Monday, April 11, 2011

There is no I in Team

When thinking about cycling and bicycle racing, I would bet that most people don't really think of it as a team sport. The fact of the matter is that most people don't think of bicycle racing at all. That said, of those few who do, unless their scope is road racing centric, they probably assume that cycling is all about the individual and pursuit of individual, head to head competition. Even within cycling, most disciplines are not really team based and are essentially individual with a formal team unit serving mostly as a nicety.

As such, teams within cycling play multiple roles. They offer a formal organization and affiliation from which an individual member can feel that they are part of a bigger, unified whole. A team can add breadth and visibility to a group, which in turn can help them garner sponsorship and promotional assistance via the increased visibility they will potentially bring to the sponsor. This may or may not be the case but the collective bargaining power of a group that has something to offer a potential suitor is typically larger than that of an individual with a similar skill set.

Another benefit of the team, particularly in road racing but also in certain other disciplines, such as cyclocross to an extent, is that having teammates in the same field with roughly equal abilities, allows you to exploit those collective abilities at the expense of the competition. This is where the race and team tactics come into play. I'm not going to bore with the details of exactly what team tactics are or how they can be leveraged as a means to a given end, but it happens and is an effective tool. If the teams have riders that are strong enough to win and are also skilled at team tactics, they will often be successful in swaying the outcome of the race in their favor, by working together as a team.

There is yet another aspect of the team that, depending on your perspective, may be the most important and beneficial of all. In essence, this is the true meaning of team, a group of like individuals working and playing together for a common goal and or good. The sense of fellowship, camradery and belonging can be an incredible motivational factor.

I've spoken at length about this in the past, specifically in terms of training and how having other friends and cohorts will always help motivate on those days where self motivation is lacking and and encouragement is needed. Also by having teammates to challenge, inspire and educate, it helps one progress and improve upon their own skill and fitness level. My reason for rambling about this is simple. Lately I've been feeling the negative effects of the lack of a formal team organization. I've been able to pull together a core group of folks from various teams and clubs with which to ride during the week but come race day, the team is missing, at least for me.

This past weekend I raced the Tour of Battenkill road race in New York. The short story on the race was that I pinch flatted at mile 35 when I struck a piece of crushed rock on the new section of dirt road added to the course. I fixed the flat before the wheel support reached me and continued to mile 45 where I flatted again due to a ripped valve stem. This time I was unable to fix the flat, there was no support and so I rode the rim on the dirt roads and walked the paved sections for a couple of miles. I then bummed a cell phone from a spectator as I forgot to take mine with me, called for the team car (aka Cathy) and continued on. At Meetinghouse Rd. I met the team car for a wheel and a spare tube and hammered my angst out on the remainder of the course. I placed 98 of 105 finishers and 147 starters, over 47 minutes back on the group that I'd been with before the first flat. I finished rather than hopping in the team car because that is just my thing. Not the first time, probably won't be the last. The worst was when I ripped a derailleur off the MTB at Putney and had to run/coast the last 1.5 laps. I'll admit that this time, I was concerned I may be walking a very, very long. I'm very grateful to the nice folks that lent me their phone and to Cathy for being there to rescue me, as always. Now that's a teammate.

The point of mentioning the race and this piece for that matter, is that it seemed that everyone of the regional teams was on hand with solid team presence, at least from what I saw in my race, the Masters 30+ event. Don't get me wrong, there were also plenty of individuals there as well but many teams also had five or more racers. This can not only be a tactical advantage but makes it fun. I saw countless teams out scouting the course beforehand together, as a team. Many commuted together, and stayed and ate together as a team. From the outside, this seemed like it would have made things a whole lot more tolerable in some cases, like commuting to and from the event, but also much more fun and exciting in terms of the racing and team dynamics. I'd assume that the team would add a whole other dimension to the racing.

Maybe it's time for a change. I've been part of the same club for a number of years. It's a great club, one of the oldest and largest in the region. Through the club I have developed a great group of friends and ride partners, but not really much in terms of teammates. The bottom line however, is that it's a club and not a team. The only team that I have ever been part of with respect to cycling was when MTB team a couple years ago. This was great, for many of the reasons outlined, but didn't help on the road, where it is most important. I've been asked to be part of a couple of teams in the past but for one reason or another, mostly convenience and because I was afraid to commit, I stayed where I was. Another non-decision.

I'm not sure what the answer is. I guess I need to define my goals and go from there. Who knows. At this point in the season things I'm guessing that things are pretty much set as they are. Maybe next year though.


rosey said...

i noticed a kind of mass exodus of late from the nebc squad. those that race at the 1-3 level seem to be moving on or starting new squads. maybe you are right, nebc is a club, not a team.

also, seems like those racing at the elite masters level have been with the same team for years. if nebc does not have an elite masters crew, it would seem an unlikely attraction to new elite masters.

there are other options out there and i guess it's time to find them and see if they fit better with your goals.

mkr said...

Yes, there has never really been any organization around masters though I've tried multiple time. Part of the issue is the different age brackets. Most of the old guys in the club are are lone guns and not about team, so do their own thing. A few of us have had some limited luck on occasion but not real success.

NEBC was founded as a development club, with the intent of getting people interested and trained to a certain level so they could go out onto real teams. To facilitate this, I believe, the club put together "elite teams" a few years back, with the idea that those teams (mens and womens) would be leveraged to help develop those in the club. This would also provide a home for upper level NEBC racers such that they wouldn't have to leave for other teams.

That was a horrible failure on many fronts and for many reasons. It ended up costing the club obscene amounts of money and benefited primarily people recruited from outside NEBC. There was also no benefit given back to the club such as the development that was to be the cornerstone of the teams, except in the case of the MTB team. The plan was subsequently scrapped.

gewilli said...

there may not be an I in team but there is a ME!


(that's all... what ever team picks you up will reap huge benefits)

RMM said...

My club supports cat 3 and 4 racers and encourages a strong team ethos.

But once a rider progresses to cat 2 (or elite masters), we have no support structure for them and we explicitly encourage them to seek another squad that can help them develop further. We often help those riders locate such a squad.

Change is good. We have had riders who loved our team leave because they felt stagnant. They thrived on their new team. And the reverse has happened. New recruits from other teams came to us ready for a new start and slayed it.

If you are feeling down on where you are at, change it up. Sometimes a new group of racers to work with will do wonders. You are a well regarded racer and you will have no problem landing a spot on a premier master's team.

David said...

I'm not sure Battenkill is the best example to make a future team decission on, though I can understand the frustration. Big differences in start times and multiple gorups in categories did not lend itself to either the "cross" style team tent, or for real team riding. In my lower end group we'd hoped to have a "team" only to be thwarted by the organisers splitting alphabetically. Like you we all road solo (though a lot slower than you did). I think the observation that there is a difference between a club and a team is key. I'm not sure where NEBC cat 5 will go, or indeed if cat 5 ever exists as a real team in any club, but right now its still a club.

mkr said...

David, I think you are doing an awesome job with the Cat5's. That is exactly what the club needs. I'd like to see us getting a ride going on Tuesday nights, in conjunction with the ride I've been doing. Would also be good to get some crossover rides as well. My issue though is that I don't seem to have any team with which to race.