A few months ago while telling me about a race from a few years ago former national champion Brooke Miller was describing a race scenario and I made an offhand comment that her PhD work which had to do with sexual mating habits of banana slugs. Miller’s work employed some game theory mechanics to analyze aspects of sexual conflict of these slimey buggers. Anyway… my grasp of game theory is limited to a few concepts like the Prisoners Dilemma, Zero Sum Games, and a few other random tidbits. Miller blew off the comparison (nicely mind her) and said the facet of game theory she found that really applied was image score.
Given this is a blog I’m going to try and stumble through a quick explanation which i can correct later since the internet is a-w-e-s-o-m-e! Actually…i’m just going to crib it from another website…
If you watch one individual helping another, you can allot him or her one point of image score; but if you witness the individual refusing to help, withdraw one point. Then, when you are asked to help, you will cooperate if your partner’s score is high — otherwise, you defect (that is, you don’t cooperate). Strategies can be more or less discriminating according to their ‘score cut’. For example, a ‘cooperative’ strategy has a score cut of zero or less, meaning that the individual then cooperates with other individuals on their first interaction. [Gametheory.net]
Criteriums tend to be less inclined to reward the long endurance fitness of big tour riders and more likely to benefit riders who are aggressive, quick, and tactically sharp. Cycling is unusual in sports in that there are cooperative strategies that can be deployed by individuals and teams to help achieve victory. Developing a cooperative strategy in a crit requires a willingness to put oneself at risk. This willingness to loose, and desire to win big, is exhibited by an attacking racing style common in successful riders like Brooke Miller, Rand Miller, Brian Bosch, and current elite criterium champion Steve Reaney. Talent and fitness are necessary, but success also requires good judgement and persistence. They exhibit a riding style that is exciting, aggressive, and is a style of racing that riders coming up through the ranks should aspire to emulate. I’m a spectator… i want an exciting race.
Rand Miller is a good example of how baseline fitness (or so he claims – I’m sure he’s a secret trainer) and a good image score can put a rider on the podium multiple times. Stronger riders will join his attempts since they think they can beat him, but know he will help drive a break, and weaker riders may join him thinking he will tow them to the finish. Rand can sit in the middle and if he chooses wisely he can help insert himself into a winning situation with variables odds that will be better than trying to sprint out of a pack. His own selectivity in finding the right mix of riders has been honed through trial an error, and with the help of teammates, risk is removed by the ability of other riders to cover moves through out the race.
Brooke Miller herself was a national criterium and road champion. While she was an excellent athlete her ability to synthesize risk, and use image score as a way of assessing race scenarios helped make her one of the top women cyclists in the United States. This skill set might be natural for some racers but it often appears that \ there are way to many riders who are happy to just “finish” a race. The top races opt for a different route, a path of experimentation and frequent failure in an attempt to find compatriots and create a positive image within the peloton.
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