Do you ever notice that some guys get in every winning break-away and seem to have all the “luck”?  Well, it’s not so much “luck” as it is knowing when and where to attack. I raced last night in some tough windy conditions and saw many futile and senseless attacks that went absolutely no where. Not because the rider wasn’t strong enough to get away.  Purely because those attacks were launched at the wrong time or wrong place.  Here’s some rules on when to launch a successful attack for a break-away , and when NOT TO launch an attack when bike racing.  Of course you won’t be successful everytime, but these general guidelines should increase your chances of getting away.

When riding into a strong headwind:

DON’T ATTACK - It’s too hard!  You won’t be able to get enough speed up to significanlty make a big gap on the group and you probably won’t have the strength all alone to hold it.  Remember, there will be a pack full of riders swapping off turns behind you.  You probably won’t be stronger than them all combined.

When riding with a tailwind:

DON’T ATTACK – It’s too easy!  When things are easy for you, it’s a good indication that it’s easy for everyone else.  You’ll most likely have half the pack on your wheel as you attack or you’ll have some weaker rider on your tail and will mess it up for you because he won’t be able to hold it in 5 mins.

When riding into a crosswind:

ATTACK!!! – Crosswinds are a great place to attack.   If someone tries to go with you and they bring a few more riders then there’s only so many people who can draft behind before the rest of the pack gets put into the gutter. You can start working with these guys and put the whole race into the gutter until a split in the field happens.   Be prepared for this in the crosswinds and don’t be someone who gets put into the gutter.

When riding on a decent:

DON’T ATTACK – once again, it’s too easy for everyone else to follow (and possibly dangerous). It’ll all come back together on the bottom of the decent anyway. Don’t waste your energy.

When riding up a hill:

ATTACK!!! – Climbs are one of the best places to attack.  Everyone knows it’s coming, but there’s no where to hide and to draft off other riders.  You’ll only get the strongest riders following your attack on a climb which means you have a good bunch to work with.   Don’t attack too early into the hill.  Wait until everyone is getting tired.  If you’re getting tired, it’s a good indication that others are as well.  You just need to be prepared to hold it and to suffer more than the others would!

When riding into the feedzone:

DON’T ATTACK - not cool.

When riding into a corner:

ATTACK!!! – Only if it’s safe and you’re near the front.   There’s huge potential to cause a crash here so use this one wisely.  Attacking into a corner will add an element of surprise and will cause the riders at the back to get strung out and gaps will open.  Pay attention to the wind direction.  If you’re turning into a tailwind or a headwind, don’t bother.  Crosswinds are the golden rule here.

After you’ve caught a break-away group:

COUNTER ATTACK!!! – Many times there will be a lull in the peloton directly after you’ve caught a group who have been away in a break.  Often the main workers in the peloton are tired after chasing and will not likely chase you down at this point.  This is a great time to get a jump on the bunch and launch a counter attack.  The lazy guys sitting in the back won’t chase you and the worker-bees may let you go as well.   You’ll probably have a few others who will join you in a moment when they see you getting away and will increase your chances of making the break stick.

TIP: When attacking, do it like you mean it.  You need to have a large amount of speed on the rest of the pack to get away and you need to maintain it until open up a gap.  You can’t attack from the front of the bunch or everyone will follow.   You can’t attack from too far back or else it takes away that element of surprise.  You need to attack from about 5-10 riders from the front to get good amount of accelaration on the group.  This way no one will be able to follow.  Attack like it’s a 200m sprint.  Concentrate on maintaining your pace and recovering after you’ve got a healthy gap on the bunch.

Also, if your attack in an attempt to bridge to another break-away is dragging up the rest of the peloton, sit up and try again later  (unless your intent is to chase down the break-away for your team ).   If you try to bridge to the break-away while dragging the rest of the group with, you’ll do nothing but waste your own energy  while the rest of the bunch sits on.  Once you catch the break you’ll be too shattered to win the race anyway.  What was your point in doing this in the first place then?