[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 2 here and Part 3 here.]
How to not attack like a wussy
Part 1: How to Attack the Basics
by Chuck Hutcheson, Battley Harley-Davidson p/b Sonoma
I love to race my bike. I enjoy the feeling I get when I accelerate away from the field and know full well that if anybody is on my wheel or chasing me, then they are hurting because I'm hurting like hell too. Races are more fun and exciting when you are off the front by yourself or in a small group just suffering and driving the pace - and there is an angry chase happening behind you. It feels great finishing by your self, or in a small group ahead of a shattered field.
To have a solid attack, there are several pre-requisites. You must have good form/fitness, a quick acceleration, be comfortable with different levels of suffering, be able to recover quickly and, of course, have enough time-trialing ability to hold it to the end so all of your efforts are not in vain.
Your form should come from all of those long tempo rides you did in the winter and early spring. Without going to much into ideals of training itself, I believe that after a complete recovery from the previous season, to be a successful racer, your body needs those long rides so that your not digging deep just to hang. Hopefully you have the fitness when racing starts that no matter what the speed of the group you're just sitting in or rotating (with a purpose), comfortable bidding your time and waiting for a chance to launch. Simply put, if you are red lined in the pack, you are not going off the front.
Acceleration is another key component to the attack. If you can't pull away from the pack, you are going to end up towing it. I'll jump close to my max sprinting effort and try to fly by everybody fast enough to discourage anyone from coming with me. I like to practice this on group training rides, and sometimes if I get to far ahead, I will wait for the group and go again.
Bicycle racing is hard and you must be used to being out of you physical comfort zone. I think a lot of racers who are really strong suck because as soon as they start hurting they let up. Sitting in is easy, and going off the front is usually an exercise in suffering and excepting different levels of pain. Many times, the best time to go off the front is when everybody, including you, is already hurting. It may be single file, guys are cross eyed staring at the wheel ahead of them – then the lull – and POW! – Without even thinking you continue the effort, get a huge gap, and everyone behind you is looking at each other hoping someone else will chase – and you're gone.
I think one of the most important aspects to a successful attack is the ability to recover quickly. Once you're done accelerating and you are settled into your tempo off the front, or your breakaway companion is still driving it after you just took a monster pull, you need to be able to recover enough to remain efficient and effective till the end of the race. It is pointless to attack, get a gap off the front and then crack – although if this happens to someone else, it may be funny. Again, this is where practicing on the group training rides, or doing intervals will help. Note: I do intervals differently than how I think most do. I go out for only 20 minutes to a half hour and I'm done. I stay close to threshold, accelerate to max effort – hold it, drop to threshold until I can go back to max again. I do this for as many times as I can and for as long as I can. Intervals like this make for a short ride, and may not work for everyone, but I feel they work great for me.
Finally, you need to have enough time trialing ability to get you to the line. This ability goes hand and hand with form. Once you're off the front, and possibly by yourself, you have to lay it all out there on the road – all the way to the line. I never think about conserving anything in case I get caught, I think about conserving enough to get to the finish – even go negative and still be suffering after the race. It's kind of a trial and error deal, where I have gone off the front so many times, in training and in races that I have a pretty good ideal of how hard I can drive the pace suffering in the red zone and almost blowing sky high.