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Learning the Ropes, Part 2. In the Classroom with Super Squadra.

February 3, 2011

Getting a race plan of action from the best team in Central Texas.

You’ve got the bike.  You’ve  got the shoes, and the kit, and the helmet.  Maybe you have some race wheels, a heart rate monitor, or a power meter. Maybe you even have a coach to help you get the most from your body. But you need the right tool for your racing brain too. You need tactics.  Winning tactics.

While the strongest sometimes win, they don’t always. Others may never be the strongest, but it doesn’t mean they can’t win. Regardless of fitness, if you’re in the mix in a race, you need to know likely race scenarios and potential pitfalls. The choices a racer makes in those decisive moments can mean the difference between a podium finish and being pack fill. And those choices don’t advertise themselves—you’ve got to know what to look for. Unlike the Driveway Series Beginners’ Clinics, Super Squadra’s January Tactics Seminar, taught by Ian Dille and David Wenger, took to the classroom and covered how to approach, ride, and finish a race to the best of your ability.

Super Squadra has offered their Tactics Seminars five times over the last three years.  The goal in offering the seminar is to help aspiring and experienced racers alike learn some of the nuances of bike racing in Central Texas.  This isn’t necessarily about how to turn your bike, but rather when to turn, when to accelerate, when to draft, when to attack, and when to sprint.  Since the first seminar over 100 racers have attended and have included category 5 riders like this author, women racers, juniors, masters, and every other experience level you can think of ranging in ages from 12 to well over 60.

The 2011 class warmed up by talking warm up and discussed why you should get on your bike before the announcer says “go” and what you should be doing and looking for during your warm up.  And, did you know there is a difference between warming up for a road race and a criterium?  Yup.  There is.  Included in the warm up discussion was also talk of pre-race meetings.  The stuff of pros only, right?  Wrong.  If you’re lucky enough to ride on a team, you need to plan before the race how it will unfold for each rider.  This is the chance to communicate openly with teammates about fitness, goals, and if applicable, prior knowledge of the course or event.   Easier to do before the race than during, and far better than after.   And if you’re a privateer racer, this is a chance to talk with friends and training buddies who are also in attendance at your race.

From there class turned to positioning.  This wasn’t just “ride at the front and follow every wheel,” but rather a discussion of pack dynamics and how to hold and change position, and where you want to be positioned based on field size.  Since the Tactics Seminar is about getting your best finish, we also talked attacking.  Attacks come “thick and fast” as they say, but the winning moves come at strategic times and places.  This means racing smart and aggressively.  Of course, an attack is not a field sprint—you’ve got to keep at it once you’ve opened a gap on the field.  So we also learned about setting up attacks with and for teammates as well as how hard to attack.  And for those in the pack with a teammate up the road, we learned about blocking.  See?  Cycling is a team sport!

Not all racers are the same.  Nor are all races.  As a result, we also talked about the differences in how to race criteriums, road races, and stage races.  These discussions used real race examples from some of Super Squadra’s favorite events as well as real-life scenarios played out by Super Squadra’s members.  And the class covered post-race happenings too.  Not finish line celebrations, but post-race team discussions, cooling down—emotionally and physically—and getting ready for the next race.

During the day we enjoyed a great burrito lunch, and not only got some good swag from the team’s sponsors, but also received the coveted “Super Squadra Tactical Playbook:  A thinking man’s (and woman’s) guide to winning TXBRA races”.  (I’ll be posting my copy on eBay later!)  The guys from Super Squadra were happy to answer questions during class and hung around to socialize and give more tips out post-class.  I grabbed Super Squadra’s chief press officer, biographer, and sandwich captain Ian Dille, to get a few questions answered.

Do we have to wait another 12 months to learn from the best, or does Super Squadra have something on offer later in this year?

Ian: Well, Daniel, I’m glad you asked! You can come brush up on the technical aspects of bike racing at our monthly Skills Clinics at the Driveway racetrack. These events are designed to instill pack riding confidence, cornering technique, and other general handling skills such as pacelining. Our Skills Clinic schedule for 2011 will be released soon at www.drivewayseries.com, under the “clinics” tab.

I was really surprised to learn about the Dave Wenger special.  Did you really give away all of your tactical secrets?

