Monday, February 28, 2011

Points Racing 101

As I mentioned in my last post, cyclists seem to thrive on predictability.  So, it's understandable that when Rutgers Cycling, overcoming tremendous obstacles, opted to host a points race, there was quite a bit of griping on the part of racers expecting a traditional circuit.

I, for one, am pretty amped up about the points race.  To me, one of the best aspects of collegiate cycling is the ability to participate in types of races you would otherwise shy away from.  So, with that in mind, I turned to Chris Miller, Yale Cycling's resident track rider, to explain points racing.  Here is his wisdom:

I hope everyone is as excited about this as I am, because it is going to be awesome!  I raced a couple seasons of track a while ago, and I concentrated on these sorts of races.
What is this points race, you might ask?  Answer:  a points race is a race around a circuit, but unlike a crit or a circuit or a road race, the winner isn't necessarily the person who crosses the finish line first; rather, he or she is the rider who has accumulated the most points over the course of a race.  Like a crit, a points race is a race often defined by time, e.g. 40 minutes plus 5 laps.  All of this may sound dull, but the fun comes in when you realize how points are awarded:
In a sample points race, officials will award the following:
  • 20 points for lapping the field,
  • -20 points for being lapped by the field,
  • Points for winning each sprint (5-4-3-2-1 awarded five deep) occurring every five laps.  
  • Points for winning the final sprint (5-4-3-2-1 awarded five deep)
When you lap the field or get lapped, you are no longer considered ahead or behind the field, and you sprint with everybody else for sprint points the next time they come up.  This means it may serve you to delay regrouping with the pack, or time your attack to rack up both lapping and sprint points.  I once lost my win by misjudging a rider behind me who I thought wouldn't be able to chase me down as I lapped the field.  He did, but he was fat and it took him a while, and by taking a while, he racked up the sprint points for two sprint laps. 
So, you may think criteriums are tactical.  Points races are far more so.  You have to continually evaluate every rider's strength, do dynamic arithmetic for all the race leaders (this math is the hard part for me - I once thought I won, threw up my hands, and realized I'd added wrong), gauge whether you should close the gap as you are lapping the field vs. whether you can hold out alone for another minute to sweep up the sprint points before rejoining the group.  Ideally, the course in two weeks will be short, with people lapping each other left and right.  This makes for a fast, exciting race.  
Consider letting a sprint go, and then attacking to lap the field when everyone else is tanked.  Consider bluffing and testing the riders around you.  You want to know how they stand, and you don't want to show your cards.
Finally, reasons you should keep up on other riders' points:
1.  You don't want to work if you don't have to.  Don't waste yourself in a sprint if the riders around you aren't in contention for the ultimate win that you are in a far better scoring place for.  

2.  You want to attack with riders strong enough to lap the field with you, but who aren't in contention for the win. 
3.  If you do attack with riders in contention with you, think of blocking them out of a sprint later, because it's not only how well you do, but how badly they do, that counts.
4.  Same as 1-3, above, but with respect to second, third, fourth place, etc., once you've dropped out of contention for the win.
As I said above, this is going to be awesome.  In closing, I convey my hope that all of you (1) wear your skinsuits, and (2) ride with rage in your hearts (but not so much rage that it clouds your fifth grade arithmetical abilities).  In lieu of (2) I will also accept "thoroughly enjoy a novel and dynamic form of bicycle racing and come out smiling from how crazy fun it was."
Okay.  Bye.

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