[Attacking. It's the only way bike races are won, yet how and
when to do it are among the most elusive skills. Unless you race for
Battley Harley-Davidson, anyway. They pelt competitors from a ceaseless
hail of attacks, as if the black skies opened up and into a torrential
painstorm. They attack so hard that the course climbs into the sag
wagon. They attack so fiercely that that Chuck Norris is rumored to be
in negotiations with the team, offering to trade his roundhouse kick
for their VO2 max. They attack while the early bird is dead asleep, and
after the fat lady has sung.
This installment of Not Like a Wussy is attacked by three members of the Battley Harley-Davidson team: Chuck Hutcheson, Russ Langley and Dave Fuentes. See Part 1 here and Part 2 here.]
When I was asked to contribute to the article, I thought to myself "What do I know about making a break stick?" Then it hit me. It could be described in one word "Commit".
What does that mean? I have been in my fair share of breaks. Some go on to be the race winning move, some are to set up the counter, and some are just for show to see who wants to "play" that particular day. With the exception of the last one, I have always had one goal in mind, which is to better my odds to win the race.
When you line up for a race, look around and observe your rivals for the day. You might see a field of 30 riders show up for a hot, July industrial park crit, or 100 riders in a March Road Race. The one thing that should stick out is the fact that there is only 1 person that will win the race. Why can't it be you?
I know that there are a lot of riders that fancy them selves as "sprinters", but I think the most successful riders are going to be the ones that are more versatile. When you are racing, you want to be part of the race. Isn't that why your out there? If you want to pay $25 to sit behind a bunch of guys and try and sprint at the end of an hour, hell, give me the money and I'll let you sit on my wheel and sprint after an hour at the point. I promise to let you win.
When you're out there racing, you want to test your personal limits. Being in a break is the best way to be a "factor in the race". I don't want to get into the whole dynamic of team tactics, heart rate, threshold, type of course, etc, but I will try and break it down as simple as possible.
You're racing and all of a sudden, the pack slows down. You decide to attack and now you're off the front on your own. "Shit, I didn't mean to do that" is what you might be thinking. Now is your time to be part of the race. You should commit to your attack and get into the mind set that you can go this alone if you have to. If riders bridge up to you, great! They should all be in the mind set of making the break stick. This requires the commitment from everyone. Your pulls should be equal in length, allowing enough time for those who just pulled to recover a bit before their next turn. Don't kill it and try and crush the break with super hard pulls. You will only succeed in dropping valuable HP off the back or, in most cases, scaring your breakaway companions into not working because they might not be as strong as you. If you're really that strong, you should hold your cards close to you, and play that "crushing move" close to the end once the break is established. The ideal break should be 3-5 riders. With that many riders, most of the teams should be represented, with the rotation smooth and fast, and you will be able to pick the best lines into the corner. This will also minimize the chance of being "gapped". Now if you are the rider that has missed the break and think you can make it across, you must do it as quickly as possible. Make a hard attack out of a corner and attempt to close the gap as quickly as possible. The less you're in "no man's land" the better. If you succeed in closing the gap, take a brief moment to recover before taking pulls. The break shouldn't mind a couple of skipped rotations. This will mean added HP to the break and possibly another team that will not chase. This doesn't mean sit on for 10 laps! You will only succeed in pissing off the break. Everyone will have their own tactic once it gets closer to the end. If the break is certain to stay away and you get to the point of the race where there are only a few miles or laps left in the race, all bets are off! Now it's time to race. I know we have all seen that stage in the Tour when the break starts to attack itself and riders are digging so deep that it hurts to watch. That kind of racing doesn't happen too often around here, but to a lesser degree it could. I have been that rider to start the attacking and put the hurt onto everyone, but have also been on the receiving end of those attacks - and it's not fun. The main thing for me is that I am part of the race, and to some point, am a factor on how it will shape the rest of the race. I have had my share of failures and have been dumped out of the winning break. I have also been the rider to have launched the attack at the right time and solo in for the win.
My point is that if you never try, you will never know. You will lose more races and never win; no doubt about that, but there will be that one race where you pulled it off because you executed something you remember reading in this article. Being part of the break gives you an adrenaline rush that is hard to describe. Knowing that you are actually taking part and shaping the race will give you something that can not be replicated - experience. There are riders that have never been in a race winning break, there are some that are always there. From personal experience, the rush never gets old. One of my best races of the year was a race that I finished 4th out of a 4 man break. All I had to do was beat 1 rider and I would have been on the podium. I was capable of winning the race, but it was not my day and I was simply outclassed by 3 riders that were some of the best in the country. I crossed the finish line and after my eyes uncrossed themselves, I started to get huge wave of relief wash over me because I raced as hard as I could that day and I was only good enough for 4th. I was satisfied with that. Not with just 4th place, but more because I was able to read and recognize what was happening in the race and made my move to join the break at a point where if I waited a second later, I might have not made it. I then remember the moment when the break of 8 split and I was on the back half of the split. I was the only rider to bridge to the leaders and it turned out to be the winning move in a NRC race. That was the experience of trying many times and having it finally work out for me. Make it a goal to try something that you might not normally try like attack from the gun or try a solo move at the end of a race. Maybe even establish a breakaway or bridge across to a break. Go out there and have fun racing. Go out there and have fun racing your bike.
I'm not a coach, and this is just a simple guide of what I think is an easy way to work a break. I'm sure there are different opinions out there, and what works for one person, might not work for another. It's about finding the right combination and tweaking it to fit your style of racing. Besides, what do I know about riding a break anyway?
"Success is built on failure."