Sunday, April 23, 2006

Developing talents

I was recently invited to start a larger mass-start event for Juniors. After spending some time with some very, very promising young riders, I got inspired to write a few lines about racing philosophies at the age-group levels.

I think too many young, talented riders tend to sit in the pack too long and simply roll over the line with 50 other riders. More than often they have simply ridden with the pack for the entire length of the race. And who can blame them? I mean, it's safe in the pack - you can hide. And just watch any ProTour event, many high profile riders tend to ride across the line in a sea of other riders. So wouldn't the Juniors do the same thing?

Maybe it's ok at the ProTour level, at that stage in the game many considerations come into play. Considerations that does not exist for young, promising Juniors. But I can promise you one thing; the riders you see roll across the line on a ProTour team did not get there by hiding in the pack as a Junior. So why do we see so many riders playing it "safe", rather than taking a chance and going for it? Is it because it's better to end up number 20, rather than maybe giving it an honest shot but blowing up and not finishing?

I believe it should not be about the results, but what happened during the race. Juniors develop by racing aggressively. By daring to go in breaks, by creating opportunities, not waiting for them to be created by others. Juniors need to risk individual race results in order to grow and learn. How can you discover the strength of your legs if you don't dare to push it a little harder? Not to mention what you can learn in terms of tactics.

So, in short - I'd like to see more aggressiveness from Juniors. Think Vinokurov during the 2005 Tour. This mind-set is just as much the responsibility of anyone involved with and working on developing talents. This is encouraging and rewarding aggressive riders. The change should happen from club level up to national level.

If any Juniors or anyone working with Juniors have any input, please post it. :)

8 Comments:

Blogger Caloi-Rider said...

Great post. I hope some of your intended audience reads it.

15:30  
Blogger mags said...

Thank you.

Mags

15:37  
Blogger Mike said...

When I was a junior I was racing George Hincapie and Kevin Monahan each weekend it seemed here in NY. If you weren't aggressive you got third at best. Once in awhile my aggression paid off with a second place. The first win didn't come for many years, but my teams were always happy to have someone who wasn't afraid to risk it all.
The last two seasons I played it safe and got few results. This year I'm emulationg my current heroes Tom Boonen and Vinokourov, and it's paying off. While my highest placing is a 10th so far, I've been contesting every field sprint and am happy, especially since I have no teammates with me normally.
Juniors have to be taught to be hungry, to fight for each wheel, to suffer. You only get better when you go beyond yourself.

16:05  
Blogger mags said...

Mike,

You are spot on. So how was Hincapie as a Junior?

Mags

20:06  
Blogger Mike said...

When I started racing, I was a last year junior, one year older than George. He won something like 3 or 4 medals at Junior World's for road racing and track that year (1990). I got many thirds. He won my district championship in New Paltz (74 miles, 4 times over Mohonk Mountain plus a hellacious feedzone hill in Rosendale) I got 8th after I flatted. You just couldn't beat him. I bridged to him and Kevin one time and he said "well you made it up here, we won't drop you. Pull when you can." I barely pulled the rest of the crit, but got third. Not too shabby. George was nice back then, and he could climb when he wanted to, so last year's stage win didn't surprise me in the Tour.

23:50  
Blogger mags said...

Hincapie is good, no doubt about that.

Mags

15:32  
Blogger Al Maviva said...

Age groups do make a difference. I'm a late-starting Cat 5 in the mid-Atlantic, eligible to ride the 40+ masters next year. I've noticed that the juniors in this area tend to break into ability groups in most races. There are a handful of kids in the <15 who are really good, age group nationals contenders. They are always off the front. Then there is a good sized group, usually a dozen or 20 in a pack, sometimes working together, sometimes not, laboring but fighting a little. Then there are a lot of hangers on. In the <15, there are a lot of the wheelsucker kids who are really big, too big for their age (usually 11 or 12 and 6'3") and they really struggle, seem to be in TT mode for most races. I suspect the little guys who are national caliber - they are all 5'3" and 110 lbs - will be getting reeled in by the bigger guys in a few years. (MABRA isn't really a climbing area, more rollers and power courses suited for big strong riders). The >15 juniors are indistinguishable on most rides from the Cat 5, 4, and sometimes 3s that they race with.

Almost all these races end in a field sprint.

On the other end of things - the >30 is just as much of a dogfight, usually, as the 4-5, or 3-4. In 4 and 5, most generally just fight to hang on because the races are scrappy, nobody is that much better than anybody else, and most of the 4s (except for those transiting rapidly upward, like good triathletes or just talented riders) have noticeable holes in their game - a debilitating weakness on hills, insufficient power to time-trial off the front, problems moving through the pack. The >40 is a much smoother, faster race than the regular 3,4,5 class races, the attacks usually only come at sensible points, the accellerations are smoother, and the speed is quite a bit higher as a result - probably 2 MPH higher average. It doesn't hurt that the two long standing Alpha Dogs in the area normally both race >40 masters. The age group races also often end as a field sprint, either for all positions, or for everything past third or fifth, depending on whether a late stage breakaway could stick. There is very little in the way of solo breaks off the front, the racing seems to be very defensive, and breaks don't get far out before the pack decides to ratchet up the speed and reel them in. (The hilly road races - Jeff Cup, the Lancaster races - are a different story, the brutal hills generally create a selection that springs groups of two and three off the front.

As for handling juniors - a couple guys in my club coach the juniors. They don't push them to win so much as they push them to practice good techniques - moving up and back through the pack during races, learning how to cover attacks, learning how to work with each other to create a break, and teaching them how to do a proper leadout and sprint. They try to coach the 4s and 5s on these things as well, but frankly we're morons and don't learn as well as the kids do.

08:50  
Blogger mags said...

Al,

Yeah, like I've said earlier - Junior development is crucial, giving them the confidence to make mistakes and take chances. Very important.

Mags

13:24  

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