With winter in full force, I thought I’d put up a quick race strategy post. I hope this will give the racers out there a little extra motivation when out training, and possibly spend some time on the road visualizing using this tactic.
The solo breakaway is a classic strategy which can succeed under certain conditions. Technical courses are beneficial because the chasing group or peloton has to negotiate the corners as a group and not every rider can follow a perfect line and carry their speed. A tailwind can also benefit a solo rider because the benefit of drafting is reduced for the chasers. Obviously a long climb is a good opportunity for the same reason, but will benefit climbers the most.
If you’re an amateur, or even an elite racer, watching pro cycling can help give a better feel of when this strategy is most likely to succeed. But keep in mind that many of the tactics are different at lower levels of the sport. Most importantly, the teams are often much less organized and won’t be able to muster an eight man group at the front of the peloton for an organized chase.
A solo move may seem inevitably doomed by the numbers alone. Riders drafting in a group will always have a theoretical advantage, as they can share the workload in the wind. Conditions which limit the advantage of the group are helpful, but their advantage is still limited by their ability to work together.
I learned a good example of the efficiency required of the group at the Haystack Team Time Trial last year. Hardly any teams posted a faster time than their individual riders. Some of this could be attributed to fatigue on the same-day effort, but in a <30 minute TT I wouldn’t expect the difference to be so dramatic. The bottom line is that a solo rider never slows down, and a chasing group will always have some breaks in the rhythm.
Establishing the move
I could write an entire post or more on this, but I’ll touch on it here. Most of what I’ve mentioned so far should be viewed as ‘key moment’ attacks: The last 5-10 laps of a criterium, the last climb of a circuit race, or sometime within the last half hour of a road race. A ‘long bomb’ solo breakaway is rarely a useful tactic for an individual, but can be useful as a team tactic.
The solo move us usually made most easily when it is unexpected. Spend some time near the front and maybe you’ll see a little separation behind when you’re setting the pace. Someone will have to close the gap and most riders are reluctant to do any extra work. Keep your body position steady and the riders behind won’t see you hammering away from them and won’t be as agitated.
The aggressive ‘bottle rocket’ attack usually raises too many eyebrows and you’re more likely to bring someone along with you, or agitate the peloton. Of course if you’re feeling good enough to ride away from the peloton at a very difficult moment in the race, it is worth considering riding away if the finale is suitable for a solo move.
The solo move isn’t fit for all riders or courses, but when the time is right, it can have the highest risk/reward of any strategy in cycling. I’ve been successful at it myself a time or two and there is no greater feeling than beating the whole peloton on your own terms.