Through the Prism

After passing through the prism, each refraction contains some pure essence of the light, but only an incomplete part. We will always experience some aspect of reality, of the Truth, but only from our perspectives as they are colored by who and where we are. Others will know a different color and none will see the whole, complete light. These are my musings from my particular refraction.


The Team

Since all anyone ever hears about are the Lance Armstrongs, it’s easy to think that cycling is an individual sport. That is far from the truth. Even though their names have never gotten any mention, Lance would never have been able to win the tour without the support of his 8 teammates. One of the things that made him successful, in fact, was that they were so singularly devoted to his winning. Other teams might have multiple goals, with some riders hoping to win sprints, some the climbs, and others riding to gain experience or whatever, but Lance’s team (first U.S. Postal and now Discovery) has only ever had one goal. It is a formula being copied more and more.

The number one thing that the support riders do is set the pace and break the wind. Depending on the terrain, the peleton rides at 20-40 mph. So even in still air, they have 20-40 mph of wind resistance. That increases with a headwind. The person in front has to deal with this, whereas everyone who drafts gets a huge amount of relief from it. A rider can expend less energy going 30 mph while drafting than he would going 25 mph on his own. It’s also much easier mentally to sit on someone’s wheel and follow along than have to focus on maintaining the pace in front. It’s important to find the speed that will be fast enough to keep the other teams from attacking yet not be so fast that everyone wears out. A balanced team has big strong riders to break the wind on flat stages and little climbers to pull through the mountains. These supporters rotate turns at the front while the team leader sits right behind them, conserving his energy for when it really counts.

Aside from the other riders, the team has a ton of support people: trainers, managers, mechanics, masseuses, chefs, etc. Team cars trail along behind the riders with extra water bottles, spare bikes/parts, rain jackets, and anything else the riders may need. All a cyclist has to do is drop back and take what is handed to him (the team is in constant communication through radio headsets). Often the support riders will do this for the leader so he is saved the difficulty of working his way back up to the front. And if, for whatever reason, they are cut off from the team car, the other riders give the leader their stuff so he doesn’t have to wait. This can be as simple as giving him a water bottle to trading bikes so they can wait for the mechanic instead of him. If the leader does get a flat or such when the car is around, at least two teammates will stop and wait with him so they can do the work of catching back up to the peleton while he once again drafts.

If a teammate does his job well, he will likely never win a stage and will never see his name in the headlines. He may lead for the majority of a stage, but won’t bother sprinting for the victory at the end. He will lead the group up a mountain at such a blistering pace that only a few will be able to hang on, will go until his legs explode, but will then crawl the last few kilometers to the finish with nothing left, arriving well behind the leaders. George Hincapie is the only rider to have been on the team for all 7 of Lance’s victories. Others, like Floyd Landis and Levi Leipheimer, felt hampered by their support roles and found new teams where they could be the leaders. Both should be contenders this year. Of course, Hincapie, who started as a strong rider for the flats, has ridden enough mountains now that he won last year’s most difficult stage without even meaning to. No one knows if he can contend as a team leader since he’s never been given the chance before now, but Lance (among others) has said to look for something special from him this year. Basso and Ullrich are the favorites and have potentially the two strongest teams, but this could be the year that one of Lance’s previous lieutenants finally gets a chance to shine.


At 7/01/2006 7:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So one can comment anonymous - cool. Still working on my definitive blogger id.
Anyway, this concept does make one rethink the concept of teamwork. Everyone working so only one can have the glory. However, I seem to remember that the winner gives all his winnings to the team.


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