What is Negative Cycling Racing?

What is Negative Cycling Racing?

We've recently gotten questions around what the term "Negative Racing" refers to, and it opens up a larger Pandora's Box discussion of the motivation of riders/teams vs. viewers/punters.

Essentially it boils down to riders and teams marking and closing attacks instead of trying to initiate attacks or move up positions.

For example, if you’re 5th in the General Classification (GC) closing a attack by someone around you in GC but not attempting to move up in the standings would be deemed "negative racing". In the past, Movistar has been an extreme culprit of this tactic.

One might argue that

Isn't this just what you should be doing as a GC rider? I would think you'd want to only mark guys who are a threat to you, subtract the people who the rider knows they could never beat.

But if you were racing, and not negative racing, you could try to attack riders 1-4, instead of marking attacks by riders 6-10. Imagine Pogačar, who's the epitomy of a positive racer. If he was stuck in fifth, and 1-4 were all extremely good riders (Wout, Vingegaard, MVDP etc.) he'd still attempt attacks. That's why Pogačar is generally so fun to watch, and also a relatively safe Each Way bet.

From a viewers (and sometimes punter's perspective) it's frustrating the point at which rider's and teams begin to negative race. Obviously nobody is defending 111th on GC vs. 112th. But most viewers would argue (and definitely punters with Each Way bets), if you're off the podium, it doesn't matter. So if you're currently 5th, and you can make a move that gives a 10% chance of T3, or 90% chance of falling to 8th, you should go for it. because 8th (to most of us) isn't that much worse than 5th, but 3rd is a lot better.

The big detraction from a viewing perspective is that guys 4-8 often mark and neutralize each other, which makes life much easier for 1-3. If the guys on the virtual podium (the term for the current podium standings in a live race) needed to worry about more attacks, then racing would be in general more dynamic.

But if rider 6 attacks and rider 4 closes him, that's just more time when 1-3 aren't being leant on and building up reserves for any attack that may happen down the line.

To viewers and punters alike, it's frustrating when a stage goes from

"Holy moly, Roglič is isolated with 8km to go!!!"

to after the end of the race saying

"Wow, how come Vlasov and Almeida chased attacks for 7km and gave Roglič a free ride to the finish line?"

And it's because incentives differ. Sometimes it makes sense for each team to negative race, especially since we don't know all their individual and team incentives.

But it's just less fun to watch. And also less fun for punter's wallets (as it generally increases the domination of the big teams who have less favourable odds).

So it's worth keeping in mind that your incentives as a viewer and punter may not line up with that of the rider and team. However frustrating that is.