A breakaway is a very unique thing to cycling.
A couple of riders try their luck and take on the whole peleton in a race to the finish line.
In terms of Irish racing, races tend to follow the same format race after race; a fast start with plenty of attacking which leads to a small group of riders that break away and contest the win.
In other countries and at a professional level, getting in a breakaway tends to be a suicide mission in an effort to gain exposure for the team and its sponsors.
How to get in a breakaway is one of the questions I get asked most often.
It’s a skill that you acquire over time. You hear the term ‘breakaway specialist’, these are simply riders that know what to look out for and know what to do when a breakaway is being established.
It requires you to be a strong but smart rider and it isn’t a particularly difficult skill to acquire.
Above all a good warm up is essential.
Most breakaways tend to go in the opening few kilometres.
Without a good warm up you can kiss the breakaway goodbye.
You don’t need to complete bury yourself before the race starts but a few efforts that will prepare your body for the hard effort are essential.
A few minutes at a reasonable intensity and a few short sprints will work fine.
When to attack
There are two main considerations to take into account when attacking in a race to form a breakaway, the section of the race to attack on and/or the moment in the race to attack.
Knowing the section to attack at is a case of simply doing your homework i.e knowing the course of the race.
There is no point in attacking on a short hill if it is followed by a 5km downhill, as the momentum of the peleton will have you caught in seconds.
Rolly and twisty roads on the circuit are perfect locations for launching attacks that will lead to successful breakaways. ‘Out of sight, out of mind’!
The perfect moment in a race to attack are the moments when most people least expecting it.
This is usually after a hard section when everyone eases up and takes a moment to get their breath back.
In stage races these moments often follow intermediate sprints etc. Attacking when it’s hard or from the gun is often a waste of time as everyone is on the lookout for a move to go.
Committing to an attack is important but does require some common sense.
When you attack you’ve got to go full gas and hope the element of surprise establishes a gap between you and the other riders.
This doesn’t mean a full gas sprint for 30 seconds that you can’t recover from and end up blowing your lights out 2 minutes later. Attack hard but have something left to maintain the attack.
This can be replicated in training by having full gas sprints before you start your efforts.
As I mentioned earlier, breakaways are about a small group of riders taking on the peleton.
As a result, cooperation within the breakaway is key.
Stronger riders have a duty to drive on the break when they can and weaker riders have to offer help when they can.
A perfect example of this is a heavy rider that will struggle in the hills rides on the flat sections while the lighter sits on until the hills.
The lighter rider will then ride at the front while the heavier rider sits on.
Communication within the break is far more effective than playing mind games and ruining each other’s chances.
Keep the sly tactics for the closing kilometres when the breakaway is looking like it will make it to the line.
Train for breakaways
Apply similar efforts that you will experience in a breakaway in your training.
As I mentioned earlier, sprint before you start an interval, on group rides practice up and over similar to that in a breakaway, implement short hard efforts e.g Tabatha type efforts into your training to mimic following wheels to get in a breakaway etc.
Chances are you won’t get into a breakaway purely by luck.
These are some of the skills you have to master first.
Once you do, it’ll become second nature and getting into breakaways will become much easier.
See you up the road!