Thursday, April 23, 2015

PR Post Game Blogging: Breaks Confuse People

Last night’s PR was pretty fun.   A shallower field (thanks Walla Walla!  Thanks rain clouds!) meant fewer stronger riders and the slightly longer total length meant the tweener riders couldn’t go full gas all race.  The result – an average speed just slower enough that breaks could go and have a decent chance of sticking.

Straight up drag races where the field goes so fast your best play is to sit in and wait for the sprint bore me.  I absolutely love races animated by breaks because I get to analyze shit!  Who is up the road?  Who is strong?  Are we going fast enough to stick?  Who should do the work in the break?  When should I chase?  Who should chase?

It’s not uncommon to have a solid break form, get on the verge of snapping the elastic only to get killed by a rider that decided to sell out to chase it down.  That's what happened to the break I'm going to break down here.  The interesting question isn't whether someone should have killed that break -- the answer depends on many factors.  Sometimes it's the right decision.  Sometimes the situation can be gray and a quick decision ends up being the wrong one.  Sometimes it’s straight up a bad decision the rider immediately regrets.  Often the rider just doesn’t have the experience or tactical nous to make good decisions on the fly and doesn’t even realize they made the wrong move.  

I realize that Masters in general and PR particularly features riders of various experience and tactical savvy.  If you agree with me that successful bike racing is more than physical feats; it’s also a chess game and success means combining the two elements then you may find the below analysis interesting.  If not, if you just want to shut your brain off let me recommend triathlon as the sport for you.

The initial break
You can’t really see the initial break in the video but if I remember correctly Matt Hill (Garage), Frank Colich (Machete Squad p/b xStacles) and Kenton Berg (SBUX/SCCA) attacked out of the sweeping left turn before the start/finish.  The got a decent enough gap that you can’t see them clearly in the video from the field.  

Race situation:  SBUX, Garage & Machete Squad up the road.

Analysis:   Unless you are the Garage or Machete squad you don’t want this to stick.  The only question is what to do about it.   The Garage has 3 riders in the race and Machete squad has 4.  Out of these seven riders, six have already shown themselves over the course of the last month to be better riders in the Masters field.   SBUX has a little more complicated situation and their response depends on their strategy for PR.  If they are going for the series they really want Aaron in the move since he’s their best placed rider.    On the other hand if their playing to race each race then I think they’d want to let the break play out and take 3rd with Kenton worst case.  For everyone else if you try to chase the move down a counter attack is likely and you could get caught out.   On the other hand if you try to bridge up you’ll likely find a Garage and a Machete rider on your wheel.    
What’s my move:   That depends.  The most basic options are:
·         If you’re riding unattached and strong then your best play is to try to bridge.   It’s important to be aware of the dynamic though because all gaps are not created equal.  If you get a gap but the field reacts and then keeps the gap close then you aren’t bridging.  You’re chasing and taking the field with you.   On the other hand if you get a gap and the field doesn’t chase then you’re bridging.   If you have a Garage and/or Machete rider with you then keep in mind they may be willing to work with you once the bridge is established.   So focus on getting that gap. 

The most common way the bridge gets cocked is by riders getting a quick gap and then drilling it with the field right behind.    It won’t always be black and white.  There are times where you get a gap and the field is there but you “sense” if you can keep up the effort for a few more seconds the elastic will snap.  And sometimes it does!  But it usually doesn’t and you’re just rationalizing a justification to put in an impressive effort rather than a smart one.  

·         If you’re riding on a team then you need to get the team up there chasing but keep a rider or two aside to cover the counter.  Roll through at a maintainable pace and come off before you’re blown so you don’t just up the pace only to have the chase die once you come off. 

The most common way the chase gets cocked up is teams over investing and then missing the counter.   Someone has to ride smart and be ready for the counter.

The Bridge
The Garage is controlling the front setting false temp – for those that don’t know what this means Sean (Garage) is going just fast enough that no one wants to either chase or bridge.   Nikos (Garage), Randy (Machete Squad) and I are hanging out near the front so we can cover any attacks.   Then something weird happens – the riders sitting on Sean decide they don’t want to ride anymore and a split starts to happen including Sean, Aaron Griffith (SBUX) and another rider I don’t know.    At first I don’t recognize the split is happening (because I’m expecting someone to come around) and it takes a few ticks before I jump the gap and get on the back of the train.   That group recognizes the opportunity quickly and ramps it up and the field does not react.   We very quickly establish a bridging group and chase up to the original break to for a 6 man group.

Analysis:  This is now a great move for Machete, Garage, SBUX and XX. 

·         Starbucks has their best sprinter Aaron in the break with series leader Benjamin Storrar in the field.   If the break sticks all available points will be taken and he only needs 5th to tie for series lead – any better place puts him in the lead. 

·         Garage has two riders, arguably their best break away rider (Matt) and arguably the fastest sprinter in the race (Sean) in the move so are set to cover any late attacks or take a group sprint.

·         Machete Squad is caught out in the pure sprinting game but has two riders capable of making late attacks sticks with Frank being the stronger of us but my being the faster sprinter. 

·         XX is in the move and while the numbers are not great looks strong and is going to get at least 6th.
Even if the break does not stick Garage & Machete are loaded to counter and start a new break while SBUX benefits if Point Defiance Counseling waste bullets chasing down Storrar’s closest series rival (Griffith).

If you’re not in the break some calculations need to start happening.   This is a dangerous move because the break has 6 of the strongest riders in the race in it and can stick if it gets organized and drills it *or* can stick if the field just stops riding – which is a very real possibility given the majority of the firepower in the field have team members up the road.    You’ve got the same options as before except I’d argue that playing poker has become high risk.   On the otherhand,  that’s true of almost everyone without a teammate in the break so a chase or bridge becomes the tactical option in almost everyone’s best interest – however a bridge becomes harder because riders are aware they’ve been caught out and are more likely to work hard if they feel they aren’t alone.  Note that it’s not uncommon for the first bridge to stick but it’s very rare that the second bridge does – because the group tolerance for missing three total moves is very low. 

The crucible
Most strong breaks have a brief period where they dangle on the precipice and then come together or fall apart.   I'll follow up tomorrow with what went down here.