Rather than trying to get together a few kilometers out, smaller teams should simply plan to be at the front with five or seven laps to go. Then it's a game of position. Smart teams will put a rider on each side of the group and one in the middle to help cover late surges and maintain position at the front to help one another. It cannot be stressed enough that defending your position at the front is a constant effort. Don't expect to lay down one big effort, slide into the draft a few places back and start visualizing your two-armed salute.
You want that top five slot? So do I. So does everyone else and they've probably got enough energy to make a few runs at it in the last couple of laps. This is where instinct and awareness take over. If you sense a surge, accelerate to cover. Don't get boxed in on an inside line if it doesn't open up in the next corner or two. Don't be afraid to give up positions to get yourself out of a problem. Watch other riders. There is probably a "fast finisher" or two in your field—where are they? What are they doing? Can you follow them?
One good way to organize your riders is by duration of pull. Start getting together with 5 or 6 kilometers to go minimum, because it takes awhile to get everyone sorted out. Once together put the biggest diesels in the wind, get to the front and start ramping the pace up until they are maxed out! Typically, that means they can pull up to and over 30 m.p.h. for at least a minute or two (the more riders, the shorter the initial pulls can be, the longer the lead out and the higher the speed). The goal is to keep the pace high enough that no one can scoot off the front. If the train starts far enough out you should get a couple of rotations out of these riders.
Your next phalanx are the single pull, high speed guys that can push the pace up a bit to further keep the wolves at bay. Figure each of these guys is good for between 200 and 400 meters, but don't leave it to chance. Practice and KNOW how far each guy can pull at their maximum sustainable velocity.
Finally you get to your main support rider, your Giovani Lombardi or Ron Kiefel; the guy who will turn themselves inside out to get you to the front, and keep you there. Ideally this rider is a pretty good sprinter in their own right, has excellent bike handling skills and great vision. They must be able to shepherd you to the front smoothly. They have to know how to get YOU into position—it's a selfless job. Too often I've seen a leadout rider simply ride a sprinter off his wheel by shooting a gap only wide enough for one, or taking an overly aggressive line into a corner. A note to all you set up guys—you gotta be smooth, fast and safe! If there is a doubt, put yourself in the wind to advance your sprinter. If your rider can't follow you they aren't going win.
Practice Team Drills
So you have some speed, some handling skills, and even better, some guys to help you use them! The first step in the creation of a win is to practice. Good teams become great teams through practice. This means more than just lining up and railing it to some imaginary line. Here are a couple of drills that you can try:
If you race bikes you paceline
. A group or riders working together seamlessly at the front of a hard charging peloton is exquisite to behold. In a race your paceline should always have a purpose. As you and your team line out to practice your run in there should be a purpose to each effort as well. Getting a baseline for the pulls, how fast and how long, is the first priority. Riding in tight formation the second.
Once these are down solid it's time to step up the tactical elements. Practice a soft echelon into corners to take up more space and cut down on passing lanes. Send two riders off the front to lengthen the sprint. Typically 'spent' riders exit to the outside of the course. Instead have the lead rider drop to the inside of the corner to try and add another rotation or take away an inside line. This IS NOT to be an aggressive shut down, they still have to keep their speed up (see below).