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Well, it is Tour time, and I´m taking this opportunity to look at one of the most fascinating technical aspects of pro racing – the art of the lead-out. And what better time to do it than right now, at the beginning of the Tour de France, so you can sit back and watch the adrenaline-charged sprint finishes, with a deeper understanding of the game of chess that is playing out on the road.
The idea of the designated lead-out man is something that has only really gained traction in the pro peloton in the modern era, and in that time, we have seen some incredibly talented lead-out riders, that put aside their own winning aspirations and built their careers on leading out others for the win. I spoke to some of the biggest names in the game – Mark Renshaw, Michael Morkov, Brett Lancaster, Koen de Kort, Roger Kluge, and Freddie Rodriguez. They have worked with some of the most successful sprinters of the modern era – Mark Cavendish, Robbie McEwen, Andre Greipel, and Alessandro Petacchi, to name just a few.
The depth of experience with the riders in this episode is exceptional, and I wanted to find out how they had become lead-out riders, what the evolution was like, from trying to win races themselves, to suddenly finding themselves leading out others for the win. It was interesting to hear about how quickly this change can happen and about the necessity of finding your niche in the peloton which is so important to the longevity of your career.
The lead out is a role where you don´t get the big accolades, and you don´t get to stand on the top step yourself, but you can get plenty of recognition and job satisfaction for playing an important role in winning big races, and that was something that really came across for all of these riders - how accepting your role in the team and leaning into it, can become even more satisfying than vying for smaller wins yourself.
I wanted to ask some big questions: when you find yourself in the lead with 200m to go, how tempting is it to go for the win yourself, and why does a sprinter even need a lead-out? There were some fascinating insights into the split-second decisions, the adrenaline rush, the importance of trusting your lead out, calculating risks, and learning to switch off your mind in order to get the job done, the sacrifices that are made when you ride in service of another rider that gets the glory of winning, and what is it like working with these typically very explosive personalities.
I had a lot of fun putting this episode together and I loved hearing about the intricacies of the lead-out, and I hope you get plenty out of it to take into your TDF watching this year!
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