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The Rwanda Cycling Cup national race series saw what was a welcome change in my view. A shift away from long form point to point road races to shorter legs ending in circuits, or, just circuit races outright. I’ve heard quite a few people voicing concerns that this style of racing is inferior to the longer format.
In principal they are not wrong, strictly speaking. But in the context of Rwandan cycling as it is in its current iteration, the long form road races are actually problematic. In Rwanda almost all of our roads are hilly. While this does make the race challenging, it reduces the tactical nature of the race significantly reducing the effect of drafting and the size of the field usually quite early on. What this does is create a race of attrition that typically rewards a largely aerobic ability over 4 or 5 hours. These races end up being remarkably similar to a training exercise in one of our training camps, minus the motor pacing of course. The lack of tactical challenge and the absence of a clear pinch point that decides the race means that 9 times out of 10 the winners are simply the ones that lasted the longest. This is certainly a component of what makes a good bike racer, but it is only one component, and it is fairly simple to train.
On to the circuits. These races provide a different kind of challenge and result in a different, more dynamic kind of racing. More corners challenge athletes skills, shorter circuits, often slightly less challenging than the open road keeps the peloton together longer. The winners that emerge and the athletes that excel at this type of racing are better bike handlers, tactically inclined, and possess a greater racing acumen that often would go unused in the longer format. This style of racing also requires higher, more polarized power outputs which are a greater indicator of success in the international peloton than the sub-threshold extended efforts of the long road races. In fact, the athlete good at 5 hour sub threshold efforts often is not suited at all to the demands of actual professional bike racing
What all this means is that the shift to more circuit style racing brings out a much improved setting for young athletes to truly learn how to race bikes. It also provides me, as a coach, with much more valuable observations that can actually translate up to the next level.
The long form has its place and its value without question, but it will take some time for the size of our peloton to grow to the numbers that would create a dynamic race. We need to see fields of 60, 70, or 100 and multiple teams capable of contributing to the race. Our fields have been growing slowly, but the number of athletes actually capable of influencing the race are still few. So in short, the circuits are a welcome format purely from a cost benefit analysis considering where Rwandan cycling is in its development. Lastly, I think the circuits provide more energy to the environment, the public can watch a race unfold for hours rather than seeing it go by once or twice. This educates the public a little bit about how bike racing works as well.
I hope that sheds some light on our national series and persuades the naysayers to enjoy the format.