Not all descents are created equal. Some allow people that are crazy skilled – and plain crazy – to go faster than others.
On the other hand, some are just wide open roads that don’t turn much.
These, like headwinds, provide an interesting dynamic with a bunch of cyclists – it feels excellent being in the bunch, but terrible outside it.
Attacking on a straight descent generally isn’t the key to an effective race plan. Pedalling ‘in the wind’ downhill is much harder than flat because the wind resistance is so much higher than usual.
This, plus the fact that the efficiency of drafting downhill increases greatly, makes the idea of attacking seem illogical.
There’s a fantastic irony that descending brings to a bike race. It’s a ripe time for someone struggling at the back to rediscover the front end of the peloton by combining drafting with skill or a fraction of insanity.
The bunch develops some degree of fresh legs, but the increased difficulty to attack provides a sort of sensory deception – good feelings, highly challenging prospects. What we end up with is a situation where attacking isn’t only more difficult, but more frequent.
A descending cyclist that doesn’t connect the dots between their form and motivation is going to attack here. It’s what makes cycling so full of panache and passion, and it spits out the pips relentlessly.
Remember that a descending peloton has an endless stock of fresh riders. The slingshot effect from high-speed drafting, the recovery aspect of pedalling not being required, the added motivation a rider denotes from feeling fresh and strong again – these are all factors that don’t just add to the desire to attack, but fuel the chase.
The fact that Taylor Phinney attacked downhill in California last week and ended up soloing to victory didn’t only serve to remind us all that rules are meant to be broken, but illustrated that a sleeping bunch is ready to be plundered at all times. Timing is everything, and the man who knows how good he thinks he is capitalised on that moment.
We saw a specific descending gradient that required an organised chase from a tired bunch of riders, and a man who needed to show up fellow track-pursuiter Rohan Dennis’ victory from the day before.
If that wasn’t enough, we saw the bow. Yes, the man who truly knows how good he thinks he is allowed us to cheer his majestic feat while he modestly bowed.
It’s great, this whole cycling thing. We get sensory perception (Rene Descartes), majestic feats on a daily basis, and lycra-clad expressions of Evel Knievel too.