Coach Sam Bassetti recently returned from North Carolina where he picked up a huge win at the Winston-Salem Cycling Classic. In this post we’ll take an in-depth look at the horsepower and tactical savvy it takes to win one of the biggest races in the country.
Nate – The Winston-Salem Classic bills itself as one of the most prestigious professional cycling events in the country. Can you help us understand why this race is such a big deal? What does UCI 1.1 mean exactly?
Sam – The UCI is the international governing body of cycling. The rank of an event determines who is eligible to compete, and how many UCI points the race is worth. The first number tells you whether the race is multiple days (2.x), or one day (1.x) The second number tells you the ranking of the race, x.2 x.1 x.HC (hors categorie) or x.UWT (world tour). There are only eight UCI races in the United States and Winston Salem is the only 1.1. The only races ranked higher are Tour of California, Tour of Utah and Tour of Colorado. The ranking of this race means that there are a lot of UCI points on the line, and that the field is very competitive, only professional teams are allowed to compete.
Nate – You came into this race with a ton of momentum off your success at Redlands a few weeks prior. Can you explain what your individual mindset was leading into this race, in addition to the overall team strategy?
Sam – I knew that this was a race that suited my abilities based off of the course profile, the style of one day racing, and the results of the race in the past. I had a lot of confidence in my fitness after Redlands. In my head I believed I was one of the top 10 riders who could win the race.
Our team strategy had two main components. We split the race up based on time, and used specific riders to cover moves depending on how far into the race we were. We had picked out around 10 riders that were capable of winning the race. Our three riders best suited to the day were tasked with making sure nothing got away with these riders, and to start following dangerous moves around the 2-2.5 hour mark. This meant that I had nothing to do for the first 2 hours unless a dangerous rider decided to attack.
Nate – A move has been up the road for about 10 minutes. What was your thought process in choosing when and where to bridge?
Sam – There were a few signals that told me it was time to start racing. Our director had pegged the 2-2.5 hour mark as a sort of break point for the field based on the difficulty of the race. Any break with good team representation was dangerous at this point.
Two laps before the break went, the field split into multiple groups over the top of the steep finishing climb. This told me that the field was starting to lose some snap, and that there would soon be fewer riders with the legs to make those hard efforts that tend to weld the field back together. One lap before the break went, two of the favorites for the day attacked on the climb.
Thanks to the work of my teammates early in the race, I had not covered a single attack all day. I was mentally and physically ready to race. I was at the front of the field and watched the break first slip away, and knew that there were some good riders from several of the better teams represented. The break dangled for the next 5k or so, most attempts to go across fizzled out fairly quickly.
Going into the steep finishing climb, the break had around 15-20 seconds. I had positioned myself near the front of the field in preparation for the climb. I knew that there were basically two options at this point. One, someone rides the climb full gas and brings the break back for a reshuffle (unlikely based on the composition of the break and the way the field was racing the last 5k). Two, the field sits up on the climb and this becomes “the” break.
With all this in mind, I decided to bridge on the climb. I attacked at the bottom and made the junction by the top, setting a 40 second power record in the process. At the time, the bridge felt “easy” and I knew then that I was on a good day.
Nate – You’ve successfully bridged to the group up the road but you’ve still got about 2 hours left in the race. What did you think your chances of staying away were and why?
Sam – I thought that our chances were good, but not guaranteed by any stretch. At this point all the best teams were represented and everyone was working. However, the break never got more than over 1 minute and there were still a number of favorites who would surely try to bridge later in the race. I still rode with the belief that the break would stick, rolling through but not driving the move unnecessarily.
Nate – What was your fueling strategy for what turned out to be a 4 hour race?
My fueling was the same basically the entire day. I started eating early, and did not stop until my pockets were empty. I was consuming a package of blocks, a gel, and a bottle with mix each hour. This came out to about 90 grams of carbs per hour. (Note – For more info on specific carbohydrate guidelines during a ride/race check out our post on fueling – Nate)
Nate – Eventually your break gets whittled down to four riders as you reach the top of the final climb. What’s going through your head as you realize the 4 of you have a chance to stay away? Are you thinking of a specific place on the course you might attack or are you simply in survival mode?
Sam – As we approached the last climb I am prepared to follow an attack at the bottom, and ride the entire climb flat out. I know that I do not need to attack here, I just need to make it to the top with the front group. After the climb I know that this is the winning group. Anyone who can’t make the group on that climb will not be coming back in the last 2k.
At this point I don’t have anything planned for the finish, I just know that I need to come around the final corner first wheel. I also need to make sure that no one sneaks away in the last 2k. Colin Joyce is easily the most dangerous rider in the group at this point, he is the one who split the group on the last climb. He probably beats me 5/10 times in a one on one sprint.
Nate – As you’re coming into the last few K, can you walk us through the final sequence of attacks leading to the finish?
Sam – I take a short pull over the top of the climb to make sure no one catches back on. We all cooperate for a couple minutes. Colin (Rally) is the first to attack, and I cover him immediately. As soon as he eases off I counter over top of him. I countered because going to the line without Colin in the group is my ideal scenario, I feel that he is the only one in the group that can beat me in a sprint.
The group closes my attack down fairly quickly, and Fabian (Holowesko) goes over the top of me. Colin and Diego (Inteja) are gapped here so I dig to get back onto Fabians wheel. Fabian backs off when he sees that I am on his wheel and we both spread out for a moment and look at each other. I can see that Colin and Diego are still trying to make it up to us so I go one last time and get a gap into the first left turn that begins the series of finishing corners. They can’t bring me back at this point and I cross the line with a gap.
Nate – You eventually launch your final attack from about 800m. Not coincidently this is about the distance you assumed your lead out position and eventually won at Redlands. Can you help us understand why this “distance from the finish” is a specific strength of yours? Why not just wait until you’re closer to the finish to sprint for the win?
Longer sprints have always been a strength of mine, efforts in the 30 second to 1 minute range are some of my best in terms of power. While this was a factor, the tactics of the last 1.5k were also really important. At 800m to go, Diego and Colin were gapped, and Fabian had just used a big match with his attack. Also, if I can get a gap at this point, anyone who commits hard enough to close that gap is probably giving up their chance of winning the sprint.
Waiting for the sprint was a risk in this situation. Under the best conditions, in a sprint that suits me against Colin, it’s probably a 50/50 toss up. And at the end of a very hard road race, I wasn’t sure I could beat him.
Nate – Race winning attacks always get the most attention but can you describe two other critical tactical decisions earlier in the race that enabled you to be in a position to take the win?
Sam – The decision to bridge to the break was the most important of the race. You can’t win if you are not in the winning move to begin with! Second would be the way that I rode the break in general. I rode the break just to survive and to make it to the bottom of the last climb in front of any splits that happened. The break actually briefly split three or four times in the last two hours before coming back together. I made every split but did not waste energy driving anything. I knew that I could win as long as no one got away from the break before the last climb.
Nate – What’s your preferred post race win beverage? Light or dark beer? Please tell me it’s dark.
Sam – I’ll drink whatever they give me on the podium, no discrimination.
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