Saturday begins the Giro d’Italia, the first of the years three Grand Tours on the pro cycling calendar. This is a three week, sort of, stage race which begins on a Saturday and ends on a Sunday just over three weeks later with two rest days in the second and third week. Now, given that most of my readership is in the US and most US residents are not up to speed on bike racing as a sport, here’s a little primer (below the fold). A stage race like this has a race on each of the non-rest days. During these particular races, i.e., Grand tours, race teams starting with 9 riders each compete. Like ball sports, each rider typically has roles to play during various stages. During each stage as well there are a number of races within each race going on. All of these “races” within the race have cash and other prizes associated with them. Normally these prize lists go “deep”, i.e., the payout and tally of placings is not just to the winner or top three but 20 or 25 deep.

  • GC. The GC competition is the primary race going on. It is the race at the Tour de France that Lance Armstrong won 7 times. This race is conceptually simple, the goal is to have the minimum overall cumulative elapsed time with one caveat. Riders finishing a particular stage are granted the “same time” as riders ahead of them if their front wheel “overlaps” with the rear wheel (or is close enough behind it) or if they were involved in a crash in the last 2 km then they are given the same time as the group they were with when they crashed. This is to limit damage and frenzy at the stage finish.
  • Stage winner. This is the winner of a given stage. That is to say, the prize which goes to the rider who won today crossing the finish line first. On a sprint stage this can be a photo-finish with a gap of millimeters (at 45+mph is a short timespan indeed). A well timed “bike-throw” can make the difference between places.
  • King of the Mountain. Climbs throught the race are “categorized” by difficulty and points are awarded to the top 20 to top 50 riders. There will be stage KOM awards and the KOM jersey is worn each day (and awarded at the end) to the rider with the highest cumulative KOM point score.
  • Points competition. Most mass start/finish (not ITT or TTT stages) have “sprint” points designated along the route as well as a higher point payout for stage finishes. Accumulating the most points for the race gives one the sprinters jersey and locates the winner at the end.
  • Best Young Rider. This is a GC competition among riders under 25 years of age.
  • Team GC. The finishing times of the first three or five riders each day accumulate to award a “Team GC” placing.
  • Most Aggressive Rider. This is awarded by judges.
  • Lantern Rouge. The Tour de France offered a prize for this at one time I believe. This is the award for the last placed rider on GC. It’s not something sought by most riders.

Some teams will focus on one or the other jersey/race, e.g., GC vs Points. That will shape composition of the team they select from their full squad to send to the tour.

Tactics in a race influenced heavily by environment. Wind and elevation are key factors. Air resistance increases (to first order) with the square of velocity and begins to be significant when speeds exceed 20mph. At 25mph drafting behind a rider or in the peloton (that is the pack) reduces the work to keep that speed by 25%. This will increase even more at higher speeds. This can be the difference between riding at or above threshold (one’s anaerobic threshold is the power output point at which your oxygen consumption exceed your intake) and riding at a pace at which your heart rate and oxygen requirements are barely ticking over. Drafting in a large measure is what makes the race a tactical affair. Climbing speeds are low enough on the other hand that wind and drafting are no longer a factor. Other physiological and psychological factors come into play in climbing. Power to weigh ratios and climbing styles factor in more.

One final (personal) note: After almost three years and a fairly good off-seasons training under my belt next week I hope (expect) to essay my return to racing. A “training series” looks like it will return to Tuesday nights and either way I plan to try this as my first “comeback” race.

Filed under: Mark O.Sports

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