This article was written by 15-year professional cyclist and top 10 finisher in the Tour de France, Tom Danielson.
You pin your number on, and you roll up to the start line. You take a look to your right and left, sizing up the competition, you know you've got this. You've been putting in the work, and today is the day you are going to make the winning breakaway. The start gun goes off, and people are getting after it. Early on, you cover one move and get in a break, but it gets chased back. Then you try an attack of your own, three riders come with you, but then that also gets chased back. You take a hard pull on a climb, look back, and you have ridden everyone off your wheel, you are now solo! But that too is chased down on the following downhill. Suddenly, a group of five riders flies past you, but you are too gassed to hop on. You think about bridging, but you decide not to because it will probably be chased down like all the other ones. You soft pedal, minute by minute goes by, and no one chases. You get angry, watching the group of riders pedal away, so you try an attack to get things going. Immediately everyone jumps on your wheel. The writing is now on the wall, the break is gone, you have missed it, and no one is going to work with you to go across.
Do you know this feeling? Maybe this exact scenario or one similar, I'm sure you know the sinking feeling of watching a group of riders head up the road without you. You are left behind, wishing you had been able to go with them or wondering if you should have gone with them. Regardless of the circumstance, what it comes down to is you missed the move. Most people leave it at that or make an excuse as to why they missed it and give up. The reality is, missing breakaways is common because getting in them is difficult. There is never really a foolproof planned then executed breakaway creation. Sometimes, the way to make the winning move is to miss it and then find a way to get there. Today, I am going to share with you how to make the winning breakaway.
Making the breakaway takes trying hard, not being lucky.
When I raced professionally in the Tour de France, I was predominantly a General Classification rider, meaning I was protected to race the final climbs of the mountain stages to do well in the race overall. However, when I performed poorly on the mountain days, the following days, I was on the front line trying to make the breakaway to try and get the time I lost. Let me tell you, and it's freakin HARD to make the breakaway.
When I first started chasing "breakaway success," I thought it was all luck. But over time, I noticed there were certain people I would see that we're always in the front of the peloton early in the race. Riders like Sylvain Chavanel and Tony Martin always made the break when they tried! I began watching riders like them to see how they did it. It became clear that it was not luck at all, but 100% persistence. They would the cover moves that they thought were the right ones. There would also be moves that they missed that appeared to be going the distance. In these scenarios, they would immediately start repairing the situation. In this article, I am going to share with you what I learned about what action steps you can take when you miss the move.
So as luck has it, you missed the breakaway. Now, adjust your perspective.
Well, dang, the break just went, and you are behind. You don't have a second to spare to waste on the reason as to why you missed the break, and it's getting away! But you are upset because you wanted to be there, you tried, and now you are not there. Are you going to give in to this? No, immediately you switch gears and decide to go all-in on whatever it takes to get to that break. Your new and only goal at the moment is now to get to the break. So start pedaling!
Where are the critical riders and their teams?
Before we go all Rambo on the peloton, you first must look around and investigate in the peloton to predict what the other riders' motives are. I know this seems like a complicated task, but it's really quite obvious once you get down to it. There are always two or three strong and experienced riders in every race or ride who mean business. Have a look and see where those riders are and if they have any teammates. If they are in the break or they have a teammate in the break, then pull out the rocket launcher and load it. If they do not, wait and get ready to follow them because they will most likely go across.
Hitters are in the break, OK, now we must determine how we get across.
In determining the next steps, you now need to evaluate how far ahead the group is. This gap or distance will tell you what type of effort you will have to make to get across to them. Within that distance calculation, you will also have to identify the current and upcoming terrain. These calculations will lead you to your next steps. Now let me walk you through each possible scenario.
A gap of 15 secs or less.
First, let's be real, objects ahead on the road are further than they appear! Remember the time you were spat off the back of the pack, and you rode behind them for a while, thinking you were going to come back? They were right there! Did you come back? No, no, you did not… So remember this when analyzing the gap you are going to cross. 15 secs or less looks like you could hit them with a rock from where you are (a cyclist's throw).
Once you have confirmed, the distance lets look at the terrain before we cross this gap. You want to cross this gap in one effort, and on terrain that will cost the riders in your peloton the same or more energy as you if they follow you. Examples of this are tops of rollers, hard climbs, out of corners, and in crosswind sections.
You want people to think twice when following you, and if they do, they are just as taxed if not more than you. The effort you will need to use is a 30-40 second explosive effort. Come from behind in the peloton to slingshot out of the draft. This will give you a lot of momentum as well as give you a jump on the others. DO NOT look back on this type of bridge. You will need to go ALL IN, and likely there will be riders coming with you. You must be in a "do or die" state to get there. Too many times, I see riders make these wimpy attacks and look back after five pedal strokes. THEY ARE LOOKING FOR LUCK hoping people either didn't see them or think they suck so they let them go. We don't play that game, so go ALL IN and get there!
