By John Bassetti
Strategy and tactics abound for riders during pro events, such as those being staged this weekend.
YOUNGSTOWN — Pro bicycle racing.
To understand it takes a Ph.D.
To actively take part in it takes hours.
To hear Ray Huang explain it helps.
“It’s more than meets the eye,” said Huang, a 43-year-old Cleveland Heights resident who will be a rider with Salem’s Carbon Racing team in the Tour of the Valley that starts Friday morning.
Huang takes great pains to describe the intricacies of the sport.
Friday’s first event — a prologue, or time trial — uses a bicycle unlike those for the other stages of the Tour.
The time trial bike has a disc wheel with cow horn bars.
“It’s for races against the clock and is not the best-handling bike,” said Huang. “When in the time-trial position, the hands aren’t anywhere near the brakes.”
Cost of the bikes could range from $3,000 to $10,000 with the back disc wheel alone $2,000.
“It’s kind of a perfectly built bike,” said Huang, “designed to do one thing: go really fast.”
A more standard bike is used for road racing and criteriums.
“It’s lighter than time-trial bikes and you’ll see spokes on the wheels. Discs are illegal.”
The slightly heavier weight of the time trial bike isn’t a big issue because time-trial courses aren’t very hilly.
“The reason road-racing bikes are as light as possible is because there’s a fair amount of climbing and that slows riders down.”
The nature of road racing involves constant acceleration.
“It’s about attacking each other and the other teams trying to break away and trying to break the race down into smaller and smaller groups until they get down to the smallest number possible for the finish,” Huang said.
Although every cyclist wants to finish solo, the concept of team is a higher priority.
Contrary to popular belief, racing like a maniac to the finish isn’t the best policy.
“Some races are slow and some are really fast. Sometimes, it’s deceptive because what makes Pro 1-2 so difficult is the variance in speed.”
He explained that the level of effort may go from fairly difficult to extremely difficult for long periods of time.
That’s when the race “blows apart” — teams start attacking and counterattacking each other in succession until they get a breakaway going with which they’re happy.
“A good breakaway usually comprises one or two members of all the strongest teams in the race that day,” Huang said.
Breaking away expends much energy.
“If you’re having a good day, you can go on a lot of attacks; if you’re having a bad day, you find yourself doing more for the team. If you’re not going to be a player, working for the team is one of the most important jobs you have.”
From an outsider’s perspective, racing probably looks like a bunch of guys pedaling around as fast as they can, but it actually has a tremendous amount of strategy.
“Decisions are made in a split-second,” Huang said of various combinations that develop to eventually determine outcomes.
Road races could be long, either in a loop or point-to-point where a rider will never see the same terrain twice.
“The Tour’s road race is only two laps of a 33-mile loop,” Huang said of the route in Columbiana. “A criterium is only a mile or two, but it might end up doing 30-40 laps or more. It’s very fast and involves a lot of good bike-handling to go around constant corners, fighting for wheels and positions.”
For Pro 1-2 category riders, a criterium may last an hour or two, while a road race may run 3-5 hours.
Huang’s most recent competition was a 24-lap criterium (48 miles on a 2-mile loop) Tuesday in Westlake.
Unless other duties as a member of Carbon Racing pull him away from the events, Huang expects to enter in Men Pro 1-2 as an amateur.
“Some Cat 1-2’s are amateurs too, they just don’t have a pro license.”
Huang said amateurs might get other benefits, like free equipment or race fees paid, but they don’t actually collect a salary.
As a rule, riders who win money split it evenly with teammates because it’s expected that they all contribute.
“Many times, a rider who did most of the work won’t even finish in the money. It’ll look like he didn’t do very well, but what actually happened was, he did so much work in the race [to help get a teammate in a breakaway] that you do owe him the money because you wouldn’t have been able to do it without him. That happens a lot.”