With race season in full swing, now is an appropriate time to discuss the intricacies of attacking. Whether you are a serious racer or just want to put the hurt on your friends during the weekday group ride (or Sunday morning coffee shop ride), it is critical to remember a few key points in order to increase your chance of success.
The main goal of any attack is to create initial separation between yourself and the rest of the group. You have to create enough of a gap to make the other riders question whether they are able and willing to regain contact with your wheel. Sometimes even a moment’s hesitation by the peloton is sufficient time for you to get away. At the very least, this makes any riders attempting to bridge up to you work just as hard as you did originally.
- Don’t attack from the very front. It is generally best to be rider #2-#5. Depending on how large the group is, you could potentially be a few spots further back but not much further than 10 riders. You want to be near the front, but not ON the front. This allows you to use the element of surprise, and you will not be as fatigued from pulling the peloton from the front.
- Pick an appropriate place on the course to attack. Immediately coming out of a turn is often a good place to attack if you are near the front because the riders behind you have to slow down through the turn and must accelerate to catch back on to the front, leading to the “accordion effect.” A hill or other defining feature is also generally an ideal place to attack because the group will be going at a slower pace, there is less draft benefit, and many riders may already be at their limits.
- Take note of the wind conditions. It is usually inadvisable to attack into a headwind because the added resistance makes it more difficult to create separation. Similarly if there is a cross wind, you’d want to attack from the side more sheltered from the wind. The strong wind makes it more difficult for you to create separation, and if anyone is able to get on your wheel, they save an incredible amount of energy by drafting.
- Be in an appropriate gear so that you can spin up and accelerate at a high cadence. You will want to shift into a harder gear in order to accommodate the increased intensity, but oftentimes, people shift up too early. It is much easier to accelerate quickly if you are in a slightly lower gear and work on increasing your leg speed. When you feel you are spinning out, shift into a harder gear and repeat.
- Attack with momentum. One good way to do this is to let a small gap open between you and the rider in front of you so that you can accelerate into the draft as you attack. This momentum means you are already traveling 3-4 mph faster than the rest of the group and can more easily create a large gap.
- Go to the other side of the road from the rest of the group. Similar to not attacking from the front, this also adds to the element of surprise. You are already further away from the other riders, so they must go that extra distance to get on your wheel.
- Commit to it! Too often riders get a decent initial gap but keep looking back at the group and soon give up because they think they will be caught. The first part after the initial attack is the hardest. You should give everything you have for that first minute to get as large of a gap as possible, and then settle into a pace you can sustain.
- Resign yourself when you must, but not before! If you feel that the peloton is definitely going to catch you and there is a lot of racing left, do not keep drilling it off the front. Slow down to begin recovering while the group makes contact. Then hopefully you will not get dropped when you are back in the peloton. However, don’t give up too early! Many times it looks like a rider is going to get caught, but the other riders cannot seem to cooperate in order to close the final few meters. Also, when you launch a late race attack like with one lap to go on a criterium, you never slow back down to the group. By that point you have made your decision. The other riders will be much fresher than you, so you must give it everything you have all the way to the finish no matter how close the peloton becomes.
So the next time you want to do some damage at a local race or group ride, remember these tips. Being successful in attacking requires a great deal of fitness, but tactics also play a huge role. Even a perfectly executed attack is not guaranteed to work. It depends a lot on your strength and the strength and cooperation of the rest of the riders. Do not get discouraged. Just keep practicing aggressive and smart riding. Eventually, your efforts will be rewarded, and you’ll have your glory!