There are basically 2 strategies that you can use in a criterium to win – break-away or bunch finish. The tactics you employ within each strategy is the tricky part. Here are some tips on break-away team tactics:
When there is a break-away forming, obviously it’s always good to send one rider on your team up the road into that break. This way you are covered for a few different scenarios for the finish. When you have secured a rider in the break, you send a few of your team riders to the front of the bunch to set a false tempo . (Please…don’t block – that’s negative racing strategy and makes a crappy race for everyone. The break will most likely be chased down once the peloton has had enough of your obvious blocking .) A false tempo is a good pace set by your riders but not so fast that you reel the break back. The bunch will think that the break away is being chased and will not immediately set off any alarms for teams not represented in the break to send any riders to the front to do a real chase. The small group of riders who are off the front in the break-away will be able to negotiate the turns at a higher average speed than the peloton behind, so it’s likely that they’ll be able to open up a significant gap.
This is exactly how team O2 positioned Simon Gerrans for the win in Bay Crit #1. Gerro was able get into a break of 4 riders, the rest of the o2 team (Chris Tymms, Jeremy Hunt, Matt Wilson and Baden Cooke) went to the front and set a false tempo until the break was clearly away. The rest was left up to Gerro (like there was any doubt!).
If another rider tries to bridge the gap it’s sometimes okay to let him/her go. If that rider’s team is not already represented in the break-away this isn’t overly threatening (depending on who that rider is and how strong they are). That rider trying to bridge may just get caught in no-man’s land that then he’ll be recovering for the rest of the race. If that rider who is trying to bridge to the break-away has a team-mate already in the break-away, it’s probably a bad idea to let that rider get away. This will mean the team in the break will have a 1-2 advantage and will most likely win if they’re smart about it.
TIP: a real pro move in this situation is when there is a team-mate in the break and another is trying to bridge but can’t quite make it across (caught in no-man’s land). The rider in the break drops back into no-man’s land to help his team-mate out by bringing him across. When both riders working together make it back there are 2 riders from the same team in that break. Now one of them has a very good chance at winning with the old 1-2. More about that in another post…