Cycling Tactics: “All the Horsepower in the World Will not Help You” Part 2

15 01 2011

Part 1

Graphic showing the movement of a straight echelon

A Straight Echelon

The simple, straight echelon is somewhat similar to a simple pace line, in that there are two lines of racers. However the first difference is that there is no distinct pull by the lead racer…he comes into the wind and rotates off (into the direction of wind). The second difference is that the lead racer rotates off and into a line of receding riders. An echelon places the lead rider in the wind for only moments.  The rates of movement for the two lines is also different. The line going up is slightly faster than the line going back; the idea is to keep the rates constant.

Larger groups can use this rotating pattern when there’s a strong wind or when it’s too tiring to stay on the front. As soon as the wind shifts toward either flank, the formation will shift with it, i.e. the tail-end of the formation will move downwind from the lead rider. This formation is called a crosswind echelon. Of all the formations I’ve read about, this one is the most difficult. All the racers involved must use a good amount of coordination, timing, and bike handling. In our cross-wind example, the black jerseys start at the lead of the formation. A few things are always happening as our racers are always in motion. Note that the wind is from the right-front in this case.

Graphic showing the movement of a cross-wind echelon formation

A Cross-wind echelon

As our leader falls off the point, the tail-end racer is looking to move up and into the front row; once his wheel is clear of the rider formerly to his front. Again, the angle of the formation will depend upon the direction of wind. These rotations are not perfect as they depend on the collaborative effort of the racers involved. Also note that any gaps that open is an invitation for another racer just behind this formation to slip-in.

Two things may happen once the leaders form this pattern. The first is that anyone left out of the echelon gets stuck downwind and exposed in a single pace line. This can be called “getting stuck in the gutter” and is not as favorable. The second thing that might happen is that savvy racers who cannot make the first echelon will be quick to convince others near them to form a second echelon right behind the first. In a cross-wind situation an echelon will save the most energy. Because of this, racers may act aggressively in trying to gain a favorable position. Observe the next race that has flat portions of the course fraught with cross-winds, half-a-dozen strong men can easily split a race apart…by starting an echelon, and cooperating well together.

Relative wind direction can change though. Let’s say that we’re approaching a right-hand turn ahead. Once we complete the turn, the wind will now be at our left-front. The current echelon leader will pull off into the wind and the former leader is left to reach the back of the rotation without the benefit of a draft. Or, the wind can change direction by itself; and the formation will adapt accordingly. Either way, racers that are paying attention can take advantage of the course and conditions, maybe work a bit with other racers and create (or sustain) the conditions for a breakaway.

That’s it for basic tactical formations. In the next post, we’ll talk about the breakaway itself.

Have fun out there.




2 responses

15 01 2011
Barb Chamberlain

The animations really help me understand–thanks for creating those!


15 01 2011
Eric Abbott

You’re welcome. All the other graphics I’ve seen have been fixed. I thought I’d do something different.

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