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Old 08-04-12, 10:54 AM   #1
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Breaks: which one to go with?

I used to just wait for field sprints, but if I do that now (in the 1/2's) it's usually sprinting for 6th or worse.. I still love field sprints but I need to figure out breaks now, can't ignore them anymore.

So how do you decide to go with a break or not? The factors seem to be:

a) Who's in it (people, teams)
b) How many in it
c) How early in the race is it (too early?)
d) what else do you look for?

Obviously it seems like the break with the big teams represented is the one to go with.. but many times it seems like the first few breaks are just teasers, setting things up for the 'real' break.

Also I'm racing more or less alone these days, so the other thing is that I can't just cover everything that goes b/c I'll eventually blow up; I need to be picky about which ones to go with.

I know much of it comes down to local context, e.g. the usual suspects, but excluding that what do you look for?
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Old 08-04-12, 12:07 PM   #2
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Getting in the right break is probably one of the most difficult things out there. In most cases it basically comes down to luck. Even if you do everything right there is no guarantee that you will succeed. There are a few things I try to do during races:

- Know the strong riders. I would want to be in the break if some the strongest riders are there as well.
- Know the course and wind so that I can judge where a possible winning break might go off. Hills and crosswinds are likely to create selections.
- Spot the teams that do the most work. I am more likely to succeed if I find yourself in a break with one of their riders.
- Never be afraid to attack. But this doesn't mean that you should attack willy-nilly.

Out of countless efforts I finally managed to finally get in a winning break earlier this season. I attacked on a hill along with a rider from the only team that was willing to do any work in the peleton. Caught my fellow escapee on the unawares with an attack and soloed to victory.
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Old 08-04-12, 12:10 PM   #3
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I used to just wait for field sprints, but if I do that now (in the 1/2's) it's usually sprinting for 6th or worse.. I still love field sprints but I need to figure out breaks now, can't ignore them anymore.

So how do you decide to go with a break or not? The factors seem to be:

a) Who's in it (people, teams)
b) How many in it
c) How early in the race is it (too early?)
d) what else do you look for?

Obviously it seems like the break with the big teams represented is the one to go with.. but many times it seems like the first few breaks are just teasers, setting things up for the 'real' break.

Also I'm racing more or less alone these days, so the other thing is that I can't just cover everything that goes b/c I'll eventually blow up; I need to be picky about which ones to go with.

I know much of it comes down to local context, e.g. the usual suspects, but excluding that what do you look for?
how long have you been on this forum again? here's something helpful http://bit.ly/Ngz4Dt

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Old 08-04-12, 12:25 PM   #4
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I'm not a break type rider although I'll try and create/join them for kicks.

However, when I see breaks go up the road, it's usually for a couple reasons.

In Cat 3 or lower races the field gets totally strung out due to course features (corners, narrowness, wind, weather). It starts to become very difficult to find shelter. In the 3s and below usually you'll find a wider range of fitness/ability than 2s and above so as the field strings out you'll get some gaps etc. The strong riders can launch and no one will get them.

The other type is when you get someone unknown, say a strong triathlete or runner or mountain biker who goes up the road and there are a few guys that train with him and know him and they go with him. Now you have one guy in a non team kit ("Holy cow that guy in the blue was so strong!") and a few guys in team kits that you don't consider a threat individually. The unknown guy does a Bernard Hinault pull (when Hinault bridged to a break he'd drill it for a few minutes, build a minute or two buffer, then pull off and assess the situation), the break suddenly has 50 seconds, and everyone starts looking at each other. Even if a Cat 3 team gets together to try and chase they usually do it wrong, they aren't strong enough, etc.

In Cat 2 or higher (or P123 for example) the fitness/ability levels are more consistent. I watched one race, 50 laps P12 I think, and it was strung out for 49 of those laps. I had no idea how anyone could get away, but in that case one guy took off and held off a hard charging field for virtually the whole race (45 lap solo? 47 laps? I'll ask him next time I see him). Two guys in the field were good pros, Jeff Rutter and Graeme Miller (racing for Scott BiKyle). They couldn't catch him. So that's one type of break, where someone commits and can TT at 28 mph slow and 32 mph fast. His tactic was to go 28 mph and if he heard me say they were chasing or the gap came down he'd go 30-32 mph for a lap or two until the gap stabilized again, then he'd slow down to 28 mph. Sounds so simple when he says it. I blew myself up going 30 mph for a lap - he did a similar effort for 40 something laps.

