How does Teamwork figure in the Tour de France?

Appealing to all cycling afficionadoes out there, how does teamwork help to propel the lone star rider to fame and glory? What are the team tactics or strategies that helped Lance Armstrong win so many titles?


On level ground the biggest factor is air drag. Cyclists can save a lot of energy by riding directly behind someone else. Teams can take advantage of this by riding as a group and taking turns at the front. Doing this a team can maintain a much higher average speed than a solo rider could over an extended istance. Teams can easily catch up to any rider who tries to break away from the peloton, unless of course he’s superman or Lance Armstrong.

Armstrong certainly owes a lot to his team for his wins but that is only part of it as he wouldn’t be a five time winner without incredible aerobic capacity. I read a news blurb today that said Armstrong hinted he wouldn’t be riding in the '05 tour so he could ride some of the other classics and make an attempt at the hour record. The hour is considered one of the purest tests of a cyclist, how far can you go in an hour. It’s run on a velodrome, a 333-1/3 meter banked track, so hills, weather and other riders cease to be a factor.

The Wheat Ridge Cyclery site might help, particularly the link called Race Strategy.

To answewr your question from the other thread the Tour de France is a stage race. It consistes of several single day races which may be normal point to point road races, critieriums which are multi lap races around a circuit that may be only a few miles long and time trials where riders go against the clock but not each other. The winner is based on lowest overall time. This makes it possible to be the first one across the line at the last stage but not win the race. I think there is also bonus time awarded for winning specific stages and there are special awards like “king of the mountains” who wears a polka dot jersey.

But I think the short answer is that teammates help one lone rider win by riding in front of him, reducing his wind drag, expending their own strength to conserve his. Later, when they slip exhausted further back into the pack, he’s strong and fresh and can spend the enormous energy needed to break out in front of everyone else.

I can see the desire to reduce drag, so what keeps just anybody from being the caboose in the USPS train? If I was in the race, I might just decide to ride in back of those guys.

I believe what you just brought up here is more important to the overall race than the whole team concept.

After the pack has started out, a group of riders (ususally not a single team) tries to break away from the main group. If they do it early enough and fast enough, people left in the pack may not be able to catch up. Too early or too fast, and they will tire and the pack (or another break-away group) will catch up.

This group will act like an informal mini-team who find it in their best interests to help one another so that the winner will be one of them. For example, they’ll take turns being in the lead (the least aerodynamic position). If a rider is in this break-away group, he has a much better chance of winning if the group can stay ahead. Once it’s apparent that they will stay ahead, the mini-team becomes a group of competitors.

At this point, it is crucial to have teammates who are dedicated to helping you as has been mentioned earlier – mostly because other riders have them.

If the team concept had never developed, I don’t think it would substantially change the nature of the races – at least to the eyes of a casual fan.

This comes from horse racing, but may apply, the concept of a rabbit, which is a horse that gets in front and pulls ahead but has no (little) chance of winning. The hope is other front runner horses will try to keep up and tire themselves out.

I would think such a plan may work, but we are dealign with human level inteligence, not horse, so it may not be such a big factor.

I don’t know anything about cycle racing, but I remember from high school track one strategy was to put an 880 guy in a mile race with the hopes of forcing the favorite to try to keep up and exhaust himself before the end of the race. The 880 guy would just drop out after a half mile.

So, yeah, I guess it would even work with human level intelligence. :slight_smile:

Napier’s suggestion is not really correct, for the reason BobLibDem outlines. Even if there were no teams, one could choose to draft behind in the peleton and keep fresh to win at the end.

Obviously you need teams to enter the team time trial stage of the tour, but those stages could be done away with if there were no teams.

Teams are useful for domestic duties (carrying water and food, providing a spare bike, drafting the leader back to the peleton after a crash, pushing him while he has a pee etc).

Above all though, teams help climbers and time triallers (we’ll use LA as the example) control breakaways on flat stages.

If there is no breakaway on a flat stage, there will be a sprint finish, which will be won by a specialist sprinter who has sat in the peleton doing no work all day. From LA’s point of view, that’s fine: no sprinter is going to get more than a few seconds’ gap on the field and that is not going to be enough to prevent LA from winning on the basis of the gaps of a few minutes that he will gain on climbs and time trials.

So the danger to LA is an effective breakaway off the front of the peleton.

If LA had no team then how would he ensure effective breakaways don’t occur or are chased down? He could only do that by leading, and leading means tiring himself out while those that follow him happily draft him, in the hope that he will tire himself out, allowing them to attack later.

But if LA has a team, then whenever there is a breakaway that might affect LA’s standing the team can work to lift the pace of the peleton to chase the breakaway down, while keeping LA himself fresh.

Well, I’m thinking that the world of top-level cycling is so small that some people can name the top 100 racers by sight.

This means that if some no-name vaults to an early lead, the thinking will be, “What is that dork trying?” The odds that he’ll be caught later are VERY high. If he were able to lead a small breakaway until the end of the race, we would have heard of him. If we’ve heard of him, but he’s not a threat, just let him have his fun. As long as no one close in the overall standings joins him, it’s kind of a waste of energy.

Bottom line: putting a rabbit in the race will only recognized for what it is. This isn’t high school, where you may not have heard of the great guy from upstate, and you’re kind of scared of everyone.

LA and Postal didn’t even bother chasing down a few of those breakaways, because they would gain a few minutes on the flat stages, but when Lance would win in the mountains, he would be gaining not just 2-3 minutes on those sprinters, but 10+ sometimes.

As of the end of Stage 19, which is this time essentially the end of the competition, only 16 riders are within half an hour of LA. Only 6 are within 20 minutes. If that kind of people jump, it’s time to be concerned. Others are a distraction.