Cycling is a strange sport for many reasons. One of them that I love is the fact that the fastest guy/gal out there isn’t always the winner. Bike racing is like golf in that there are many folks who are in the hunt, but only 1 winner. So winning is already hugely difficult. Add on to that the factors of luck, team work, course/rider compatibility, and stategy and you have a recipe for a very difficult sport to win. Stage racing is the one type of racing that can usually sort out the best guy in the most types of things. One day racing is a whole other ball game.
As evident in Milan-San Remo this weekend, the strongest guys didn’t win. Instead the guy that was the smartest won. Sure Gerald Ciolek is fast guy, no doubt. However he is not quite the category of Sagan, Cancellara, and Chavanel. So how did he do it? Well, Sagan helped him out a lot. Sagan attacked, pulled, and was the first to respond to nearly every other attack. He was clearly the strongest guy in the race. After a constant number of accellerations, he still almost won the sprint. Cancellara seemed to be a bit off and hurting from the extreme weather. He certainly didn’t act the aggressor that I was expecting. And Chavanel attacked early and wasn’t able to hold it till the line. So how did Ciolek win? First off, he put himself in the position to win. He didn’t have a power house team there and so he relied on following wheels of the favorites. Getting on those wheels and staying there isn’t easy. Then he had the fitness to follow the leaders on the Poggio. He maintained his exposure and used good bike handling to stick the descent. The remainder of the race is what really impressed me. Ciolek showed a ton of patience. He has always been a fast sprinter. So he was in the perfect place to sit in and try his luck at the finish. But it takes a lot of will and some risk to rely on others to make sure it stays together. I don’t think I saw him on the front in the last 10 K at all. I saw Sagan go a ton, I saw Stannard take his chances, I saw Chavanel give it a go and I saw Cancellara follow Sagan exclusively. All I saw of Ciolek was him following wheels and looking like he was just happy to be in the final 6.
As I watched all this go down, I asked my kids if they had heard the name of the rider in yellow. Once the announcers gave me the name, I knew he had a huge chance at winning. He was playing it so smart and has a great kick. It was no surprise at the end when Sagan couldn’t hold him off.
So what are the lessons here? First, having a good sprint is a huge asset in bike racing. Nothing is worse than always making the break and finishing the last in the break every time. Second, if your not the fittest guy in the race/break then don’t act like it either. Set yourself up to win and realize that you will be taking risks to do so. Third, just because your not the fastest guy in the race don’t count yourself out. There are so many ways to win in bike racing – sometimes they all fall in your favor and your standing on the top step of the podium.