The other thing that happens is it's like the pros in the Tour and a break suddenly gets 5 minutes in 10km. The right combination goes up the road. In a P123 race last year three separate strong breaks went up the road. Each time the field would gather itself up and guys would start launching off the front bang bang bang, and after 4 or 5 or 6 laps the 30 second break would come back. When the 3rd break went the Livestrong kid missed it, every guy who had a friend or teammate up front sat up, and suddenly we were going about 18 mph on the backstretch. The break quickly gained 40-50 seconds.

Then, kind of ironically, very close to the end, the Livestrong kid blasts out of the field solo, catches the break on the last lap or so, and wins the sprint. Haha. Very impressive. So he did the "guy who breaks the field" kind of ride to counter the "break that gets blocked off the front" kind of break.

I just realized my two examples are on the same course.

As a disclaimer I've been in (very unusually for me) 4? breaks this year, 2 of them launched either at 3 to go or 2 to go. I blew myself up in each race-end attempt and actually shelled myself in an early break (caught/dropped). That's my recent history in breaks and even when fit it's not much different.
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Old 08-04-12, 03:07 PM   #5
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Breaks: which one to go with?
the one that stays away. duh.
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Old 08-04-12, 03:21 PM   #6
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...So that's one type of break, where someone commits and can TT at 28 mph slow and 32 mph fast. His tactic was to go 28 mph and if he heard me say they were chasing or the gap came down he'd go 30-32 mph for a lap or two until the gap stabilized again, then he'd slow down to 28 mph. ...
Every time you say something like this, I feel shelled just sitting at the computer. You should put a warning at the top of these posts

What would it take to bridge a two minute gap at those speeds? Is it even possible for one or two riders? Does the field usually give up when that happens?
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Old 08-04-12, 04:09 PM   #7
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The guy that won that P12 race is one of the most talented racers in the area, so you can feel shelled. It's not a bad thing. That's why those breaks work, because the guy is a monster on the bike.

He also got 3rd at the 2002 Elite Road Race. His tactic there was simple. Keep out of the wind for the first 90-something miles of the race, stay hydrated (it was hot), and parlay the knowledge that he can go really, really, really hard for 10-15 miles.

At 8 miles to go (out of 120 miles? I forget) there was a 4 man break up the road. 7-Up was represented by Brice Jones (and he described this race in a blog post in cyclingnews.com which has since disappeared, but the title was something like "Number 56", the race number of the racer from around here; him and some 7-Up teammates had a column going for a while). There were 3 other guys including the friendly 2011 Crit Champ David Wenger (?), I think that was the year the local guy met him.

Anyway 8 miles to go, Local Loco knows he can bridge a minute gap solo, and the gap was about a minute. Super hot, very trying conditions, and everyone looked resigned in the field.

He launches himself out of the field. He bridges in 5 miles of 100% effort. When he catches the break Jones looks at him and says, "Hey, man, you just bridged, we've been killing ourselves out here, you pull us to the finish."

So Local Loco puts his head down and pull the break to the finish, 3 miles away. He pulls right up until guys start sprinting. Brice Jones, the favored rider in the group, pulls out of his shoe when he goes to sprint, gets 5th. Another rider can't move so gets 4th. Local Loco gets 3rd and he literally pulled from 8 miles to go and then led out the break for 3 miles.

I googled the results - it was in 2001, not 2002.

At Bethel he pulled the P123 field for a while at the start (he's won there too, solo). I was on his wheel. He looked back and decided to do an impromptu FTP test on me. He went faster and faster until a couple laps later he rode me off his wheel (and by then the field was totally strung out and he was off the front).
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Old 08-04-12, 06:18 PM   #8
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know the strong riders and chase anything that looks good until you blow up or get in a good break. this theory has put me in many wining breaks over the years. no risk no reward.
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Old 08-04-12, 06:53 PM   #9
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Crits or road races? I look for different things in each.
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Old 08-04-12, 08:37 PM   #10
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Crits or road races? I look for different things in each.
Rarely if ever do I go in the first break of either. Once the first substantial break is caught i get ready to go with the counter that is coming.
Regardless of which break you get into you have to be 100% committed or you are just burning matches.
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Old 08-04-12, 08:50 PM   #11
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The guy that won that P12 race is one of the most talented racers in the area, so you can feel shelled. It's not a bad thing. That's why those breaks work, because the guy is a monster on the bike.
I think being a monster is down the list of why breaks succeed. The field's reaction or lack thereof is really what determines whether you stay away. A determined effort by the field will almost always bring back a break unless the break is comprised of riders who belong in a higher category. The question is really how determined or coordinated the effort is.
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Old 08-05-12, 09:48 AM   #12
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know the strong riders and chase anything that looks good until you blow up or get in a good break.
Well yeah. But what do you do if you're at a big stage race (100+) field, and you know maybe 2-3 of them?

I wonder if there are patterns to look for, besides the (apparent) fact that the first break is rarely the right one.