Ian: Yes, pretty much. Every year when I first go over our tactics manual (a printout of which we give to each Tactics Seminar attendee) in preparation for the seminar, I’m amazed by how much I relearn from it. It’s a great refresher, even for myself, who’s giving the presentation. The tactical principles we instill in our attendees are basically the framework of bike racing. If you can stick to these basic rules, and adjust them to fit varying situations within a race, you’ll succeed far more often. A large part of our success as a team, is that we take our own Tactics Seminar every year.

The truth is, there’s no secret to using good bike racing tactics. The trick is relying on a few basic tactical principles to make the right decision at the right moment. For example, consciously asking yourself, should I follow that move now, or should I wait? Where on the course can I attack most effectively? How do I maintain my position near the front in this technical criterium? You’ll find that racers of similar fitness who regularly make the breakaways or place well aren’t just getting lucky. They’re racing smartly.

Any tips for getting in race shape so that we can put some of Super Squadra’s tactics into practice?

Ian: We get a ton of inquiries from our Tactics Seminar attendees about training, and we always defer them to our teammate David Wenger. David owns the coaching company, Durata Training. He’s the guy the members of our team rely on when we have training questions.

Sadly, we missed the outdoor portion of the class because of the weather.  Even sadder was my post-class trainer ride in my garage.  What’s in store for the rain check ride?

Ian: The purpose of the ride was to give attendees a chance to take some of the tactical principles we taught during the seminar to the open road. It’s one thing for us to explain how to maintain your position at the front of a race, or block for a teammate effectively, and quite another to see it play out in real life. Our intent was to break the attendees up into groups of similar abilities, and then divide those groups into teams, and stage some mock racing scenarios. Unfortunately, Mother Nature didn’t cooperate, but (beyond offering our Tactics Seminar attendees a complimentary pass to one of our skills clinics) we urged them to practice some of these tactical scenarios on their own with friends or teammates. Even during our own team rides, we’ll often practice various tactical situations. For example, we won’t just sprint for city limits signs, we’ll do a lead out drill.

Super Squadra is moderately legendary for its mid-training ride BBQ.  I spotted chicken-fried steak at the Driveway once, and I know how you feel about sandwich construction. Post-seminar there were cookies, chips, and cowboy pops (i.e., beer) on offer.  Is consuming such a diet an approved Super Squadra tactic?

Ian: Perhaps you didn’t notice Daniel, but we also provided NutriGrain bars and La Croix sparkling waters. Heck, even the Sun Chips we served contain 30-percent less fat than standard potato chips. (And they’re delicious! I recently friended Sun Chips on Facebook.) It should also be noted that Chipotle Burritos, which generously sponsored the Tactics Seminar lunch, provide a well rounded, primarily organic, meal. (Portion control is key.) However, our team members have never been opposed to occasionally treating ourselves—that’s one of the main reasons we race bikes!

Like the Driveway Beginners’ Clinic, the Super Squadra Tactics Seminar was really informative.  It covered more than many of us thought, provided insight from truly experienced competitors, and really shined, despite the rain.  Now I’m off to ride to get some fitness, and maybe some BBQ, so I can put what I learned into practice.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. joeytwowheels permalink
    February 3, 2011 9:45 pm

    I really got a lot our of this class. Ian and David and Phil really did a great job keeping it real for all levels of racer. It’s always great to refresh on these tactics, even if you are the fastest kid in your team kit.

    That’s not me, but you know.

    Thanks for hosting.

  2. Daniel Curtin permalink
    February 4, 2011 12:06 am

    Thanks for coming to the seminar, Joey Two Wheels. Glad you enjoyed it! I’ll pass along your comments to the Super Squadra boys.

    Cheers!

  3. Devin permalink
    February 11, 2011 6:04 pm

    I would love to get a copy of “Super Squadra Tactical Playbook: A thinking man’s guide to winning TXBRA races”

    Are there any for sale?

    • djcurtin permalink
      February 15, 2011 1:44 pm

      Let me find out for ya!Daniel J. Curtin, Jr.Bicycle Sport Shop517 S. Lamar Blvd.Austin, Texas 78704p. 512.477.3472 x5202f. 512.477.5312www.bicyclesportshop.comFollow Us On Facebook! http://www.facebook.com/bssaustin Follow Us On Twitter! @BSS_Austin

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