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The beauty of bike racing is that it’s chess on wheels. The strongest person doesn’t always win because there are so many subtle tactics that can be employed to create opportunities and neutralize the threats. Some tactics in cycling can be counter-intuitive. Here’s a good example that Adam Murchie and Cam Lester gave me this morning. Old foxes like these guys will beat you to the finish line every time if you flinch for a second.
In certain situations the best way to win a small group sprint (half a dozen riders away in a break) is to drop the lead rider’s wheel. You’ll see this done on the track quite often, but the same applies to criteriums. What you do is you position yourself as the second rider in the lead up to the finish line (say 300-400m out). Slowly drop the front rider’s wheel about 1-3 bike lengths whilst keeping the others behind in check. This gives you a bit of room to move and ensures that you can maneuver if someone tries a move from behind. Just before final 200m comes accelerate and get a run at the rider in front, catching the slipstream. As you enter into the slipstream, you will gather increased momentum which means you will be able to attack past at speed (at which point the lead rider will be too slow to respond) The fact you have had a “run” at the rider should also mean you have increased momentum to those behind who are trying to accelerate at the same speed as you but without the “run”.
Quite often there will be a corner before the finishing straight in a crit. Dropping the wheel slightly prior to last corner, (not more than 2 bike lengths at this point) allows you to run into corner with extra speed to close the gap while aiming to pass as you exit the corner. The acceleration you’ll gain in that few bike lengths that you’ve given him will not allow him to respond.
You need to be confident and fit enough to know that you’ll close the gap. Don’t under estimate the speed capacity of your opponent if you are going to allow a gap. You don’t want to do this if he/she is a strong time trialist or a significantly better sprinter.
TIP: when in a sprint never look over your shoulder to see what the other riders are doing. Look at their shadows or back under your arm. This will give you much more flexibility to react to the inevitable attack that’s coming when someone behind tries to catch you off-guard