Greg Van Avermaet is a great crosswind rider. Even when a team manages to catch him off guard he will still make the front. He can sprint for 400–500m, find room in the echelon he has just missed and settle back in. Because he is so good, once he is in the line he might be high zone 3 (75-82 percent of maximum heart rate) when the rest are on the limit. He’s an awesome bike handler and can read a bike race like no one else… Here are some tips on how to ace it like the man himself.
Do your homework
In windy conditions it’s important to know the roads and do your homework on wind direction and slight changes in road direction. This is vital when leaving towns and areas sheltered by trees. There will be points where everyone knows it will split and really it’s just a bunch sprint for the corner. A classic example was the World Road Championships in Doha in 2016.
Be on your guard and ride in a position that you can always get into a sprint and push the wind if needed. Make the front suffer for five minutes, then it will settle down. Crosswinds involve three accelerations: two at the front, which are easy to roll through, and a hard one to get back in line at the back of the echelon. The third you can’t get wrong as you’re at the back of the group.
In-the-seat power is crucial to powering through a crosswind, as is anticipating what kind of power you will need. The surges and sprints are so high that you can’t afford to make any mistakes, as most riders only have a few of these high-end efforts in them while still recovering at zone 3 or zone 4.
You may be moving up the echelon at zone 3/4 and going through the front at zone 5 or higher, so you have to time it just right to swing across onto the wheel and not lose momentum. Get it wrong and you either overlap the wheel or lose one bike length, and it takes forever to close. You may even lose contact with the front group.
The sprint or acceleration onto the back of the echelon can be more important depending on the speed of the group. If you are moving at 50-60kph and get it wrong then it’s goodbye. What can be an easy flick onto a wheel, can turn into a 10-second max effort sprint and then you’ll never recover. If you were to get four or five wrong in a row, it’s game over. This is the worst feeling, especially when the hard work’s been done, and it’s often just a lack of concentration.
The tighter the group, the faster it moves. This is why you see sprinters and powerful riders in front groups. You have to be touching the rider in front and always watching five to ten people ahead, which is why you also see the most skilful bike handlers in the front group. But the team is everything. A team of good riders can beat the strongest in the world by forcing a gap and keeping things super-smooth and looking out for each other with good communication.
The golden rule
In-the-seat accelerations are the key if you have a good base of everything else. Learning to ride really close to other riders is also imperative, as is not being afraid to force yourself into a good spot. It’s always easier to pull through in the echelon, unless you are a master of crosswinds. Even then, you will get caught out once in a while.