Picture by Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com
By Peter Cossins
“Windy days are always the most nervous, even if nothing ends up happening. It’s one aspect of racing that television doesn’t really capture,” says BMC DS Marco Pinotti.
Typically associated with the spring Classics and Tour stages run across the flatlands of northern France, echelons form in a crosswind. The rider at the front of a group or peloton continue to set the pace into the wind, but moves to the windward side of the road to allow the next rider in the line to tuck in to the side but slightly behind them, head to hip, in order to optimise shelter from the wind.
In a small group, the racer at the front will set the pace for half a minute or so, then drop back, allowing the wind to push them along the rear of the line until they can slot in at the end. At the same time, the rider second in line will move towards the wind and maintain the tempo for a similar spell, before following suit, the echelon progressing smoothly assuming that everyone contributes to the pace-making and nobody pushes the speed too high, thereby breaking the ‘through and off’ rhythm. In a much larger group, the rotation of positions has, when seen from above, a mesmerising chain-like appearance, turning constantly, with a line of riders in front moving towards the wind and another behind going away from it.
As they have once again shown on the Tour stage to Mûr de Bretagne where they split the peloton on a stretch of exposed road on the coast of Brittany, the Quick Step team managed by Patrick Lefevere is most often associated with this kind of tactical coup, essentially because it has focused on and thrived in the Classics. A decent pro in the late 1970s, Lefevere says his main talent as a rider lay in his ability in assessing where the best point was to attack.
“I always loved the tactical side of racing,” says Lefevere. “I was probably one of the first directors to have radio communication, one of the first to have someone ahead of the race looking over the parcours. When I was a sports director I’d always be looking for places and opportunities to beat the other teams – after which roundabout or corner, by taking advantage of the wind, is there a descent where we can surprise them?”
Asked for an example of Quick Step’s ability to spring a surprise on rival outfits in windy conditions, Lefevere recalls Fernando Gaviria’s stage win on the third stage of the 2017 Giro d’Italia into Cagliari.
“You need a mix of riders who can work and riders who can win. If you look back at Gaviria’s first stage win in that Giro, we didn’t have a team there that looked like it could create an echelon. That it happened was down to the quick thinking of the team. Bob Jungels did it on his own. The others, the likes of Laurens De Plus and Eros Capecchi, aren’t riders noted for their ability in the wind, but they did it because it was hardwired into them by being on this team.”
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