One of the coolest and most respected ways to win a bike race is from a breakaway. In the Tour de France, we see a breakaway almost daily, but it is a rare occasion when the break can hold off the field for the win. In single day races, breakaways seem to be more frequent but of a different nature â€” they are usually borne of a highly selective course or aggressive riding by the favorites.
This post will discuss the various points at which it is advantageous to begin a break.
The Early Move: a day long break can be a given in many races, and usually goes away within the first hour of racing. If racing is aggresive from the gun, expect that a move will be established within 15 minutes. This can begin with a multiple riders attacking together, or a lone rider gaining 10 seconds or so and attracting other riders across the gap to join him. Most favorites will prefer to stay in the main field at this point and let their lieutenants go into the break. For an early break to succeed against a committed chase, the general rule of thumb is a minute advantage per 10k left to race will provide the necessary buffer against the more rapid rate of chase from the main field. Special bonus attacking styles: the casual roll of the front just by putting it in a harder gear, or the pee-tack where you fake going up the road for a quick pee break, and then just keep going.
The Late Move: this type of move usually occurs by a solo or small group of riders (2-5) in the closing kilometers (final 10k). The modus operandi here is surprise. If sprinters teams are setting up lead-outs for their riders, jumping away on a climb, descent, or around a twisty course and gaining a rapid 20 second advantage can give you the edge in confusion, which is perhaps enough to just eke out a win. Oscar Friere snuck away on a descent with 9k to go in last years Amstel Gold race and wound up fourth â€” he was only caught just at the finish line. In US criterium racing, attacking just before a corner or technical section in the closing laps sometimes creates enough of a gap to hold on for the win. Special Bonus attacking style: push a big gear at the end of a downhill to use momentum and drafting to slingshot off the front with less effort.
Making a Selection: This is the kind of move that we will see in both professional and amateur spring racing in the US and Europe. This is the hardest type of breakaway to become a part of, and the most satisfying when done right. Knowing the course and your competitors is key here. In a flat windy course, we have seen well-executed team riding cause massive splits as the race turns into a cross wind. Alternatively, in races like Flanders, breaks tend to be forged on the more difficult climbs. The point here is that when you know or sense that everyone in the field is on the rivet, this is the ideal time to create a break. When you are suffering like a dog, this is the ideal time to strike, because you know that others will be suffering just as much or worse. This is when you must have confidence in your fitness. Once you pry open a small gap, after a few minutes, the effort must reduce from anaerobic to aerobic, freezing the race in a status quo. Often, in the last hour of a race, small gaps of 10-20 seconds can persist for the remainder of the race, as both the break and remaining chaser are equal in capacity. The key here is that fortune favors the bold â€” attack at the right time and you will place the burden of not losing onto the other riders. Special bonus attacking style: Attack on the flat after the top of the hill â€” people will not have recovered yet, but will have let up mentally.
This post will be presented in series. Part 2 will be about how to ride in the break, and part 3 will be about how to finish the race off with a win!