Cutting Bike Race Predictability: Nature Valley Grand Prix

There is a standard formula for bike racing now-a-days. The U.S. Postal Train perfected it, displayed its dominance, and teams try to replicate it whenever possible. It’s proven, it works. The formula? Everyone waits until the last climb, one team drives the pace, or a sprint train wraps up the race. However, as a result, the guessing and anticipation in racing has lost a lot of luster. I have no problem saying, it makes racing pretty boring. The excitement and tactics are diminished to “waiting until the last climb”, “lining up the sprint train” or “listening to the Little Man via race radio”.

Please do not get me wrong, I enjoy seeing the attacks on the final climb of the day or a team dominate everyone else. EVERY-NOW-AND-THEN (I don’t like the sprint train). However, imagine having to fend off attacks from a couple climbs that day, not just one? Or, a team cannot work the front all day to pull back numerous breakaways, etc.

Enter the Nature Valley Grand Prix. According to this VeloNews article, they are reducing team sizes to six.

“This change will shake things up and make the racing more exciting for the spectators,” said Micah Rice, USA Cycling’s managing director of national events. “With their focus on spectator experience, it’s not surprising that the Nature Valley Grand Prix was the first stage race to make this change. Smaller team sizes will also reduce the travel costs for the teams, a factor that played a big role in the development of the 2012 USA Cycling National Racing Calendar (NRC) and National Criterium Calendar (NCC).”

I think this is awesome. You should too.

  • Excitement
  • There is potential for more attacks. It will be harder for one team to reel back a break-away. Waiting until the last twenty-kilometers to bring it back won’t work without emptying a team’s legs. The result will be either break-aways cannot be given as much free reign or teams have to start sooner to pull them back. The leader boards could change more frequently too.

  • Team Tactics
  • Teams won’t be able to simply set the pace all day at their will. They have to be more aware of not just “today’s race”, but the entire race. It increases each rider’s responsibility. Communication becomes even more important. Rider IQ should increase.

  • Smaller Budget Teams will Animate and Have a Chance
  • Just look at what this Colombian team did at the U.S. Pro Cycling Challenge. They had no money, but their back-story, their results, and their racing style made the race way more appealing.

  • No More Trains
  • Or, at least fewer. Sprinter Robbie McEwen proved he didn’t need a team to win. He worked off of OTHER team’s work. He is one smart rider. You always had to be looking for McEwen. If you do try the train, riders would have to take longer pulls or wait until the very last couple kilometers. However, organization will be even more difficult. Strategies will become more intricate.

  • The Lone-Wolfves
  • Riders with riding styles and philosophies like Robbie McEwen, Philippe Gilbert, Thomas Voeckler will emerge more. These guys make racing wayyyyyy more exciting.

[quote]“From my experience of races that run smaller teams, it creates more opportunities for everyone in the peloton,” Rodriguez said. “It’s harder for the big teams to take control and more riders have a chance. It also takes the predictability out of the top riders being on the podium. I see the winner being someone who is aggressive and willing to take a chance.” ~ Fred Rodriguez, 3x-U.S. road champion [/quote] [hr_small] Granted, some of the “issues” are more geared towards the really big teams and huge races, but the points still hold ground.

What are your thoughts? Do you think this will bring positive change?

Kudos to the Nature Valley Grand Prix. Here’s to ANIMATED races.