Positioning 101

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In endurance sports, we often talk about the importance of positioning.  With respect to the bike, positioning has to do with your fit…which is specific to the type of riding and racing that you do.  This post, though, is about the other kind of positioning – where you are in the group during a race.

Tomorrow is one of the biggest classic bike races of the year – The Tour of Flanders.  Positioning in a race like Flanders is crucial to success – specifically being near the front of race going into the steep bergs as well as near the front entering the secteurs of pave (cobbles), but not on front expending too much energy.  In cycling, the team aspect of the race is what allows the chosen team captains to be able to maintain good position though out the early phases of the race saving their energy for the more critical points that will define the outcome.

Today I had a personal experience with the importance of positioning at the Louisville Criterium.  Early in the race, I was unfortunately closer to the back of the 35+ field than the front.  While riding that far back, every acceleration out of the corners lasted longer and took a bit more energy than when I moved up closer to the front.  By the time we got to 7 laps to go, I was maintaining a decent position, but unfortunately lost concentration and drifted back toward the back of the field again just before the finish.  Through a really big effort on the final lap I moved up about 15 spots in the final lap, ending up with a 15th place finish (two teammates took 2nd & 10th – they had maintained much better position throughout the race).  Upon downloading the power data into TrainingPeaks.com and onto Strava, a few interesting things showed up:

1. First 4 laps (6 minutes, 50 seconds) were 42.3 km/hr and my average power was 252 watts (303 normalized) = bad position.

2. Last 4 laps (6 minutes, 45 seconds) were 42.6 km/hr and my average power was 193 watts (290 normalized) = better position.

3. A Strava KOM still doesn’t mean the race result will be good…sure I was fast in the finish, but I was way too far back at the start to be in contention for the real race finish.

Louisville Crit Finish KOM

Maintaining concentration throughout a race is one of the key factors in positioning.  As a good team director once told me, “You’re either moving up, or moving back.  What’s important is where and when you’re moving up, and where and when you’re moving back.”

Happy training & racing!  Neal