Road riding - part 4


They say you should train to your weaknesses and race to your strengths and that is great advice, but often your race strategy will be dictated by other riders and you will need a repertoire of strategies that you can call on. You'll need to know when to attack, bridge a gap, how to block and when to launch the final sprint.



Knowing when to attack is essential, it depends where you are in the race, and if you attacked successfully now and got away, could you ride to the finish on your own? Here are some tips for great places to launch your attack:


  • Going into or coming out of a corner
  • On a steep hill
  • As you crest a hill
  • Into a headwind or cross wind
  • When someone else’s attack has just been bought back
  • Immediately after a mid race sprint (prime)
  • If there is a lull in the pace


The most important thing is to commit 100% to your attack.  Having chosen a good time and place, usually when things are tough for everyone else, and in order to succeed you need to give it everything. If it works, it could be a race winning move and they typically do not come cheap.  If it does not work, you will have to sit in and recover before you try something else.






But if you do attack, satisfy yourself that you have really ‘got it all out’ before you sit up and resign yourself to be swallowed up by the bunch again. So many times in races, riders take time to organise a chase group and those vital momentS when they are refusing to commit to a proper chase, you could have got away.


Think about how you will mount your attack.  It is very unlikely that a bunch will allow you just to ride off the front on your own, so you will need to start further back in the bunch, move to the side and then jump away from the other riders, as if you were sprinting.  You need to create an instant gap, because if there is anyone on your wheel when you go, they will be getting a free ride.


Do not blow yourself out completely with the jump, because once you have a gap you need to get into time trial mode and keep the pressure on, and then at some point look over your shoulder and see if it has worked.  Out of sight is out of mind, so if you can get enough of a gap to be hidden around the next corner, you will be in a very strong position to hold that gap.


And yes, it does hurt, but remember that all gets forgotten quickly in the glory of winning.







Bridging a gap to a breakaway rider or group of riders is very similar to attacking, because unless you want to tow the whole bunch up to the breakaway,  you will need to jump out of the bunch and commit yourself to getting over to the lead group.


Again, you will need to commit 100% to the move.  Know that if you do not get across, the race will probably be over for you.  It is a ‘go hard or go home’ moment and you need to remember that it is better to go home knowing that you tried, than to sit in the chase group and do nothing to put yourself into a winning position.








If you are in a breakaway you need to think about how hard you can work, so take a look at your breakaway companions to see how hard they are working. There will be times when you have no choice but to work as hard as you can in order to ensure the break stays away, but there are times in an established break when you have a choice.


It is always fascinating to me how cyclists can find themselves forming temporary alliances with other riders who might be their closest rivals, but who, in a breakaway group suddenly need each other and will work like team mates towards the common goal of staying away.


And there is a very real code of ethics in racing that means whilst no one can force you to take your turn and work as hard as the others, a rider who does not work, quickly gets a reputation, particularly if, when it comes to the sprint for the line you show yourself to have been bluffing.


If you are genuinely suffering and simply cannot work as hard as the next rider, miss a turn, eat, drink and try to recover and then when you can, take a turn.  Tell your breakaway companions that you are not feeling great and that you will do what you can as soon as you can.  It might be exposing yourself as being weak, but it will save you from a lot of swearing in the long run.  If you are bluffing, know that you will only get away with it a few times!


If you are feeling strong, don’t get carried away and feel that you have to do all the work.  Carrying a group of riders to the finish, only to have them all jump past you at the line is not what this is about.  Look at your companions, encourage them to work with you if you can and look out for people who are bluffing.


If you are suffering and need to stretch out your back, or legs or even take a drink, do it when you are on the back of the group so that no one sees you. And all the time you are working think about how you are going to beat them when the time comes. Do you have a good sprint or will you need to get up to speed before you come past the group, to ensure no one gets on your wheel?








There is no doubt that genetics will have dealt you a hand with regards sprinting ability as the proportion of fast twitch muscle, which delivers the ability to product a short burst of intense speed, is primarily a hereditary thing.


However, in addition to this, sprinting is also a learned skill.  If you want to improve you should put yourself into race situations where you contest the sprint and you should also build sprints into your regular training rides to give yourself more practice.  The most common training sprints are town signs and they can add an element of fun competition into any group ride.


There are a few simple rules to follow when trying to win a sprint, in training or in a race:

  • Position: you need to be in the first few wheels to give yourself any chance of winning a sprint, but you should not be on the front until perhaps the last 200 meters, or you will find that you have just done a great job of leading out the rest of the field.
  • Preparation: do your homework; know who are the sprinters in the bunch and get onto a good wheel as the race comes into its final stages.  You may need to change the wheel you are following as the sprint unravels, so ensure you have space to move, don’t get boxed in and remember that if you think you are on a good wheel there is likely to be someone else who also wants it too, so be prepared to hold your ground.
  • Gearing: you need a gear that you can push but at the same time not get bogged down with in the final meters.  Remember, a small gear will allow you to jump more effectively and you may then have the opportunity to change to a bigger gear once the speed is really on.
  • Keep your head: in the last kilometre things can get pretty exciting, as the speed picks up and everyone jostles for position. There is likely to be some pushing and leaning, keep calm and hold your line.
  • Pick your moment to go: you need to pick a moment when you commit fully to the sprint that may be when the rider you are following starts to slow up, or it maybe when you feel other riders are about to come past you.  Give your self space, don’t sit directly on the wheel of the rider in front, if they jump you will be left with an unbridgeable gap, if they die you will be boxed in.  If you ride slightly to the side you will keep your options open.
  • Don’t celebrate until after you have crossed the line: it might look good for the sponsors if you have both hands in the air as you cross the line, but it can cost dearly.  Too many people have lost by a matter of inches for a moment of vanity. 





Blocking is one of the most basic team tactics; done properly it can ensure the success of a breakaway, done badly it can lead to negative racing and a great deal of bad feeling amongst your fellow riders.


The principle is simple, if you see a team mate attack (and you may have discussed exactly when this will happen prior to the race starting) you should move to the front of the pack and ride at a pace that is still race tempo, (to discourage riders from just coming past you and continuing the chase), but significantly it should be slower than the breakaway.


It should be a subtle controlling of the pace, not an overt slowing of the pace that will signpost your intentions to all and no doubt produce some shouting, as riders simply ride past you, pick up the pace and nullify the break you were trying to assist!


One tactic is to slow through corners and then accelerate out of them, which will concertina and then stretch the bunch out behind you and make it difficult for anyone to come past you.


If a chase does get organised and a pace line, riding through and off forms, get into this pace line and interrupt the rhythm of the chase; either go through, but soft tap (ie do not pull hard when you are on the front) or do not go through and disrupt the efforts of the chase group.


Be aware that less experienced riders might complain, but anyone who understands even the most basic of race tactics will understand what you are doing and they will understand that their challenge is to organise a chase in spite of your attempts to assist the breakaway.


Remember they have the choice of jumping away and trying to bridge to the breakaway (in which case your actions will assist them too), rather than simply dragging the bunch back up to the escapees, which results in negative racing and is never a welcome tactic.


Happy racing! If you missed part 1, then have a read here.


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