After winning, how to breakaway in cycling is one of the hardest things that many riders never learn to excel at. Getting in a break requires strength and endurance but also the skills and mental intuition to read the race and know when the precise moments to attack and follow are. Many new to racing find breaking away and tactics frustrating but if you know a little bit on how to read a race and when best to play your cards, you will not only enjoy it but also excel at it.
Variables to Consider for Breakaways
There are a number of variables to account for on how tobreakaway in a bike race. The first is race length. The longer the race, the more likely a break will be allowed to get away as there is more time for the riders in the lead to tire and the peloton to catch them. Often times in shorter races it’s difficult for a break to get away and if it does, everyone is motivated to keep it on a short leash.
The next variable to consider is terrain. If the race is mostly flat and not excessively windy the peloton will often allow a break to form and gain a bit more time as the speed of the peloton toward the end of a race will simply eat up the break before the finish line. If it is a bit more hilly or mountainous even, it is difficult for a field to effectively chase so if there is a break the time gap won’t be allowed to go up very much.
When to Breakaway in Cycling
Considering the above variables, breakaways are most likely to form in the beginning of a race while later in a race no one wants to let anyone get away in fear that they won’t catch them before the finish. The difficulty in getting into a breakaway at thebeginning of a race is that everyone is fresh and can follow attacks.
How to Breakaway
Often times the break that does get away isn’t the one that goes really fast but is the one that just slips up the road and no one really feels like closing the wheels or chasing. Because of this, to get in a breakaway, you not only need to follow the moves that go when it’s hard but also the ones that just seem to slip away.
To do this you first need to be a strong enough rider to follow attack after attack and wiseenough to know which attacks to follow. Whether strong or weaker you should never hit your maximum when trying to get in a break. Always leave some in reserve as the likelihood of your break succeeding is small and when you do get brought back you are going to have to go again without much recovery.
Depending on your tactics and team’s tactics if you have one, you should never be the one attacking but always the one following. The best way to do this is to be near the front and sides of the peloton so you can get out. Once one or two riders have a ten or so second gap, either bridge across solo or follow the next rider who goes to bridge across. This is the best scenario as a lot of the time you will get a free ride to the break without expending too much energy. By watching the riders around you and looking for telltale signs such as moving to get an opening out or shifting down to accelerate, you can have a heads up when someone is about to attack.
The best attack whether it is the original move or a chase to bridge is the one that is started from ten or more riders back as it gives you time to accelerate and pass the lead riders with speed. When this happens the other riders can’t immediately get on your wheel because they’re going 5mph slower and when they hesitate as well it can give you just enough of a gap for them to realize that it is going to take a hard effort to close it and so they just stay where they are.
Also the best time to do this is immediately after a breakaway is brought back as often times there will be a bit of a lull in the field and a bit of a delay to anyone wanting to chase right away again. Also, never be the one to attack on a downhill unless you’re just trying to roll off the front as it’s easy for everyone to follow. By learning how to breakaway you’ll learn that the best time to attack is an uphill or flat section out of a turn after everyone rides hard to close any gaps.
Gauging your Effort in a Breakaway
Now that you know how to breakaway and make it into the break, hopefully with a few other riders to trade in the workload, you need to gauge how hard you are going to go. This depends on a few factors such as if you’re just riding to be in the breakaway and it doesn’t matter where you finish or if you need to conserve your energy so you can get a result in the race whether the break is caught or not. Typically when the break first has a descent gap of 100 to 300 meters, everyone is going to want to ride hard to establish the break and take away any hopes from behind of bridging up to you which will often bring the rest of the peloton.
Again you don’t want to go full tilt but you may have to go harder to establish the break. After the break has been established, you generally want to be the rider doing the least amount of work. If the other riders are motivated to stay away they will ride hard and as the finish approaches, they will tire while you are hopefully still fresh. In no circumstances do you ever want to be dropped from the break because you rode too hard. If you are going to get dropped, sit on the back even though the other riders will probably yell at you. If you can contribute, do, if not, sit.
Managing the Time Gap
Knowing what the gap is to the field behind largely depends upon the race and how organized it is with officials and time boards. Sometimes you will have no idea how far back the field is and other times you will be given a constant time gap. In the pro peloton, typically it takes 10km to bring back a 1 minute time gap. In amateur racing this will range up from there as there is typically less organization in the chase. If it is hilly or mountainous it will take even longer.
In the break you should ride hard enough to get the gap to a certain amount depending on how far you are from the finish. If you have 50km to go you will want about a 4 to 5 minute gap to have a chance at staying away from a larger, well organized field with teams. If it is a smaller field you can have less of a gap as they won’t be able to pull back the time.
Going for the Win out of a Breakaway
As the finish approaches and you’re becoming more and more certain that your break is going to survive until the finish, you should ride easier and easier to save your energy to be able to go for the win when the time is right. The problem here is that the other riders will probably be trying to do the same so your break could slow substantially which will then leave your gap in question. If this happens you may need to start riding harder again and if the other riders don’t want to contribute, then attack. This will force them to chase and hopefully you will get one or two other riders with you who are willing to ride.
You used your strengths and smarts to navigate into a breakaway and conserved your energy by riding the least hard out of your breakaway companions and effectively managed your time gap. Now use your strength to win the race. If you’re a strong sprinter find the right wheel to start your sprint off of in the final 200 meters of the race. If you’re not as strong of a sprinter try and get away solo and hold on until the finish. If you execute these breakaway tactics well you have a much better shot at making it to the finish out of the breakaway but it is still a breakaway and the majority of the time they don’t succeed. Just keep trying and half the fun anyway is getting in them and riding the front of the race.
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