A VDR Tactical Analysis of a Race that didn’t Happen

April 9, 2020

The Tour de Brisbane was meant to be our second NRS hitout of the year. In its second edition, we were excited to see what we could do. We enjoyed the first edition – starting in the middle of a city (albeit at 6 in the morning) was not something we get to experience very often.

There were a couple of changes to the 2019 edition. The first was that after Cycling Tasmania had to pull out of hosting the Oceania Road Championships (a function of a federated system where shared resourcing is difficult to access), Tour de Brisbane had been adapted to include the Oceania’s. This would see an influx of Kiwis into the mix, some of whom are seriously fast.

The bigger change was that the course now featured a triple repeat up Mount Coot-tha, up the steeper of the two sides. A hard 10-minute climb, a grind across the plateau to the descent, followed by a quick drop down to the bottom, and then repeat. The triple-ascent was again placed early in the race, with the first accent after just 20km, and by the time the climbing is done, there would still be 75kms of undulating pedalling to go.

The Theoretical Lineup:

Tristan Saunders
Iven Bennett
Jason Thomason
Lachie Marshall
Daniel Siwek
Will Golding
Matt Hutchinson

The expected race:

The Basics

So we start every race with the basic instructions:
Ride Together
Ride at the front
Communicate
Eat & Drink

So these are pretty straightforward and most likely the same decree given by any team manager at every race in the world. Eating and drinking is critical in a race like this as the intensity of three ascents of Coot-tha, and a subsequent chase, would have all but the most diligent riders forgetting to eat consistently throughout and lacking ‘fuel’ for the second half of the race. Team sponsor Science in Sports Beta Fuel can come in very handy in situations like these.

The Race

You can’t deny that Mount Coot-tha will be the defining feature of the race. It’s hard, it’s steep, and it was to be done three times, but it’s 75km from the finish, which is a major factor to consider. The climb is one to suit pure climbers – one time up would be manageable for a lot of the bunch, but going into oxygen debt and recovering three times will see most drop off the pace. The challenge for the climbers is that they have to drop the field, and then hold off riders who are likely faster and stronger on the flat. A likely situation will be a group of 40 coming together after lap one, 30 on lap two, and, if they’re smart, maybe 20 on lap 3. The challenge with steep climbs for riders who are suffering is that they will blow up hard if they go to deep in the red trying to hang on. This will see them crawling up the road with riders who had managed their effort catching them and leaving them behind. So finding the limit is critical.

The pure climbers will want the points on offer each lap. This will see them attack each other constantly as they try and break away, however the majority of bunch should be happy to let them play on their own.

After a quick regroup after the final descent, we’d expect to see a front group of 10 – 20 come together. This will see most teams with a rider in the move (and some of the stronger teams with 2 or 3). From a team perspective, realistically we’d expect one of our featherweight climbers to make this split. At under 60kg, Dan or Lachie would need to be here for our race to be on plan.

But that shouldn’t be the race over the rest of the team. They’ve all shown capability to climb with the best. Tristan almost got over Gunns Plains at Tassie with the front bunch, Jase has shaken things up before, Iven always has endless watts, and Matt and Will are capable of climbing, even if it isn’t their natural game. For these riders, what would be critical is that they don’t find themselves dangling on their own between bunches. So long as they don’t get distanced too badly over the climb, chasing bunches will have enough time to get back if they have motivation.

Our play for the day would be to get Tristan back to the front of the race. Realistically we wouldn’t expect to have 4 riders with him, but even with just two and a couple of other teams with the same intentions, this is definitely a tactical option. If Dan or Lachie where were we hoped they’d be (at the front of the race), then they would have a relatively easy next 50km – sitting on, actively avoiding pulling turns and disrupting the bunch cohesion and making sure that they latch onto any splits in the bunch.

The cohesion of the front bunch will be the critical factor in determining the outcome of the race. It would be unlikely that they would work well together. Oceania’s introduces a lot of riders riding for themselves for a big individual result, and the selective nature of the climb would see many without teammates, so, like Dan and Lachie, they should be saving their legs or waiting for the faster-finishing teammates to get back.

Assuming it all goes to plan; we’d expect Tristan to make contact with these leaders after about 25-40km of chasing – closing up to a three-minute gap. The majority of the roads are very friendly for mowing down bunches. Fast, smooth and generally pretty wide. This would likely see a lead bunch of 40-50, which we’d hope to have three or four present (about a third of the field). If this bunch stays motivated, no one else should come back. If they drag their heels too much, then it could swell up to 80 riders.

It would be nice to think this bunch would sail to the finish, and Tristan, one of the better climbers amongst the sprinters, would hope to cross the finish first. Realistically the bunch could split again, with teams and riders sending endless salvos of attacks off the front. These moves are the hardest to mark as they aren’t particularly calculated, but an exercise of brute force. Our play would be to sit back as much as possible, mark any large splits, and hope that if any break that does go has a well-represented team missing who will then chase.

Then it will be a case of keeping Tristan up the front with 5km to go, and in the top 5 wheels with 500 m to go with two successive right turns (essentially a hairpin) determining the top 10. Then it’s all about having some legs left and seeing what kind of sprint can be mustered!