Dropped after a Pull in a Breakaway during a Race

So I need some help.

This last Saturday I participated in a local gravel race (50 miles) about 40 people per class/division.
During the race, I got in a situation which I didn’t know how to manage and ultimately led to my demise.
During the first 30 miles I kept up with the lead pack of 7 riders (me included) and we were working on a pace line with each person taking some pulls out in front. The length of each pull was up to the rider and some seem longer than others.

Around mile 30, when it was my turn to pull, I did my share and perhaps went a bit too far because when I moved to the side to drift down to the back of the train and got behind the last two riders, I noticed that the first 3 riders accelerated and a gap started to form. I quickly realized that they were not going to close the gap and I started to try to close it but because of my pull, I was beat and I couldn’t catch them. I got dropped and rode by myself for a while.

Here is the question. In a race in which you are in a breakway and everyone is taking pulls…

  1. How do you make sure that you wont be dropped after your pull?
  2. Is it rude to take mini pulls if you feel like you might be in trouble if they increase the pace?
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Its a race. You never have to pull. The other racers can also decide to drop you if they see a weakness. This is what happened

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I remember the TR guys talking about this in a podcast not that long ago. A quick YouTube search came up with these vids, but someone else might find the exact one.

Sometimes it’s in your interest to take a pull, it all depends on how the race is playing out.
Personally when I’m doing a turn on the front I put enough effort to keep us moving but I don’t go into the red just incase I need to respond to attacks or a change of pace by the next rider in line.

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  • Rule #1 for pulling, always make sure you pull off BEFORE you are potentially tired. Catching the end of the line often takes more work than the pull on the front.
  • It’s a race, not “nice party on bikes”. Assuming you aren’t there to be social and make friends, tactics and working over your opposing riders is part of the game. Likely someone read you and your effort, used an apparent weakness in the moment against you and thinned the herd. All part of the game.
  • Your priority in many cases should be to do as little work as possible while still keeping in the group you aim to ride with. That may still mean making pulls, but doing them in shorter or easier efforts than you “could do”, so you are saving energy for the moments that matter (like the one they dropped you).

This is all part of the broader topic of race tactics, and it makes bike racing the rolling chess match that it is.

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1., your pull does not end until you’re safely on the back so ration your energy accordingly.

  1. In a race situation, leave even more energy reserve for shenanigans like you describe after you pull off. (attacking someone right after their pull is a tried and true strategy).

  2. Study your group mates for who is getting tired and might leave you hanging. If things look like they might get frisky, pull in in front of them (they’ll let you in). You do not want to be behind the weak link when stuff starts going down.

  3. Never think you have to be cool and pull or take a long pull. In almost every situation, if you are pulling, if anyone in the race is thinking about you at all they’re thinking “why is this idiot pulling?”

  4. If you do get gapped like you described, closing the gap is now 100% of the race. Forget the remaining XX miles. You need to go absolutely all in and your finish line is now that guy up the road’s wheel. (and that thought should help with the motivation to do 1-4 :wink:

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The answer to your question is above…

As ntoed, you are under no obligation to pull, either to exhaustion or at all. Taht said, if everyone is taking their pulls and you decide to just ride at the abck. expect your companions to try and drop the hammer on you.

Best solution, especially early on, is “through and off” Take your pull and rotate off immediately. Don’t take an extended pull, just rotate through…hit the wind, wait to get infront of the previous rider and then pull off. It is also the most efficient method for the whole group…if you had 7 riders and you guys were taking longer pulls, then some guys were using the other riders to tire them out and evaluate who could get dropped.

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This is a really great way to think about it. Overall everyone’s comment have been really eye opening.
The fact is that I was a noob and went into to deep not leaving anything for an attack.

I was pretty happy to get a 6th place out of my first race. This weekend is the second in the series. I will implement the ideas in here…
Thanks!

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Fast hard paceling takes practice but its hard to get. Most group rides seem to devolve into hero pull exhibitions and its hard to learn in races since there is so much tactical stuff going on. If you can get your group ride buddies to commit to doing at least some of each ride in a real rotating pace line it will really pay off.

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That may work in some situations, but the other priority is to contribute to the pace of the break. There is nothing that makes a break fail quicker than when you have riders who won’t/can’t contribute.

If you are in a break that has a legitimate chance and you are able to contribute, then do some work. However, you can be strategic about it. Avoid hard/long pulls into selective sections of the course like a hill or corner. Take pulls with a cross or tail wind when you can, avoid pulling into a head wind where possible

If you find yourself in a break and you aren’t strong enough to contribute, then sit on and see what happens. You can sometimes get away with skipping pulls and sitting in if it’s a decent sized group.

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One other thought to add to the great advice above - sounds like it wasn’t just you who got dropped but 4 of you from the group, with 3 getting away? In which case is it possible that one or more of the other 3 that were dropped had a team mate in the front 3? That’s a classic move if you have 2 team mates in the break - one deliberately lets a gap open up, if nobody closes it then he just guaranteed a podium for the team, if you chase successfully and bring it back together then they just got you to burn a load of matches and make it a bit more likely that the next attack will succeed.

If the other 3 were just too tired to chase then yeah, you pulled too hard yourself and then doubled down on that by not spotting how vulnerable those 3 were. Though sounds like 2 of them beat you to the finish in which case was there more you could have done to get them to work with you in chasing the gap?

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All of the above comes into the race. And it is up to you to read the riders and how the paceline, break is riding. If a couple of riders are pulling harder , look for tiny gaps when they pull through between them and the next rider. It might show they are pulling harder. And you DON’T want to be behind those riders. Find a rider who you can ride behind and makes balanced pulls. Not jerky, quick accelerations.

