Tour de France | The Tactics that Shape the Race

Photo: A.S.O/Alex Broadway
Mark Hirschi leading the way on stage 9. Photo: A.S.O/Alex Broadway

Tour de France | The Tactics that Shape the Race

We’re now two weeks into the biggest bike race on earth. A lot has happened but nothing is decided. The beauty of bike racing is its relentlessly unpredictable nature. We’ve seen suffering and heartbreak, triumph and testament to hard work. These outcomes are not only won or lost at the finish line, they are fought for over 3,500km of France’s most gruelling terrain.

Road racing is all about measuring your effort and sheltering from the wind. Riders on the front of a group can use up to 50% more energy than those further back on a flat road. The strongest rider doesn’t always win, it’s often the savviest or luckiest who pips the rest at the line.

Measuring your effort over three weeks is a near-impossible task requiring a huge amount of physical ability but also the blessing of no bad luck.

Photo: A.S.O/Alex Broadway
Stage 2 Photo: A.S.O/Alex Broadway

The favourites are mostly found sheltering behind teammates until the sharp end of the day. It is up to them to know exactly when and how to attack in order to outsmart their rivals. Teams will have radios back to team cars where you will find Directeur Sportif’s screaming instructions to their riders.

Breakaways are arguably the most reliable source of exciting team tactics. Most days, riders will form a small group even alone up the road in a valiant display of often hopeless tenacity.

A colossal example of this was stage 9 of the 2020 edition where we saw the Danish rider; Marc Hirschi riding out alone to a 5-minute gap. Eventually caught within spitting distance of the finish, he joined the refined group of favourites and contested the sprint alongside them.

Photo: A.S.O/Alex Broadway
Stage 9 Marc Hirschi just missing out on the win. Photo: A.S.O/Alex Broadway

This group of favourites distanced themselves from the race leader who cracked with 20km to go, leaving the yellow jersey ripe for the taking. They worked together to maximize the gap before fighting amongst themselves for the day’s spoils.

Hirschi’s efforts were rewarded with the day’s Combativity prize for the most aggressive rider; a daily honour for lighting up the race. See if you can spot the red race number of the previous day’s winner.  (EDIT: Congratulations to Hirschi for winning stage 12, very well deserved!)

Sending riders into a breakaway has several uses; TV coverage for sponsors, the slim potential for glory at the finish and most importantly a great excuse for teammates behind to refuse to chase. This forces other teams to expend energy dragging rivals along for the ride.

Photo: A.S.O/Alex Broadway
Stage 11. Photo: A.S.O/Alex Broadway

The more races you see, the more you’ll recognise the distinctive tactics of different teams and individual riders. Thomas de Gent is known for his epic solo breakaways, Peter Sagan for his ability to position himself for a sprint without a train of teammates in front and Ineos Grenadier for their methodical train of horsepower at the front of many mountain stages.

Get inspired and join us this Saturday for CyclingUK’s Worlds Biggest Bike Ride – whether you’re gliding down the canal or contesting the mountain top finish, be the change this Saturday and show your support.

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