The hardest part of racing is the battle to establish the breakaway. Suddenly, all bets are off and friendships are tossed away like discarded water bottles. It's exciting to watch but hell to live through for professionals. But what are the exact physiological requirements needed to make a break successful?
The Stuff They Don't Show on TV
We're spoiled with TV coverage of racing. With a few clicks of the computer mouse, we can find live feed from the biggest Euro races. You can also find it on YouTube shortly afterwards. When the coverage begins, what we usually see is a breakaway up ahead in a steady rotation, with the peloton rolling along at a steady pace some minutes behind.
This coverage is nice, but it also misses the best and often hardest part of the race, and that's the first hour when the breakaway becomes established. Riders are constantly attacking off the front, individually or in small groups, while the peloton chases every attempt down until the right combination is allowed to go up the road.
With such a frantic first part of the race, the pace may average over 50 kilometers per hour for 1 to 2 hours. The pace is so aggressive from the gun that some pros are now warming up on trainers before heading off to race for 4 to 5 hours.
More: Making the Winning Break
How Is it Done?
As with all aspects of smart training, the best way to train for racing is to understand the demands and then figure out how to train to meet those demands.
The scientific literature reports professional riders' power outputs for single day and stage races. However, knowing what we know now about the doping epidemic, it has become nearly useless to treat them as anything but science fiction. And now, thanks to pervasive paranoia, pros guard their power numbers closer than the neighborhood Rottweiler guards its bone.
What we can do, of course, is to use our own power meters to record what happens during the hardest parts of racing, whether that is on the first parts of the race when the group is sorting itself out, the tough climb of a circuit race or the final kilometers. The challenge comes when we're not yet strong enough to make the selection. How do we get data when we're off the back?
Scouting by Strava
One piece of technological manna from heaven has been the almost ubiquitous adoption of Strava by tech-obsessed cyclists. For every hill worth climbing, there is a Strava segment, and going through the rankings to spot familiar names will give you a very clear insight into how fast you need to be able to climb particular hills to keep up with competitors in your category.