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Crits or road races? I look for different things in each.
A great point. I was thinking mostly of rr breaks, but I'm interested in your thoughts on both.

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Rarely if ever do I go in the first break of either. Once the first substantial break is caught i get ready to go with the counter that is coming.
Regardless of which break you get into you have to be 100% committed or you are just burning matches.
Yeah, the 100% committed part is tough... I have this huge aversion to getting dropped/DNF, and that seems to be the end result for many that commit but can't hang.

I chased everything that moved at the beginning of the CR yesterday, but of course the one that stuck was the one that went after I was cooked and had to just watch from the pack.. I should've been more patient and waited.
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Old 08-05-12, 11:49 AM   #13
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What you're really asking for is, how do you read a race. If anyone can boil that down to a thread in an Internet forum, they are a fool, because they could be making thousands on a book.

There are lots of indicators, big and small, that can help you figure out when a break is about to go. The winning moves in my road races have come on climbs when the 5w/kg FTP guys hit the gas and I can't hang. All the tips in the world aren't going to help me hang with them, but the indicators are there. An attack before the start of a climb. The big guys start to take over the front of the field. The front of the field gets sketchy like on the last lap of a dead flat crit. In crits, there are lots of indicators. Field apathy. The overall pace up to that point. Itchiness on the faces of the big guys. Shifting on the flats. False attacks. Teams sending the same two guys to drill the field with one guy hanging back. Stuff like that.

You say that you have an aversion to getting dropped. What you are asking for are what I would call "follower tactics", i.e. how to read a race so that you make the winning break. What is much more important, to me at least, is knowing what you are capable of and for how long under various conditions. Don't answer these questions here, ask them to yourself. How much power can you hold for 30 seconds, 1min, 5min, 10min, 20min...alone, in a group of equals, and in a group of weaker riders? Each of those three scenarios can happen in races. It is easy to test the solo part in training. You can interpret the other two scenarios with experience in races. This means that you will have to get over your aversion to getting dropped and race more aggressively. Review the race in your mind while going over the power data and take an honest look at how much you put into the break and for how long. All of this data will pay dividends down the road.

Regarding not going with the first break as a rule, I disagree. It is not rare in my races for the winning break to be the first break. The odds are against it, but it's not 99-1. Unless you're the strongest guy in the field, winning is all about beating the odds, isn't it? Why deny yourself the chance because the odds are against it?
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Old 08-05-12, 08:26 PM   #14
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A few weeks ago, I was in a break in a crit that went from the whistle and made it all the way to the finish.

The next week, same weeknight crit, essentially the same conditions and same riders, there were constant attacks for 45 minutes, then finally the winning break went just before the 5 to go card came out. I was in that one too.

Commonality: In both cases I saw the move developing, assessed that it had potential, and killed myself to go with, do or die effort. These two happened to succeed. There have been way more times when I put in the effort, made the split, and either blew up or we got caught and I had nothing left for the real move. But for me, I'm never going to win a field sprint, so it's my best shot. I really don't care whether I get 4th or DFL; wins are what I seek, and podiums I'll settle for.

Lesson: You gotta commit. "Break" is a verb in this context.
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Old 08-05-12, 09:15 PM   #15
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I dunno. I just wait for the field sprint.
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Old 08-06-12, 05:10 AM   #16
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I dunno. I just wait for the field sprint.
To come up behind you.
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Old 08-06-12, 05:18 AM   #17
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I dunno. I just wait for the field sprint.
it's a good view usually from the podium area
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Old 08-06-12, 06:49 AM   #18
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There's another key way of knowing if a break will work or not - wait for a sprinter to bridge. If they don't shell the sprinter at some point the break will probably sit up.

I tell my teammates that I'll cover breaks early on. Meaning if there's an early break that looks good, it takes just a little something to make everyone sit up (since the field is still fresh). If I bridge up everyone knows that first, I can't pull to save my life, and second, if they don't shell me I'll theoretically beat them in the sprint. They usually sit up.

Other teammates, when they cover breaks, it's to go and win the race from the break, not to kill the break. They're strong enough to pull off stuff like that.
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Old 08-06-12, 08:16 AM   #19
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the one that stays away. duh.
+1

Seriously though, all of my wins or podium places have come from breaks. As an older rider I appreciate the steady efforts more than the constant surges.

A good move is one that not only has riders from the right teams but the right riders from the right teams. This means you need to do a bit of homework before you hit the start line. I usually mark three of four riders and look for moments when they are in the right positions to attack. This requires a bit of pack awareness and the ability to position yourself in the bunch.

As others have mentioned sometimes there are natural selectors in the course and places where moves are most likely to go. You need to be fed, recovered, positioned and on the right wheel at those moments.

