Not every breakaway is successful, but your race doesn’t have to be over just because you got caught. These pro tips will help when you need to sprint for the win after your breakaway fails.
For more on race tactics check out our Race Analysis YouTube Playlist.
Before the Breakway
During the first few laps, there are a few things that you can do to increase your chances of winning. While these tips can be applied in any race, their effect is compounded when you are sprinting for the line after your breakaway gets caught.
A key in any race is to conserve as much energy as you can. You need to be able to put down the power when it matters most. Your position in the field and on the road is crucial for saving energy. You want to create your race from the easy side of the course. Let the other riders cut through the wind for you. Stay a few wheels back and position yourself on the side of the road that is sheltered from the wind.
While you conserve your energy on the opening laps, survey the course. Make mental notes of which spots give you an advantage over the field. This could be a corner, narrowing of the road, or rise, that will help you create a gap from the field later. This is where you want to spend your energy and play to your strengths.
Additionally, you want to get a feel for the other riders in the field. Mark the riders who look strong. Pro tip: Check to see how many teammates they have. A team that isn’t in the break will have more firepower to chase.
Establishing the Gap
Every race is different, but an overarching principle is that you don’t want to waste your effort. You want to leave some energy in the tank for the finish. But these specifics apply anytime when you are establishing a breakaway.
Punch hard on the power to get separation, then continue your effort. The first 60-120 seconds are the most critical for attacking from the field. Don’t let off the power too soon. Instead, keep on the power and, when you have a comfortable time gap, ease into the power you are going to hold for the breakaway.
If you bridge up to another rider, ride through them. Don’t waste the speed you’ve built up by slowing down to ride on their wheel. Make them match you. If they are strong enough to be in your break, they will make it. However, if it’s early in the race, you may want to reconsider. You will need some extra firepower to make the break stick until the end. But if there are only a couple laps to go, ride off from them.
When Your Breakaway Fails
Deciding when the break is over is a bit of a gamble. The gamble is that the field has strength in numbers, but they also have to work together to catch you. If the time gap is growing, great! But if it’s shrinking, you have to decide to let up or double down on your effort.
A good rule of thumb is never to waste an advantage. Make the group work to catch you. Work just a bit longer, but don’t bury yourself either. When the catch is imminent, keep your speed high to match the field. That way, you don’t have to put out a significant effort to catch back on.
Once you are caught with a couple of laps to go, move to one side of the road. This will make it easier to slot into the field, look at the riders to see what sort of state they are in and which riders are present, and avoid riding as the first wheel. Pro tip: If you are on the front, no one else has a chance to make a mistake. Give others the chance to waste energy by staying as sheltered as possible from the wind. A good spot is five or six wheels back.
Sprinting for the Line
Now that you are back in the field, look for the counter-attack to come quickly. Being on one side of the road means that you only have to look over one shoulder to see counter-attacks. When the attacks begin, carefully choose which ones to follow. Make your decision based on your earlier analysis of the other riders. If a counter doesn’t come, the field is probably tired from the chase or inexperienced.
Heading into the sprint for the line, your position in the field is what matters the most. Because you spent a lot of energy in the break, you will want some help for the sprint. Wait for another rider to start the sprint, then accelerate into their draft, move around them, and make your final effort to the line.
The next time you are in a breakaway that fails, don’t count yourself out. Use these pro tips and sprint for the win.