I'm In A Breakaway. Now What?

By: charlie@racelistings.com
Posted: Apr 30, 2002

You`re in a breakaway. Now what do you do? For starters, no two breakaways are ever the same and each unique breakaway requires specific tactics. There are so many different scenarios that it`s hard to write an article explaining what you should do all the time. When I find myself in a breakaway I immediately `take inventory` as I like to call it. I take a few seconds to calm down, put my thinking cap on and asses the current situation. I usually ask myself the following questions: 1. What teams are represented in this break? 2. Who are the strongest riders here? 3. How many miles/laps/kilometers to the finish? 4. How do I feel? 5. Can I beat these riders in a sprint? 6. Should I work in this break? Let`s look at each question: 1. What teams are represented in this break? – This is an important question. I find that many breaks succeed not because of the strength of the breakaway but rather by the reaction of the field. You want to make sure that riders from the strongest teams in the race are in the break. If you find that the local Mapei-like team is not represented there is a good chance the break will not succeed. The team will most likely organize a chase to bring the breakaway back. 2. Who are the strongest riders here? – Once you know all the riders in the break then you have to ask yourself who the strongest riders are. For the most part we all race with the same riders each weekend so you should know all the local riders in your region. Start asking yourself who`s the climber in this break? Who`s the sprinter? Who`s the guy that never works? Who`s the guy that likes to attack? Most riders have at least one trait they are known for. 3. How many miles/laps/kilometers to the finish? – Don`t get into a breakaway and start pulling like a madman until you know how far away the finish is. If you are in a breakaway in a 80 mile road race and you still have 50 miles to go, you will have to conserve as much energy as possible. If you are in an 80 mile road race and the breakaway gets away with 5 miles to go then you have to be 100% committed to the break. Chances are this is your one move and if you get caught you will be wasted for a fieldsprint or late-race counter-attack. 4. How do I feel? – Only you can answer this one. How did you get into the break? Did you have to bridge to the break? If yes, how long did you chase? Did you bridge alone or did you have help? How much energy did you spend? Did you follow an attack to get into the break? Was the attack hard? Did it split the field? Be honest with yourself but always remember that just because you are hurting doesn`t mean you are HURTING. Breakaways are hard. Everybody is hurting. 5. Can I beat these riders in a sprint? – This could also be rephrased as `should I attack?`. Look around at your breakaway companions. Should the race come down to a sprint, can you beat these riders? Personally, I have a lousy sprint and when I ask myself this question I usually say `These guys are going to kick my ass if it comes down to a sprint. I gotta get out of here!` Simply put, some riders can sprint and some riders can`t. The riders who can`t sprint are going to do everything in their power to make sure the race doesn`t come down to a sprint. They will attack. And attack. And attack some more. If you can`t sprint, then you must attack. Don`t let all your hard work and training go down the drain. Don`t just hand it to the sprinters. If you get caught and beat in the sprint at least you can say you gave it your all. It`s a much better feeling than sitting around waiting to get your ass kicked in the sprint and thinking on the drive home `I should have attacked`. If you look around at your breakaway companions and you say `I can beat these guys in a sprint` then you want to start thinking like a sprinter. When the attacks start coming you want to let everybody else chase. You want to keep waiting and conserving. Your number one asset is your sprint. That is what`s going to win the race for you. 6. Should I work in this break? – After you have answered all the above questions then you can decide if you want to work in the break. Remember, there is no rule that says you have to work in a breakaway. If you know the local powerhouse team doesn`t have a rider in the break, then don`t work. If there is still 80 miles to go in the race and you know it`s too early, then don`t work. I am so glad that OLN is showing more and more Euro race coverage. Look at the breakaways in the pro races. Is everybody pulling through as hard as they can? I don`t think so. Some guys are working and some guys are sitting on. In America, there seems to be this misconception that everybody in the break has to work as hard as they can and if they don`t they are a `wheel sucker`. People start yelling and screaming and it must look quite ridiculous to spectators. Riders who are not pulling are trying to do the same thing as the rider who is towing the break around – win the race. If you don`t like it then do something about it. Try to drop the rider. Stop working as well and say to the rider sitting on `If you`re not going to work than neither am I`. This might persuade the rider to start working. You might want to just ask the rider why they are not working. If they say `My team told me to cover this break for our sprinter` then you know exactly where they stand. Tell your breakaway companions why the rider is not working and deal with him/her later. I love breakaways because it`s the ultimate chess game. It`s a study of concentration as riders are pedaling at 30mph while their brains are racing at 100mph plotting and planning the next move. Don`t get caught up in the excitement of the race and forget to think. It will cost you the race.