The last thing is commitment.

I am always slightly amused at the weekly worlds when some kid jumps, gets ten meters off the front and then starts looking back. If you're gonna go then bloody well go! If you commit to a move then when you hit the front put your head down and drive, drive, drive. If the others around you aren't doing the same thing then sit up or jump. What ever you choose commit to it.

For me there's nothing like the moment you realize you're clear, the official's car and team cars have settled in behind, there are looks and nods and five or six guys settle in to work because we all know the race is here now and whatever happens behind just doesn't matter any more.
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Old 08-06-12, 09:16 AM   #20
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For me there's nothing like the moment you realize you're clear, the official's car and team cars have settled in behind, there are looks and nods and five or six guys settle in to work because we all know the race is here now and whatever happens behind just doesn't matter any more.

How Michael Barry of you.
Canadian's and their poetry.
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Old 08-06-12, 09:30 AM   #21
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+1


The last thing is commitment.

I am always slightly amused at the weekly worlds when some kid jumps, gets ten meters off the front and then starts looking back. If you're gonna go then bloody well go! If you commit to a move then when you hit the front put your head down and drive, drive, drive. If the others around you aren't doing the same thing then sit up or jump. What ever you choose commit to it.
I never look back. I may glance on corners but if I have decided to go that's it, one of three things will happen:
1. I stay away and win or whatever
2. I get caught
3. I pop

All looking back will do is put a question in my mind if I am strong enough. BY always looking ahead you are forcing the group to catch you. Believe me when I am sitting in a group and I can see someone away that is looking back to me it shows a lack of confidence and commitment and also tells me that you aren't going to maintain position. BUT when a guy gets out there with his head buried that is a guy that will concern me.
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Old 08-06-12, 09:31 AM   #22
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How Michael Barry of you.
Canadian's and their poetry.
We're not all that bad...
Why so sad?
Or is it mad?
There is so much knowledge to be had...
That I did not learn from my dad...
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Old 08-06-12, 09:35 AM   #23
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We're not all that bad...
Why so sad?
Or is it mad?
There is so much knowledge to be had...
That I did not learn from my dad...
well I suppose not all Canadiens inherited that gene
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Old 08-06-12, 09:37 AM   #24
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well I suppose not all Canadiens inherited that gene
Nice retort my friend...
But we can all play hockey.
Nice Freudian slip...
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Old 08-06-12, 09:42 AM   #25
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What you're really asking for is, how do you read a race. If anyone can boil that down to a thread in an Internet forum, they are a fool, because they could be making thousands on a book.

There are lots of indicators, big and small, that can help you figure out when a break is about to go. The winning moves in my road races have come on climbs when the 5w/kg FTP guys hit the gas and I can't hang. All the tips in the world aren't going to help me hang with them, but the indicators are there. An attack before the start of a climb. The big guys start to take over the front of the field. The front of the field gets sketchy like on the last lap of a dead flat crit. In crits, there are lots of indicators. Field apathy. The overall pace up to that point. Itchiness on the faces of the big guys. Shifting on the flats. False attacks. Teams sending the same two guys to drill the field with one guy hanging back. Stuff like that.

You say that you have an aversion to getting dropped. What you are asking for are what I would call "follower tactics", i.e. how to read a race so that you make the winning break. What is much more important, to me at least, is knowing what you are capable of and for how long under various conditions. Don't answer these questions here, ask them to yourself. How much power can you hold for 30 seconds, 1min, 5min, 10min, 20min...alone, in a group of equals, and in a group of weaker riders? Each of those three scenarios can happen in races. It is easy to test the solo part in training. You can interpret the other two scenarios with experience in races. This means that you will have to get over your aversion to getting dropped and race more aggressively. Review the race in your mind while going over the power data and take an honest look at how much you put into the break and for how long. All of this data will pay dividends down the road.

Regarding not going with the first break as a rule, I disagree. It is not rare in my races for the winning break to be the first break. The odds are against it, but it's not 99-1. Unless you're the strongest guy in the field, winning is all about beating the odds, isn't it? Why deny yourself the chance because the odds are against it?
Good stuff, thanks!

Quote:
Originally Posted by Creakyknees View Post
But for me, I'm never going to win a field sprint, so it's my best shot.
The thing for me is that none of my wins have come from breaks. Half from field sprints, the rest from last-lap attacks that got me a gap of a few bike lengths; I'm not even sure how to classify the latter, since it's somewhere between a field sprint and a break, just that I went way early and alone.

Anyway I'm starting to wonder if I'm just barking up the wrong tree, e.g. breaks just aren't for everyone - however I do need to start trying new things, in addition to keep on doing what has always worked for me.
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