How To Attack

Posted: Mar 26, 2002

In 1988, I was a first year senior and I was having trouble figuring out the flow of senior racing. I always seemed to miss the winning breaks and I just couldn`t understand why some breaks were working and some were not. I was racing Pro. 1-2 races and all the breaks looked good. What I did notice was that there was one rider who always seemed to make the winning break. His name was Steve Pyle and I swear this rider would never miss the winning move. Even more amazing was that Steve would usually make just one move in a race. It`s like the guy was psychic. So I started keying off Steve in races. I remember being in races and seeing what I thought was the winning move and thinking `What is Steve waiting for? That`s the winning break`. The break would get caught, proving me wrong. Then there would be a point in a race when it would get hard. REALLY hard. Either we would be climbing, in a crosswind, a whole team would be taking turns attacking – something was causing the race to be very difficult all of a sudden. I would be in the drops and breathing hard….and then I would notice Steve moving up on the side like a shark stalking his prey. I would hop on Steve`s wheel and watch and learn. Pow! Steve would attack and I would go with him hanging on for dear life. Steve would either cause the race to explode or he would bridge to a break up the road. That was Steve`s one move to get away. Once away Steve could get down to the business of winning the race. Steve didn`t win a lot of races but he had a ton of podium appearances. What I learned from Steve I still use to this day and I try to follow three rules when attacking:

Rule 1. Think before you attack.

Before I attack I always ask myself why I am attacking. What am I trying to achieve by this attack? Last week I was in a race and I thought there was a good opportunity to attack. Then I asked myself `Why am I attacking now?`. There was still over 30 miles to go in the race and even if I got away did I honestly think I could time trial the final 30 miles? I thought about the current shape I`m in (not that great) and decided this was not a good time to attack. Don`t just attack for the sake of attacking. Rule 2. Attack when the race is hard. Simple enough, right? Yet how many times do I see riders attacking when everybody is talking in the field. Or even better, the rider who attacks on a downhill going 35 mph when the field is coasting down the same hill going 34 mph. Wait until the race gets hard. If you really want to make sure you are going to get away wait until the race gets really hard. Wait until the race gets so silly hard that the field is shattering all around you. Have you ever looked at the faces of other riders at this point in a race? Next time look around and you`ll see snot hanging out of rider`s noses and the most bizarre cross-eyed faces you have ever seen. When you see riders looking like this you know it`s a good time to attack. Of course, you have to be able to attack and you maybe wondering `if it`s this hard, how can I attack?`. Have you ever tried to attack at a moment like this? There have been times when a race is so hard that I am barely hanging on. I then dig deep and attack. Sometimes you may just find that your attack will work. It may just be the final attack that blows the race apart. If you`re hurting this bad chances are everybody else is feeling the same. Rule 3. Give 100% to the attack. No attack will be successful unless you give 100%. The key to attacking is to make sure you have a great jump. Attacking is like a mini sprint. Select a gear that will allow you a quick acceleration, sprint out of the saddle then sit down and do a mini time trial. After 500 meters or so turnaround and see if your attack was successful. If you have a decent gap then continue. If the field is right behind you then sit up right away and try again later. It`s easy to get caught up in the excitement of a race and to lose focus so I repeat these rules to myself over and over again. Last but not least, watch and learn from the riders who make the winning break almost every weekend. It`s no accident they are in every winning move. And remember, it`s bike racing – it`s supposed to hurt.