A gap of 30 secs to 1 minute+.
You will have to do an explosive effort to get in flight from the peloton and then extra effort around your threshold zone to connect with the break. When you take off, make sure that you attack the group from behind. Avoid putting on a circus show (which most riders do) where you let everyone know that you are feeling good and are going to attack. You know the one where you dance around on the pedals, with the spotlight on you, center stage, shifting your gears, and looking around. Drop back, act relaxed, and then sucker punch everyone! BAM!
Once in flight, focus on getting the job done. Like the short bridge, give it a good effort. Don't be one of those people (and you know who they are), who take five pedal strokes and then turn around. If anyone is even as much as breathing on them, they throw in the towel and start yelling, "why don't you let me go?" Sorry dude, but you actually have to try!
So after the initial attack where you quickly got up to speed, cover that last distance to the break using your threshold zones. As you can envision, this is not pretty, but you have to commit and make your focus getting to that group ahead of you. After you are about halfway there, you can have a look and see if your rocket ship has any passengers. If there are some guests, without hesitating or slowing down, flick your elbow to see if they will take a pull. If they seem eager, let them have at it. If they appear to be spent or a jerk ("no bro, I'm not gonna pull"), then put your head down and carry on. I have learned that bike racing tends to take common sense out of a lot of people's brains, so don't argue or question, keep going. Hesitating to call out the "sticky booger" or even trying to shake him will negate most of the hard work you had already done.
After some hard work, you are now getting closer and ready to make contact with the breakaway. Make sure that you have a proper "landing pad" identified before you put the landing gear down. You want to arrive at the group in an area of road in which there is ample recovery time after you have made contact. Examples of this are tops of climbs where there is downhill and or a flat headwind section. Making a colossal effort only to connect with the break on the steepest part of a climb puts you at risk of getting dropped straight away. Also, arriving at the group on the entrance of a turn will likely see you shot straight off the back when they sprint exiting the corner. Make sure you make contact where you CAN recover.
A non-bridgeable gap.
The last option is best suited for a breakaway with a gap that is too big to bridge across too. You pull on the front chasing and try to initiate some others to help. The seemingly impossible is proved possible time and time again with this strategy. What most people do not understand is that those folks up the road will not always work together and WILL fade during the race/event. I see so many people miss the break and then just give up thinking the race is over. Chances are they are a bit knackered themselves. Just to get up the road, they already had to cover lots of attacks/breaks and may have even done many surges themselves. The breakaway fugitives are likely riding with a set of damaged legs with the fuel tank drained. So if the gap is too far to bridge, start riding a strong, but consistent pace by yourself. Often, other riders of all different agendas will join in and help you.
By riding a controlled pace on the front of the group, the gap most likely will stabilize and stay within reach. You will also set the tone of the group that "there is hope." Hopefully, other teams and other riders come up and ride along with you. Keep riding a steady, strong pace, never ride 100 percent, just enough to keep the speed up. Remember, in the breakaway, they are slowing down between pulls, so by you taking long and consistent pulls, and you will take time just by keeping the speed steady.
A good goal to have is to bring the gap down close enough that the others can sense a new chance at winning the race. At the same time, you will need to be planning out "the catch" based on the upcoming terrain. Be aware of hills, corners, downhills, and crosswind, these are THE KEY places you can get across or wait to make a move of your own. Make sure you give plenty of time in advance of these sections to get off the front, secretly hideout, and be ready to launch your move or follow the moves of others.
What was that you said? Your legs hurt, and you are tired from riding? Who cares, this is your ONLY option to get back into the race since you missed the break! Remember, it doesn't matter if you get dropped now because you ARE essentially already DROPPED by not being in the breakaway, right? Be brave, give it all you have, and see what you can do.
Now let's do this!
Mistakes and B Factors are OK!
If you are new to following me and CINCH, you will learn that I am not a fan of giving up because of "B factors." B-factors are variables that are outside of your control that can influence the outcome. A big part of attacking at the right time or following the move that gets away is luck. But luck, is-a-B-factor. It can be both positive and negative, but we cannot control it. So we cannot count on it, nor can we use it as a reason not to try.
Whether you are a racer or rider, cycling is WAY more fun when you have a purpose and have control of your rides — learning how to make the breakaway will make your group riding and racing way more enjoyable. I know there is a lot here, so please read this article a few more times and let it sink in before you try this out on the road. Take this information and use it to understand the overall strategy of your rides and races. Watch what the other riders are doing and try to make calculated and clear decisions based on how you are going to react to them. I hope you enjoy riding this way, and I look forward to hearing how you made the winning breakaway!
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