In yesterday's Paris-Tours, Virenque and Durand broke away pretty early (it is a 254Km race). They were alone, and had as much as five plus minutes on the peloton. At one point there was an intermediate group of pursuivants, but they were never closer than about two minutes, as I recall.
With about four Km to go, Durand fell back and was gobbled up by the peloton, leaving Virenque all alone in front. At the finish, he won by about two seconds, with the peloton massed all the way across the road behind him like a wall and coming fast.
My question is: how closely could he have planned that? I know that he is probably getting instructions from the manager in the team car, but is it a moment to moment thing, or could he actually figure how much of a lead to have by what point in order to win?
However he did it, it was pretty spectacular. His speed was right around 36.3 Kph.
Whenever you breakaway from the pack it is always a gamble, many times the rider is doing it just for the sponsor's advertising and KNOWS he can't stay away. When breaking away with the intent to stay away one usually does it when the course suits his strengths and/or has his/her team in a good position to block and hopes the other teams wait too long to start the chase.