Cycling is a team sport, contrary to what casual observers of the sport may think. Although only one rider wins, his victory likely is due to effective use of team tactics employed throughout the race. A cycling team fields a nine-rider squad for a bike race. One rider is the leader in whom the team is pinning their hopes for victory. The other eight team riders work tactically to ensure that their team carries the day.
Early in a race stage, breakaways numbering two to five riders from as many teams will attempt to separate themselves from the main field by pedaling hard for several miles. A rider making the breakaway is usually not his team's leader or strongest rider. Breakaways have been a part of cycling since the sports early days and although they rarely succeed, riders will continue to attempt them.
As in auto racing, cyclists draft off each other to break the wind's resistance, allowing aerodynamics to making it easier to pedal their bicycles faster than they could if they were pedaling into the wind on their own. A cycling team's director uses this race strategy, positioning his support riders, called domestiques, in front or to the side of his lead rider. This allows him to conserve from 20 to 40 percent of his energy throughout the race.
Lead Out Train
Bike races that are mostly flat often end with a bunch sprint among specialists referred to as sprinters. They are able to accelerate quickly using powerful surges to sprint full speed to the finish line. The most successful cycling teams provide their sprinters with a well-rehearsed lead out train of three to four teammates sheltering the sprinter from the wind and clearing a path free of other riders. Timing within the lead out train is essential as riders peel off one after another until with 200 to 300 meters left, only the sprinter remains free to accelerate at full speed to the finish line.
Team Position within the Peloton
A peloton may have 180 cyclists in close quarters speeding along at 20 to 30 miles per hour. Therefore, a team director will likely have his riders spread throughout the peloton to ensure most survive a crash if one occurs. Having riders sprinkled throughout the peloton will allow the team director to cover or respond to attacks or breakaways when they occur.