Drapac Train Gaining Speed
Drapac is getting closer to a milestone victory in the top U.S. race.
We talked with three of Drapac’s key riders – Will Clarke, Graeme Brown and Wouter Wippert – to take a closer look at rider roles and team tactics at the Amgen Tour of California:
Will “Big Horse” Clarke -- the Breakway Specialist
“Will’s always good to be in the break,” teammate Graeme Brown said. “He loves the breakaway.” Indeed, Clarke of Tasmania has been in two 100km-plus breakaways so far at this year’s Amgen Tour of California. In Stage 1, his SRAM RED 22 Quarq power meter revealed that he averaged a whopping 415 watts for more than 20 minutes to make the break – an effort equal to about 56 percent of 1 horsepower.
On Wednesday’s Stage 4, Clarke said it took about 20 kms of full-gas racing to establish the breakaway. “There’s a few ways to get into a move. I sort of waited for a break that was establishing, and then I jumped,” he said.
Clarke knows the breakaway had little chance of staying away until the finish, especially with strong teams including Etixx - Quick-Step motivated to chase. Yet, occasionally the big teams watch one another instead of work. He added that he also enjoys the “freedom” of the breakaway.
“So far most of my breakaway attempts haven’t ended the way I like,” he said. “I won a stage of the Tour Down Under a few years ago from the breakaway, so it’s about trying to do that again,” Clarke said. “It’s definitely tough for guys like me to get results that way, but you just keep trying.” Of course, the breakaway also affects the strategy in the peloton behind. Drapac was not responsible for the chase Wednesday because one of its own – Clarke – was up the road.
Graeme Brown – the Leadout Man
An accomplished sprinter himself for years with the Belkin and Rabobank teams, Graeme Brown joined Drapac to help build Drapac’s lead-out train around Wouter Wippert. “It also helps that I used to sprint… Now I’m guiding someone to do that. I think that makes a bit of a difference,” Brown said. “I know what I’d want and what I would want is probably what Wouter would want.”
Late in Wednesday’s Stage 4 race into Avila Beach, Brown found himself in a coveted position– on the wheel of superstar sprinter Mark Cavendish. “It was actually quite easy to stay on Cav’s wheel. He’s got a perfect lead-out train,” Brown said.
That kept Brown and Wippert near the front and took some pressure off the Drapac team in the final kilometers. However, with about 1k to go on Wednesday, Brown did need some help to finish off his leadout of Wippert, so Drapac teammate Travis Meyer sprinted up and provided a final pull for Brown. That move provided Brown with the brief recovery needed for his final leadout of Wippert.
Heading into the final technical corners of the stage, Brown could see that Wippert was a few wheels behind him so he held back just a bit to keep his sprinter close by. “I didn’t want to commit too early,” Brown said. As it turned out, Wippert ended up on Sagan’s wheel in the closing meters to finish second.
Pro field sprints look—and often are—chaotic, but Brown said he follows one unwritten rule for himself: “If there’s an established train there, you don’t break in on a train. At any stage of the race I don’t break in on an established train whether it’s the first kilometer or the last kilometer.”
Wouter Wippert – the Sprinter
Dutchman Wouter Wippert is still new to racing with Graeme Brown. Many top sprinters keep the same leadout man for years. Trust and communication is already building however between the men of the Drapac leadout train.
“Brownie is in the end the guy for the last kilometer. Before that we have Travis Meyer and Jordan Kerby. They try to keep us in front as long as possible, and with one kilometer to go Brownie takes over,” Wippert said. “Brownie knows what he’s doing so I’m just following Brownie and just say, ‘I’m fine here,’ or ‘just wait.’ And he communicates that to the guys in front of him and with 1 km to go I don’t have to say anything. He knows what he has to do, just drop me as far as possible in front.”
Equipment also comes into play. Drapac rides SRAM RED 22 components, uses Quarq power meters as well as Zipp wheels, bars, stems and seatposts. Wippert and Brown favor the Zipp 404 Firecrest front paired with a deep 808 Firecrest in the rear for optimum aero efficiency and stiffness.
Wippert’s second place in Avila Beach – in the teamwork behind it – confirmed Drapac as a threat in any pro sprint.