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Race Day Secret: Course Recon

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Did you ever hear that story about this broker/banker person who went to prison because he shared inside information with investors/stock holders? Even if you didn’t, the take home message is that having such “inside information” is a big advantage. When it comes to cycling knowing the race course is invaluable. Especially for time trialing where a second is a looooong time, you should not be hesitating whether it was a left or a right turn, but rather on putting all your power to make the race clock tick a couple of times less before you cross that finish line.


When you boil it down, cycling is tactically using the wind and the terrain to work to your strengths as a rider. While you can check the wind (direction) on the day of the race, you should be aware at what parts of the course you will be facing a head or a crosswind, since this is where splits in the group usually occur and a well timed acceleration can get you clear of a group. Hills and climbs are places where attacks frequently happen, so you need to be at a place where you can respond i.e not at the back of a group.

Next, you should be aware of the road conditions. Bad asphalt (road surface) can cause unexpected crashes (can you say Arenberg Forest) and regrouping, especially if only a part of the road is rideable. You don’t want to end up in all the potholes with your nice wheels or worse with your face in the gravel. Adjust your tyre pressure accordingly as well, bouncing during corners on rough pavement is a scary experience.

Another thing is how big/wide is the road. Here a 2 lane road can turn into a one lane bicycle path without any clear warning. Therefore if you don’t pay attention you can end up in the gutter, not place where you want to be at any point in a race.


Races always include a course map. So the least you can do is review the map/elevation profile. If you like me have trouble distinguishing left and right on a map, the best option is to pre-ride/drive the course. If you can’t there is a middle ground – Google Street View. Look for landmarks around crucial sections/turns/switchbacks, etc. PROs have course marks taped on their top tubes/stems for the same reason.

You absolutely must familiarize yourself with a time trial course.  Every little hesitation costs you watts. If you are pacing yourself with powermeter you can see it clearly, as soon as you think about anything else rather than pushing hard, your body takes it easy.  Taking a couple of turns too carefully can add up to 10+seconds and flying out of a sharp turn can cause you to crash (or to rip up a brand new tubular tyre when you lock your rear wheel….ask me how i know…). Yes there are course markers or people with flags at crucial intersections,however, after a whole day in the sun/rain/cold you can’t blame them for not having the enthusiasm to show you the right way. Same applies to you. When fatigue kicks in, you might miss crucial turns at the final kilometers of a race. It is your race so do not leave much to chance; make your own luck!



Last Saturday after 2 heavy days of training it was a time for a day off, however, with my first priority race (a 40.8km/25mi TT) only just a week away I decide to drive to and recon the course. I had two goals, not go above 200W and make every mistake possible so it is all business come raceday.

According to each one of my teammates that had done the race, I got the same information: long straight roads. From Google Street view it seemed the same with nothing out of the ordinary.

Once I rode the course the situation seemed very different.

First, the course is VERY exposed. Yes, The Netherlands is flat, however, this part is almost entirely at the mercy of the wind coming from the sea. The area called Flevoland used to be covered by water some 30 years ago so it is very flat and infrastructure, trees and housing projects are still taking shape. The good part is there were wind turbines all along the course so I could look at which way they were pointing so I could get a bearing on wind direction. The day I test rode the course the wind was about 16kph (10mph) in a SW direction. If I was to race the same day that would mean pushing harder for the first two straight parts and taking it easier on the return leg (Variable pacing). According to the forecast for next week the wind should change direction so the situation would be the opposite.

Second, the asphalt ranged from brand new smooth tarmac to broken down pavement even on the same stretch of road. Right on the first turn (Between marks 1, 2 and 3 on the map) the road surface was REALLY bad with a lot of jagged potholes so the best line was right through the middle. I will not be able to run the high tyre pressures I was hoping, I will have to settle to a middle value or I will be bouncing too much on the rough parts.

I took about 3 wrong turns or more like three moments of hesitation when I pulled on the side of the road to check the gps on my phone. From the course map I knew I was supposed to take a right turn at some point and the road looked big enough for me to not mistake it for something else. Well all side roads looked the same! Better now than on race day… In addition the course will cross couple of roads with traffic (N705 and N706). N705 is a very short zig zag section where you can easily go in the wrong direction.


Instead of taking the day completely off the bike, riding the 40km/25mi course was very productive. I only averaged 179W (very easy Z1 active recovery), however, I am many times more confident for next Sunday. So if you have the chance familiarize yourself with the race course, do it, you will not be sorry!

Cover picture: Paris – Roubaix 2013 course notes on one of Omega Pharma Quickstep’s bikes (Source)

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