There are many ways to win a bike race, but many times it requires a rider to get in the winning break. We all know a racer that always seems to find that elusive winning move. Time and again they end up in the one break that seems to succeed. Is it dumb luck or a calculating, competitive individual?
Bike racing season is getting close—or already in full swing in some parts of the country—so it's good to tune up your tactics in addition to your physiology. Having a team that can haul in breakaways and lead things out for a sprinter is fine if you're Ale-Jet and can hire a team of specialized leadout riders. But the other way to win is to take matters into your own hands and make or get into the winning break.
We've seen this to perfection at the Tour of California by hardman extraordinaire Jens Voigt of CSC, driving the day-long break on stage four, hopping onto the Leipheimer Express, then toasting all in the sprint. The recently retired Erik Dekker of Rabobank and his buddy Michael Boogerd are also masters of always being there, and Frank Schleck of CSC is padding his resume, too (Amstel and Alpe d'Huez 2006).
How do they do it? I asked a couple of 'professional' masters in Northern California about making that winning move consistently (which they do). First, a couple quick bios:
Kevin Metcalfe (AMD-Discovery Masters Cycling) is a software project manager for the Navy in the San Francisco Bay area. He has raced for 22 years and has compiled an impressive list of wins including three-time elite Northern California district time trial champion and eight-time national masters track champion.
Dan Martin (Team Safeway) is a software engineer for Cisco and splits time between the Bay Area and El Dorado Hills, Calif. He made the 2000 Canadian Olympic rowing team and switched to cycling in 2002. Last year alone, Dan won 15 races including Nevada City and the Northern California District Road Championships.
Be There When it Happens
Kevin: I try to ride near the front as much as possible. You can't make the break if you're not close enough to see it go.
Once I get into a break, I take a look at who I'm with to get an indication whether the break will work and what my odds are if we stay away versus getting caught and trying again.
Sometimes, getting into a break is an art. Sometimes a voice deep in my head screams at me to go. After 21 years of racing that voice has gotten pretty smart, and when I listen to it, I usually do well. For me, the best time to get into a break is when the race is really hard and you are hurting. If you're hurting, so is everybody else.
After a series of attacks there is sometimes a lull. That lull happens because everybody is hurting and they don't want to go hard anymore. That is exactly why you should pick that time to go. Many times they will all be looking for somebody else to close the gap or chase you down, but nobody will do it themselves.
When I get into a break, I watch everything going on around me. If you get stuck behind somebody who is taking their pulls too hard, skip a pull and get behind somebody who is steadier. Its okay to skip a pull every once in a while if you need to eat or drink.
Think about where the wind is coming from. The person behind is the one who can tell which direction to pull off on. If you think the rotation needs to change, tell the leader to pull off the opposite direction.
In general you probably don't want to work substantially harder than the others in your break. Why make yourself weaker for the finish? But, if you do need to work harder, take longer pulls, not harder pulls. Harder pulls will just break everybody's legs and you'll end up going slower.
In a small group (four or less), don't do a rotating pace line. Use a single file line. Pull until you are done and go to the back. You won't get any rest in a small rotating pace line.