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Racecraft-Coach Rick

Racecraft: The ability to read races as they unfold, make split decisions as to when and where to position yourself, who to follow, how to set up for a win, as well as doing your pre-race homework about course profile, other riders registered and defining your goal.
It's a good news bad news.
The good news is if you are strong and have good racecraft your chances of a high finish are much better.
The bad news is you can be the best rider out there, have good racecraft and finish 35th.
It is not rocket science, but can be tricky.
Really the only way to get good racecraft is to race. You race to gain the experience needed to make those decisions and position your self correctly.
Problem is, some riders just don't learn. They train hard, but  they have poor to none racecraft, and they finish mid pack all the time.
And are frustrated by their lack of results.
So what are they doing wrong?
They don't take mental notes of who is doing what.
How many riders have teammates?
What is the mood of the group?
Aggressive?
Passive?
Chasing everything?
Are they wasting energy?
Have they done their homework..i.e...What is the course profile?
What does the finish look like?
Who is racing? What is my competition?
Finally, what is my goal?
Run over this list and see how many you can check off, and apply it to your last race.
If you can tick every box, and have the power and fitness to back it up, your chances of being on the podium, or, simply riding your best and being happy with your finish become much much better.
I have raced for 36 years. I have won 170+ races and been on the podium...a few times. 
I feel like I have good racecraft. 
That being said, bike racing being what it is, sometimes it all goes south. The point is to use your racecraft to put yourself in the best possible position for a good result. The crazy stuff you can't control. Take care of what you CAN control.
Lets take a real world example.
Nationals last year for me.
Pre-Race
The first thing was make a decision is it a course that works for me and if so what is my goal.
It seemed like it might work for me, so I was going there to try and win.
I looked at the course profile long and hard.
I watched some Youtube videos of course recons.
I checked the race predictor to see who was registered.
Once on site, Coach Jerry and I rode the entire course, a 37 mile loop.
We checked out the finish, but could not ride it because it was in use.
After the pre ride, I formed a strategy.
There was a quite steep but short climb about 10 miles into the race. I decided I would go full gas at the bottom, try and string out the field and then see who was left at the top and go from there. I hoped to be solo or in a small group that would work together, and with the field in pieces, it would take chasers time to get together and get organized, but I knew the climb, though selective, was not long enough for big gaps.
Even with not riding the finish I knew it was bad news. It comprised a fast downhill sharp left turn into a single lane with rough pavement that then turned slightly uphill for 150 meters to the finish. Way too short. Just stupid.
I figured the order going into the turn would be the order of finish. Just not enough road to get around anyone before the line. It was a really badly designed, but it was what we all were going to have to deal with.
I decided I was not going to risk life and limb and bomb the corner at 40MP just to try and win. Nope. Going to stay upright and where I finished was where I finished.
So, I had the plan. Did my homework.
Race day.
Group started fast but stayed together till the climb. I stayed in the front 15 to keep and eye on any fliers and try and gauge the speed of the group, which seemed pretty fast.
Its Nationals. Lots of good guys.
We hit the hill and another rider gassed it at the bottom, I followed, he kind of blew up, I went around him and at the summit I was maybe 40 seconds ahead of the next rider.
So, it was solo time. No hesitation, full gas TT mode.
I had prepared for this possibility so I knew what to do. Racecraft.
Now, did I think I could solo 27 miles to the finish? Probably not, but any breakaway has a chance, as its success or failure is dictated by what happens behind it.
The pace on the climb had splintered the field, but a large group of about 10 went over intact about 1:30 behind me. Not good.
I had a tailwind and motored at about 30MPH for 10 miles solo.
I looked back once and could not see anyone, so it was just full gas and keep going.
Eventually the road made a turn into a strong head/crosswind with maybe 10 miles to go and that was all she wrote as a strong group of 13 caught me. 
I knew this could happen so was not flustered by being caught, and just got on with plan B, which was go with anything that went up the road, try and have the best position possible coming into the death turn and hope for the best.
The 8 mile straight run into the wind was tough, and there were a lot of attacks and counter attacks, including a couple of what looked like nice little two man breaks that I was part of, but all the riders in the group were strong and nothing could stay away.
With 2.5 miles to go, the road took the final turn and it was straight to the finish with the smoking turn left and then the line.
What to do now> Racecraft.?
Follow every move, and try and get away if possible. I did not want to come to the final turn with a group for all the reasons above.
I could tell everyone was getting tired, including myself, but at this point with 2 miles to go and a stars and stripes jersey on the line, you put fatigue out of your mind. You do what you have to do to try and win. I had told Coach Jerry the day before when we were watching a podium ceremony, it is just like every other podium, this one just has the best prize.
So you lay it all on the line and try and get it.
I did, following several brutal accelerations in the last mile which finally split the group and left me in front with 4 other riders. 
At the 1M to go sign I looked up the road and there were flashing lights and cars blocking the road, I was momentarily taken aback and hesitated. I thought maybe it was a crash or who knows, but it did not look like the finish I had scouted.
Bad news is it was, since the group was coming in to finish they had blocked the road! 
Here is where racecraft was not enough, this was a wild card at a real bad time.
Like all the sudden we were slicing into the left turn at 30MPH+ and I was in fourth spot. We all sprinted up the micro hill to the finish line and as I suspected, the order you went into the turn was the order of the finish. It was extremely frustrating, but not unexpected.
My racecraft before and during the race had been spot on, but the nature of a poor finish area and a sudden bizarre appearance in the middle of the road doomed my chance to pull on the stars and stripes.
My fault? Sure, I am not going to blame anyone, heck the guy who won got to the corner first, didn't he? He took the chance and won. Kudos.
My racecraft and some decent legs got me to the podium. The wild cards kept me from winning, and some days that is about all you can do.
Bottom line-Watch, learn and listen every time out and build your racecraft so on race day, you give yourself the best chance to succeed.

 

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