If I’m in a break or paceline and a couple of riders are making hard pulls creating gaps that get covered, I wont pull through. I’ll let them do more work. or Ill do every 5th rotation. Those riders are either, stronger, or trying to split the group, fools, and or don’t know how to ride smoothly in a race. I wont waste energy trying to tell them either.

Sit on the back, let them rotate through, be ready to bridge a gap, take a drink, eat a bar, sitting on can be harder at times. Pull through when you can. *find the rider rider to sit behind who’s smooth"

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The best racing advice I ever got was “Never stick your nose in the wind unless there is a compelling strategic reason to do it.” A corollary to that in the OP’s situation would be “put it in the wind for as little time as possible.”

In his situation, he was in a break…so there was a compelling reason to take pulls. But he took a pull that was too long and couldn’t get back on.

But since this was one of his first races ever, he should be pretty stoked. It takes a long time to learn all the intricacies of bike racing.

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The other skill to master is how to sit on a small group efficiently and not pull without disrupting the group’s rhythm. This is actually harder than learning to ride a paceline. As someone who was a light weight (I raised at 138 - 140lbs) climber type, I excelled at hiding without disrupting the group, or having to do efforts to stay on.

The trick if you not pulling through is to move behind the riders as they come off their pull. You should end up in the rider’s blind spot, so it’s like you aren’t even there. If you stay in the line that is pulling through, but leave a gap, the last person in the receding line doesn’t know if you are going to close the gap or if they need to, which only widens the gap and makes it that much harder for both of you to get back on.

If it is a stage race and there are riders in a break with the leader behind them in the peloton, I wouldn’t expect that rider/team to pull.

For the rest of you saying get in the break and don’t work or barely work, that’s why most breaks get pulled back. I agree the OP shouldn’t have gone so far into the red that he fell off, so that’s going too far.

Sitting in and skipping pulls in a small break means the break likely gets reeled in. Further, if it’s a small break of 5 and let’s say 3 are working and 2 are not, no problem. I will sit up and we can go back to the pack. I will never drag someone to the finish line that thinks they have the race game figured out by using some magic trick no one has ever seen before of sitting on the back of the break to the finish line. Everyone works or we all go back. If everyone does the least work possible there won’t be a break for long. Freeloaders get blown off the back or we drift back to the bunch. There is no in-between. Some riders will be stronger than others but I have never been in a non stage race where a break stuck with a bunch of guys drafting in the break hanging on the back taking tiny or no pulls.

Being the least hard worker of the hard workers (20 second pulls vs 30 second pulls), ok. But feigning weakness, hunger, injury, whatever, that gets figured out real quick and more than one can play that game and when that happens you may as well save your matches.

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@alvaroe16 you’ve received a tonne of great advice in this thread.

The only thing I can add is that:

  • even with all of this advice, you’ll still make mistakes. Having the ability to process all of the information your eyes are sending to your brain, whilst in a race, and work hard, is a skill all of its own. Try and break all of the advice you’ve received down into actionable chunks and make each one a race goal in its own right. For example:

  • composition of the break. Are there riders wearing the same jersey? Who’s vocal? Do you feel comfortable being vocal and controlling the break?

  • energy expenditure. How long can you sit in the break before you get noticed and asked/told to work? Try and make your pulls work on a part of the course that suits you. If you’re not a great climber, don’t pull just before you reach the climb(s).

Things like this just seem so obvious in the cold light of day but come the race and you’re working hard, it can take nothing more than prior experience to warn you that you’re about to make the same mistake again.

Also worth noting, it’s not a bad thing to just roll the dice once in a while.

Riding chaingang/paceline is a real skill. Many folk simply burn too many matches by getting it wrong and it’s something that takes practice. Being in a break is also something that takes practice. Been said before, your turn doesn’t end until you’re safely on the back. The fastest chaingangs are the smoothest. Those with the pace going up and down with riders surging at the front are not as fast and s sure fire way to burn matches quickly.

In a race situation, it’s often not the rider that pedals hardest that wins the race, but the rider that pedals the least!!

I always think about what Trevor Connor on the Fast Talk podcast says: He calls it being the “Big Dumb Horse” sat on the front pulling.

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Found this out the hard way at the weekend. I’ve stepped up and riding with a faster group ride, took a pull at the front and then had a real battle to close the gap at the back to take my position at the back of the pack…

The mantra of “my pull doesn’t stop until I’m safely on the back” is going to stick in my head going forward.

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@Stringwise that is all part of the chess game of bike racing. Just to clarify, I am not advocating only sitting in while in a break…but you are also under no obligations to take a pull.

Extended pulls in a break are inefficient and a waste of energy. The most efficient way to move a break forward is “through and off”…if the group can maintain it. Not easy to accomplish.

But when in a break, your goal should be to do the least amount of work while ensuring the break survives

And never, ever, ever put your nose in the wind when the race is grouped together. There is ZERO reason to ever do this w/o a compelling strategic reason. Even if you want to move uo, wait until another rider is coming past and jump on their wheel to get back up front.

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I agree with what you are saying. I am just making it clear that no other rider is obligated to take a pull either. So my point is if I am in a break and everyone is looking at me to do the lion’s share of the work, then there will be no break. I have been in races in the new podcast/YouTube era where everyone is race educated with the same “do no work to win” mentality. The problem is if everyone plays that way it’s not chess it’s checkers. It sounds great but at this point everyone understands that’s the game all riders want to play and that makes it less effective. Successful breaks everyone works. Don’t destroy yourself with pulls but you have to work for the break to have a chance.

Fundamentally I agree with your points, just clarifying.

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