One of the more misunderstood concepts in cycling is whose responsibility it is to pull, or work at the front of the group. In today’s stage, it was primarily HTC doing the pace setting. Let’s look at why this was their responsibility today, and why the other teams did not contribute.
There should always be a reason for doing work, and you should always avoid it if at all possible. If we exclude the teams who had no realistic shot at winning today (that is, no reason to work), that excludes 16, including Europcar, the team of race leader Voeckler. Since no one in the break was a threat to yellow, they had the day off. This is actually quite fortunate for them, as they’ll have their work cut out trying to keep yellow tomorrow.
So of the 6 teams in with a shot today, why was only HTC doing the work? Cavendish is obviously the strongest sprinter in the race, and has the best shot at winning. The other teams know that HTC can’t afford to let a chance at a stage win pass, so they sit back and wait, forcing HTC to pull. These teams finally contributed towards the end of the stage, but only enough to ensure a sprint finish and to keep their riders in position – in other words, only as much as they had to.
The next time you find yourself pulling a group along, ask yourself why. Whether you are trying to win a race, or just beat your buddy to the top of the hill, ride like the pros, and save as much energy as possible. The strongest rider, the rider with the most to gain, or lose, and the team with the most numbers almost always has the responsibility to pull. You, meanwhile, have the responsibility to make them! By saving your matches, and making them burn theirs, you greatly increase your odds of success.
Steen A. Rose is an elite cycling and triathlon coach. He started coaching in 2003, and has been an Elite Coach with Training Bible Coaching since 2009. Steen is also captain of the Sun & Ski/Subaru Cycling and Triathlon teams. He has been racing since 1997, holds a Category 1 license, and has 13 state championships, 3 national medals, and 4 international podiums to his credit. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org