TdF Guides: Cross-winds and echelons

The low-down on cross-winds

Last updated: 30th June 2011

An ever-present danger on flat and exposed sections of road, cross winds are loved and feared in equal measure. Where some pre-race favourites dread the possibility of being caught out by the gusts, other riders see opportunity to put the cat among the pigeons and split an unsuspecting peloton to pieces.

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Stages along coastal roads are often susceptible to winds blowing across the roads. A bunch can be riding comfortably only to turn a corner and immediately be placed under pressure.

Being buffeted by wind is not a pleasant feeling on a bike, so it is no surprise that riders will seek refuge from the gust behind the nearest object they can, the rider closest to them. This creates the formation of what is known commonly as an echelon.

Quite simply the riders fan out across the road in a line with their front wheel over-lapping the rear of the rider in front of them. This shields the riders from the wind as it blows across the road, with the man at the very front of the group taking the brunt of the gust. That rider will do his turn and will then peel off and begin to file to the back of the group, creating what looks distinctly like a conveyer-belt from the air. Each rider will do a short, sharp turn and then rotate in what has become the most effective way of dealing with the difficult conditions.

A well-drilled group can use this to their advantage when it comes to placing their rivals under pressure. Anticipation is half the battle, with teams moving to the head of affairs so as not to be distanced. If a break forms in the peloton it can be almost impossible for riders to close down the gap. This often leads to a number of small groups strewn out across the road. In these situations experience can be key in learning to read the conditions and being on the front foot.

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