As you get towards the end, you need to know whether you can win this race in a sprint or not. If not, look to see who else is strong. You might want to attack just as the strongest guy finishes his pull. Or if the break is big enough maybe you'll do it when he is near the back and kind of boxed in so that he can't get right on your wheel.
Know Your Competition
Dan: The more you race with the same competition, the better chance you have of identifying the combinations of riders that may work. Sometimes I think it is easier to not go with the moves if the race is really aggressive. Let things play out and conserve energy.
When a move starts looking like it is sticking, then get attentive. Look around and see who missed the move and will be trying to get a rider up there or bring it back. At this point you want to piggy-back on the strategies of the other teams. Now is the time to get in the bridge attempt and use the power you were conserving.
As well as having the power to make or go with a move, you always have to be thinking about what are the motives of the pack. There is no way you can hold off a group of riders if they have reason to bring you back.
Do Your Homework — Know the course and the weather conditions (e.g. wind directions). Look back in history and see how the races have played out in the past or ask riders who have been there before. The more you and your team learn about the race and your competition in general, the more success you will ultimately have.
The Race Within the Race — The key is putting yourself in a position to win. Riding near the front of an aggressive peloton is a race within the race. If you watch a pack from above (try this when they show the helicopter shots during the Tour), the general flow is that of rider movements up the sides to gain position. This causes the riders in the middle to be pushed back. You could be thinking you are sitting in an optimal position and then before you know it, be pushed back in the peloton to a point where you are close to the back.
Real-Time Analysis — Always be watching what is going on during a race and asking yourself questions. For example:
- Who looks strong?
- How long are splits staying off the front and how is the pack responding to them?
- What is the general mood and feel of the race?
Understanding what is going on around you at any given time will play a role in determining the timing of your attacks.
Making It Happen — Most riders wait for something to happen, thinking they don't want to waste energy or make the wrong move. Successful riders don't just leave their attacks to chance. They attack (or bridge) with authority and purpose, trying to discourage a field to chase them down. Successful attacks come as a surprise and when other riders least expect it. I like what Kevin said: if you are tired or hurting, then most likely your competition is also feeling the same way.
Break Anatomy — A break becoming the winning break requires a lot of smarts, strength and some luck. Most importantly, it requires a group of riders that are all committed to making it work, including you. Making it happen also requires trying (and failing) a lot. It requires getting into various moves and assessing the situation to determine if it is going to work or not. It requires asking yourself a few of many possible questions:
What is the makeup of the riders in terms of teams? Do they form a group that benefits each other?
What is the makeup of the riders in terms of success in past races? Can they even make it to the line? Are the riders of near or equal fitness, or is there a diverse level of strength? Knowing your competition will help you here.
What are the riders' strengths in the break and what are the course and weather factors influencing the rest of the race?
- Where in the race (time and course) is this move happening? Is it at a time where the field was tiring and the group thinning out significantly? Are there a lot of technical sections that benefit a small group versus a large one?
Tactics are what make bike racing so unique. It is such a dynamic sport that predicting the outcome is almost impossible because there are so many variables out of your control. We have listed just a few of the many possibilities about how making the winning break can occur. Hopefully, this will stimulate the all-important competitive side of you as an athlete to focus not just on your physical training program, but your tactical program also.