Road Racing Tactics and Strategies

by the FasCat Coaches

Here are our core road racing tactics for the Category 3/4/5, Collegiate and Masters racer.

Allen: If you have never been fed in a feed zone before, practice how to do it. Make sure your feeder also knows what to do and plan ahead with them before the race where in the feed zone they will be (For Ex. at the top of the hill at the end). Also, use bars, gels, drinks, etc. that you have used in training. Gagging on your food in the middle of a road race is not fun.

Nadia: Be sure you have researched the course map! Check Strava, look for Garmin files, etc. These days there no reason not to know what you’ll be racing over. Keep moving forward in the pack or else you might find yourself yo-yoing at the back without realizing it. On a rolling course, try to move up toward the front at the bottom of climbs to let the pack help suck you up the climb and put you in position to counter any attacks. If you fall off from the pack, look for other riders behind you to help you bridge back again before you commit yourself to a costly TT effort. 

Jake: Always know where the winds are coming from! The wind can be harder than any hill. Know the course so you can plan ahead for corners and know when you’ll have a head, tail or the dreaded crosswind. Before you make a right hand turn into a left to right crosswind, position yourself on the right side of the peloton so you have a nice draft and buffer from the crosswind. Know your ability and style of racing. If there is a hard climb you know you cannot get over with the leaders, look for a breakaway to start the climb early, or at least make sure you are positioned at the front for the start of it. Just don’t waste your energy riding 10 seconds in front of the field, if you’re in a break make sure it’s worth the effort.

Hydration and Nutrition During the Race: Use the easy nature of a road race to make sure you stay on top of hydration and fuel. Know the course - if there's a hill at mile 15 and then again at mile 30 but flat & straight in-between, plan to eat and drink on the flat section after the first climb and before the 2nd. A 50-60 mile road race still requires proper nutrition. Drink and eat every 15-30 minutes and even go so far as to use a Garmin alarm as a reminder to eat and drink!

Isaiah: Be towards the front for ALL expected difficult or power sections like gravel, hard hills, crosswinds, or anything of that nature. When it comes to taking a feed, make sure to think far in advance for these longer races. If you are going to need someone to be in the feed zone, make sure they know what to feed you and how to do it well in advance. Make sure you check the race bible on this as there can be restrictions on when and where feeding can occur.

Frank: If the course is hard, the cream will rise to the top. One tactic for a hard race like that is to draft in the pack, conserve energy and don’t let large groups > 5 riders get up the road. Don't chase down every move that gets 50 meters on a hill, let the peloton bring groups less than three or four riders back. Conserve your energy, let the difficult nature of the course do its damage to the peloton and get ready for the final crunch time to get a result! If the course is easy, then crit tactics apply with about 500m to go! But watch out for large breakaways to escape with all the major teams represented.

Be a student of the sport and know the history of the race - how its won (sprint or breakaway), what type of rider historically wins and like Coach Nadia said above, know the profile of the course. Every hill, crosswind section, etc... Study the results from previous years and talk with your coach and/or teammates about the game plan going into the race. Afterwards review with them what happened and learn from that - for the next weekend's race and the very same race next year. Learn from mistakes and turn them into experience you can capitalize on moving forward.

We also like to review the athlete's power data with them after the race to identify 'matches' that they burned asking "why, was it necessary - what did you gain from that effort?" or "here's where you it got hard for x minutes and then this happened". Power data tells a lot about what happened in the race and is extremely helpful to learn from. In summary, do your homework: know the course. Also plan and talk to your feeder about the feed zone, beware of crosswinds, be at the front for critical sections of the race, don't forget to eat and drink, and use your power data. Copyright © 2019 FasCat Coaching - all rights reserved.

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About Frank Overton

Frank founded FasCat Coaching in 2002 and has been a full time cycling coach since 2004. His educational background includes a Masters degree in Physiology from North Carolina State University, pre-med from Hampden-Sydney College. Frank raced at a professional level on the road and mountain bike and currently competes as a "masters" level gravel and cyclocrosser. Professionally Frank comes from medical school spinal cord research and molecular biotechnology. However, to this day it is a dream come true for Frank to be able to help cyclists as a coach.

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