Have you been watching this Tour de France!? After years of formulaic racing this is a real old-school race! I haven’t been writing daily updates like I have in years past, but I can’t pass up the opportunity to take a closer look at the Tour de France up to this point.
That Downhill Attack
One of the highlights of the second week of the Tour de France was Chris Froome’s attack over the summit of the Peyresourde on Stage 8. Over the past several years we have become accustomed to conservative racing by general classification contenders, but Froome threw the playbook out the window and surged over the summit. Nairo Quintana was on his wheel when he went but failed to recognize the seriousness of the acceleration. By the time anyone realized what was happening, Froome had a gap and was driving toward the finish.
On a descent it is difficult to close a gap because everyone is going maximum speed. Unless you are willing to take significant risks, it can also be difficult to extend your lead. While Chris Froome looks ungainly on a bike most of the time, he is not a fearful descender. His post-race interview was telling; he said he was having fun. When you are confident in your abilities and not stressed, it shows in the way your ride.
One of the points I try to make to athletes who attend our climbing camps is that descents are free speed. Many cyclists are intimidated by going downhill and ride the brakes all the way down. You did all the work to get to the top of the climb; riding the brakes on the way down is just giving away the time you worked so hard to gain. That doesn’t mean you should throw caution to the wind and descend like a daredevil, but it does mean that you should focus on improving your downhill confidence so you can take advantage of the free speed.
Descending quickly and safely is all about fundamentals. Here are some quick tips:
- Descend in the drops: You have more control in the drops and you will distribute your weight more equally between your wheels.
- Weight your outside foot and inside arm: To get around a downhill corner safely, put your outside foot at the 6-o’clock position and plant your weight on that foot. At the same time, push your inside arm into the turn. You should be applying pressure to both the outside foot and inside arm; your outside foot maintains traction with the road, and your inside arm keeps your line tight.
- Look where you want to go: If you look at the guardrail on the outside of the corner, that’s where you’ll end up. Instead, keep your eyes on the path you want to take.
- Only tuck as far as you feel comfortable: Froome’s position over the handlebars, sitting on the top tube, is an advanced skill. It’s risky because you have so much weight on the front wheel that if you lose stability it is difficult to regain control. For most athletes, simply getting in the drops and lowering your shoulders will be sufficient to minimize air resistance and still maintain control.
Stage 11 was supposed to be a sprinter stage and a relatively easy day for most of the peloton. But ripping crosswinds changed the plan entirely. In a strong crosswind, the draft is not directly behind the rider in front of you, but rather diagonally behind him. However, the road is only wide enough for 5-10 riders to fit in a diagonal line, and after that everyone behind is stuck in the gutter. All it takes for the field to split is for one person to lose the wheel in front of him. Over and over again during Stage 11, the field split into echelons, forcing riders caught behind the splits to chase like madmen to rejoin the front group.
With fewer than 20 kilometers to go, Peter Sagan and a Tinkoff teammate accelerated off the front by about 10 meters. Rather than gradually reel them in, Chris Froome surged across the gap in another uncharacteristic move. Only his Sky teammate Geraint Thomas was able to similarly cross the growing gap. A quick look around confirmed that this four-man group was worth driving. There were only two teams represented, each with a domestique and a team leader. Maciej Bodnar and Thomas had the freedom to bury themselves in support of their leaders, rather than having to save something for a chance to win the stage. Similarly, Sagan and Froome didn’t have to worry about losing the stage or losing time to a rider from a rival team. A breakaway situation like that almost never happens, but on Stage 11 it did, and it was beautiful.
No one likes crosswinds or fighting for position in the gutter. Not even the Belgians and Dutch, who are experts at it. But whether you’re a bike racer or you participate in non-competitive events, it’s absolutely imperative to learn how to ride in a crosswind. Here are some more quick tips:
► Free Cycling Training Assessment Quiz
Take our free 2-minute quiz to discover how effective your training is and get recommendations for how you can improve.
- Watch the wind: You have to be in the right position before you turn into a crosswind, which means you have to anticipate where the crosswinds are going to hit.
- Establish a second echelon immediately: If you get caught out, don’t waste time fighting in the gutter. When you establish the second echelon sooner, the gap between the two echelons will be smaller, which gives you a better chance of rejoining the front of the peloton when you change direction. Don’t be shy; take the initiative and put yourself in the wind to start the second, third, or fourth echelon. You – and a lot of other riders – will be grateful later.
The Running Man
When television cameras cut back to the yellow jersey group nearing the end of shortened Stage 12, I was as shocked as everyone else to see Chris Froome running up the road without a bicycle. Moments earlier, Ritchie Porte had crashed into the back of a motorbike that had stopped suddenly because fans were obstructing the road, and both Froome and Bauke Mollema had piled on top of him. Froome’s bike was broken when a trailing motorbike ran over it, and his team car was minutes further down the mountain, also delayed by traffic and fans. With no other option, he ditched the broken bike and started running toward the finish line.
Froome eventually crossed the finish line on a spare bike, but what was impressive was his composure. The lesson for amateur racers is that when the unimaginable happens, the worst thing you can do is lose your cool. Whatever happened is done; your first concerns are your health and safety, and following that figure out how to solve the problem. There will be time to be angry later. In the moment, anger isn’t productive. Focus on the problem immediately in front of you. Fix that problem and move on to the next one. Froome moved forward by foot because there was no other option. He got a spare from neutral support and continued moving forward, albeit awkwardly on a small bike with the wrong pedals. When his team car arrived he switched to his own spare and finished the stage. Each decision he made was moving forward. In contrast, some athletes throw temper tantrums instead of making rationale decisions, and after a tantrum you’re still right where you started. In the end, the race jury gave him a favorable judgment and he kept the yellow jersey, but even if they hadn’t, his rationale response to the crisis had already minimized the potential damage.
Prior to this year’s Tour de France, Chris Froome was a somewhat enigmatic character. His power on the bike was undeniable, but there was no personality behind the performance, and at the end of the day personality is what fans connect with. This year Froome is having fun, he’s racing with panache, and I think that means we are seeing him at the top of his game. As a perennial student and fan of the sport of cycling, there is nothing more inspirational than witnessing an athlete at the height of his or her career. If the third week of the 2016 Tour de France is a continuation of what we’ve seen thus far, this will go down as one of the most exciting and entertaining Tours in recent memory.
Have a Great Weekend!
CEO and Head Coach of CTS
► FREE Mini-Course: Learn How to Maximize Your Limited Training Time
Learn step-by-step how to overcome limited training time and get faster. Walk away with a personalized plan to increase your performance.