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September 21, 2009
Spring is well underway here in Australia and criterium season is right around the corner. While the rest of the world is starting to think about cyclocross season the majority of cyclists here are coming out of hibernation, showing their pasty white legs, and beginning their race campaign. I thought it would be a great time of year to start talking about the attack.
Do you ever notice how some guys always seem to get lucky and make it in every winning move? Well, it’s not so much “luck” as it is knowing when, where and how to attack. Here is a list of the biggest mistakes when attacking while bike racing and why your attack sometimes fails:
1. Attacking into a tailwind. Don’t bother attacking in a tailwind. Chances are that if you find it easy, the rest of the peloton finds it easy too. You’ll never get too far away from the pack when you’re rolling easily at 50km/hr with a tailwind.
2. Attacking into a blistering headwind. You’ll just hang yourself out there in the wind while 98% of the bunch is taking it easy and using next to no energy. You’ll soon fade, the peloton will gobble you up and you’ll be relegated to the back of the pack. It’s always much better to save your attack for the crosswinds just after you turn a corner. This could potentially decimate the peloton and you’ll be in a massive advantage having instigated this type of attack.
3. Attacking on a descent. Sure you’ll be going fast and you might get a good gap on the group, but it hardly ever works. Again…if it’s easy for you, it’s probably easy for the rest of the pack too.
4. Attacking too early in the race. Early in the race is when most people are nervous, everyone is jockeying for position and flexing their muscle. Sure there will be times that a break forms early on but it’s rare that it sticks. Judge it by paying attention to who is in the early breaks, how strong they are, how long the race is, the course profile, and the weather conditions.
5. Giving up too early. Many times when you attack and get a few people to come along with you it will spark a reaction from the peloton. You’ll get a good gap and then shortly after the peloton will bring you back within 50m (or so) of catching you. At this point the chasing members of the peloton will then lay-off as they’ll assume they’ve caught you. It would be easy for you to give up and call it quits and drift back into the peloton. Don’t give up just yet. I’ve seen this situation so many times and lots of times it pays to keep pushing on. Often the break starts to pull away and opens up a healthy gap again. You’ll be kicking yourself if you give up and drift back to the peloton and the break you were once a part of gets away.
6. Not attacking hard enough. Whether you’re attacking to bridge a gap or to create the winning move, some riders just don’t commit and go hard enough. You’ll be left out to dry if you pace yourself too conservatively. I’m referring to the situation where the peloton is already going at a roaring pace and a violent attack is what it takes to get away. Anything less will put you in no-man’s land.
7. Attacking too hard. I know this is contrary to what I just said. However, sometimes there’s a lull where the peloton has settled into a comfortable pace everyone is quite content just rolling along. If you decide to unleash an explosive attack all you’ll be doing is kicking the hornets nest. Sometimes what works much better is an non-threatening move where you roll off the front from a few wheels back. Keep seated so it looks harmless enough and the peloton will often let you keep going. Hopefully someone will join and then you quietly ramp up the pace and continue to slowly grow your gap. This usually works better in the middle sections of road races rather than crits.
8. Attacking too early on a long climb. Unless you’re Contador you probably won’t be able to hold the pace. All you’ll do is go way above your threshold trying to get a gap and then blow up. The riders setting the pace behind you will be comfortably rolling along and then spit you out the back when they catch you. You’ll have nothing left to respond with. Unless you’re a super climber it’s always better to attack on the hills closer to the end when everyone is in difficulty. Just be aware of what is over top of the hill. If it’s a descent, I wouldn’t bother unless you’re going for KOM points.
9. Attacking when riding through the feedzone. Bad etiquette and not cool. You’ll look like a nuff nuff.
10. Putting too much faith into these “attacking rules”. These are general observations taken from my experience in hundreds of bike races. I’ve seen riders break these so-called “rules” time and time again and sometimes come away with surprising wins. The rest of the pack will be sitting there after the race scratching their heads wondering “how did he pull that off?”. There are many unexpected outcomes in bike racing which ultimately makes it such a wonderful sport. Watch carefully, read the race, and most importantly know your competition.