Last man lag

I learned this from Fields and the Dickson brothers. In bike racing it’s often called “taking someone off the back.” It has a lot of variants and is a key bike racing skill.

Here’s the way it works: There is someone in the break who you don’t want to be there. Sometimes the rider is a threat. Other times he is a lame wheelsuck who can only make it to the line by doing zero work in the break. Still other times he is just a weak blabbermouth.

In the traditional last man lag, you drift to the back, where LW is sipping tea, and you open up a gap. LW notices the gap, then sprunts around. It’s the only effort he has done all day, or intends to do. He latches back on and resumes his wheelsucking. Of course when he sprunts by, you grab his wheel so he tows you up to the group.

You then reshuffle yourself in the break so that LW is again on your wheel. You open up a gap, again. LW sprunts by to close the gap, and tows you back up. Now LW knows what’s up and he’s winded, huffing and puffing. Sometimes, LW is so dumb that he doesn’t even know what’s going on.

You reshuffle again, get in front of LW, and open up a gap a third time. This time, though LW is mad. “Fuck you!” he either says, thinks, or both. Now he has decided not to close the gap. The gap opens, and opens, and opens. Pretty soon LW realizes that if he doesn’t do something, the race is over. But it’s too far for him to close the gap because he’s a lame wheelsuck. You then kick it hard, drop LW, motor back up to the break, and he’s gone.

The key to making last man lag work is that you have to be strong enough to close the gap. Alternatively, you have to be content with simply drifting all the way back to the peloton or the chase group. The key is to neutralize LW, to get him out of the break because he doesn’t belong there. Last man lag is always accompanied by lots of histrionics, shoutypantsing, and mean words, which you are duty bound to ignore. What makes last man lag so painful is that it exposes LW’s complete weakness, and therefore you don’t want to try it with someone who is better than you. They will simply let you drift way off the back, then come around you so hard that you’re the one who gets dropped, and they will happily reattach.

A second version of last man lag, and by far the more emotionally painful one for LW, is the disruptive non-rotation.

In this version, you refuse to rotate through. LW and others will shout at you and get very angry. Don’t worry, though, it’s bike racing, and the iron rule of breakaways is this: If you can’t drop a rider out of the break, you can’t drop a rider out of the break.

Once the frustration reaches a pitch, someone will start attacking in order to get rid of you. This part can be briefly painful, because you’ve targeted LW and want to make sure that he’s not part of the final mix, and you may have to actually exert yourself as you follow LW, who is going to try and not get dropped. LW is typically a clueless dunderhead and has no idea that any of this is transpiring. A better scenario is that he is a 99% clueless dunderhead, knows what’s happening, and knows he can’t do anything about it.

LW or the other breakmates will cover the move and you will resume your non-rotating, engendering more shoutypantsing. Sometimes it even takes the form of wheedling. For example, LW, who hates your fucking guts, will sweetly say, “Come on, buddy, just rotate through.” It’s important that even though you want to get off your bike and laugh hysterically, you maintain your poker face and refuse to work.

The anger pitch resumes, along with the attacks. The attacks are of course the one thing that LW can’t respond to, so gaps open up. In the melee you have to get on LW’s wheel, which is like taking candy from a baby. Once you’re there, you’re golden, as he will pedal mightily, jersey zipper popping as his tummy jiggles hither and yon, yearning to be free.

Then LW will do the elbow flick of the century and swing over. You will swing over with him. Under no circumstances will you pull. He will say some unkind things about your mother. About your childhood. About your lack of manliness. But no matter, because you and he are now off the back with one or two other riders and the race is up the road.

The key to making this version of last man lag work is silence and 100% fixation on LW’s rear wheel, because in addition to swerving, taking you to the curb, and trying to knock you down, he will also make one super-human effort to get back up to the break. Of course because he is LW and the jump will immediately deflate and peter out, this move will fail–you just want to make sure that you don’t get gapped out and actually have to pedal.

After a while you will either go back to the field, or better yet, get lapped. LW will be so angry that he goes slower and slower until, if you’ve played your cards perfectly, you’ll both be pedaling at about 5 mph. LW will really lay into you then. But the insults will be confused and jumbled and sound like the playground taunts of that kid in third grade who was really bad at spelling. DO NOT LAUGH. Just keep pedaling until the race ends or you get pulled.

The payback to being DFL with LW is of course the hilarity and mirth that result when you regale your teammates with the details after the race. It will be something to giggle and laugh about for weeks, if not months, and if it happens in a training race where you don’t have to pay an entry fee, and if LW is especially lame, you can do it again, and again, and again, taking turns with other riders in successive weeks.

So there.

Don’t say you never learned anything here about bike racing.


6 thoughts on “Last man lag”

  1. ‘Been on both sides of that equation. As frustrating as it is to be on the losing side, being the instrument of LW’s demise engenders a certain amount of pride. Shows I actually learned something.

  2. Westwood criterium 77 or 78. Junior race. The Lemond is in a break wth or five and attempts to take Mark Whitehead off the back, just as you have described …Greg gets him off the back but he can’t shake the Meat, despite launching several times to try to reclaim the break. So, like a good soldier, LeMond dangles between the break and the pack, and gets 5th or something , showing there was one way to beat the Meat.

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