pocket of slipstream.  Wind up the pace, and the rest of the bunch has to follow, chances are they're in the gutter already and your protected rider is sitting pretty while everyone else works hard.  On a short course it may be enough to take turns each lap if you're sharing the work and you'll both benefit from making the rest of the field work hard on every lap while you only work every second lap or so.  If the course has long stretches of crosswind (eg Modella near Pakenham) then you may have time to set up a rolling echelon, which is not covered in this article.

To use a crosswind to move up requires that the rest of the field not be thinking (all too often the case!) - if they're all in a line down the middle of the road or to windward, there's a channel of slipstream on the leward side that you can scoot up through.  This doesn't work if the bunch has a few riders who understand windy riding and who are burying you all in the gutter, of course.  But since you know this, you're already at the front when you hit the crosswind, right?!

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