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Team Pursuit : Walking The Line

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Knowledge level: Beginner

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Article posted: 02/01/2013

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Two nations, eight riders, sixteen laps, fastest team wins, simple! That is the team pursuit. When you are cycling at 30 miles per hour, with the crowd roaring you on, and with no cycle computer to tell you how fast you are riding, how do you know if you are riding at the right pace to win?

The simple answer is the coach.

In the team pursuit, the coach controls the pace through a process called walking the line. In the months leading up to the Olympic Games the coach, performance analyst, and senior management will have decided what pace will be needed to win Olympic gold in London. This ‘schedule’, as it is called will have determined the training undertaken by the riders, with many sessions simulating race pace, so the riders can adapt.

But surely the team pursuit is a race against another team? Ultimately it is, but in a team pursuit there is nothing more you can do than ride to your own schedule. By focussing on the other country, your team may be drawn into a pace which is too slow, or that is too fast, too early.

The problem with setting your pace against your rival is that a slower initial pace can lead to a fast finish which may not suit your team. Riding too fast, too early, may lead to riders becoming fatigued and losing contact with their team. In men’s pursuiting the team’s time is taken on the third team member of four to cross the finish line. So it is always preferable to keep the team together for as long as possible.

Walking the line

Communicating verbally with riders in a stadium of 6000 screaming spectators is almost impossible. So, if the coach is unable to speak to the riders then the only option is visual communication.

Walking the line is actually very simple; the coach stands on the pursuit line and takes steps either up or down the track. Steps away from the riders indicate a time ahead of schedule. While steps towards the riders means the team is behind their schedule.

Each lap the coach will record the team's time and compare it to the schedule; one step away means they are 1 tenth of a second up on schedule, 2 steps away, two tenths of second. If the coach steps one step towards the riders that means they are a tenth of a second down, two steps means they are two tenths down. If the riders are riding on schedule then the coach will not move.

They may also strike their hand down on the line to indicate the pacing is spot on. The coach will make their steps as the team enters the straight, so it is the job of the lead rider at that time to watch for the signal.

Concentrating solely on your own time, rather than the opposition has another benefit. Great Britain sometimes beat other countries by seconds rather than tenths of seconds. If team GB were two seconds ahead then the other countries’ coach would have to walk 20 paces down the track for their riders to realise that they were two seconds adrift. Walking the line could become jogging or even running the line! Quite a spectacle, but not the best way of communicating with riders.

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