If conditions are right for you to attack, then all you have to do is pick your moment and start mashing the pedals. You can jump with every sinew of your being and see if you can get something started, be it solo or a party.
But let’s think about this for a moment. We already know that the act of accelerating and hammering will burn matches, and we know that a lone rider must fight the wind. If you are neither very strong nor very lucky, your solo attack is unlikely to succeed.
Better to find a more efficient way to launch your attack. One of the best is a two-rider slingshot, where you lead a teammate to the front, fast, and send him up the road.
Here’s how it works: You are going to ride behind me in the pack in about 20th position. When your moment arrives, you will tell me to start rolling. You can use whatever command you wish. You can say, “Yep.” You can say, “Go.” You can cough loudly like Chevy Chase in the movie Spies Like Us. Just make sure I hear you.
Upon hearing this, I will accelerate with you glued to my rear wheel (Figure 5.1). When the two of us get to the front of the pack, you will already be traveling at the speed of light without ever having felt a headwind. When I pull aside, you will launch yourself into space. And, as an added bonus, I will find myself at the front of the field in the perfect position to begin the blocking procedure that will ensure your success.
Many times, as a racer and as an announcer, I have seen riders launch a fierce attack from 20th position on their own. By the time they have reached the front of the pack, they’ve lost a lot of steam. But imagine what 20 bike lengths looks like if you don’t turn on that energy until you get to the front of the field. That’s a decent gap.
I’ll remind you of this slingshot thing when we discuss bridging gaps, chasing breakaways, and sprinting later in this book. It’s a tactic that you need to practice with your teammates a few times to make sure you’re in sync with your accelerations and timing.
And you must somehow find a way to communicate your intentions to your teammate. Try to do it in a way that won’t give away your escape.
Would you ever attack without intending to follow through?
Sometimes a rider just wants to see who’s awake and alert. It’s fun to attack, if only to see who will respond. In the early stages of a race, you will have no trouble stirring up some sort of action, whether you are serious about
it or not, because everyone is fresh and willing. Later in the race, you can use this tactic to find out who still has gas in the tank.
Another reason to make an uncommitted attack is to wear down the competition. By making them respond, you’re making them expend energy. You’re essentially softening them up for a more serious attack that will come from your teammate later in the race.
Fake attacks come in rapid succession, one after the next. Each time the same team will be the instigator, and each time it will take just a little more zip out of the legs of others. It can be an effective tactic if you have enough strong riders on your team to keep the peloton under stress.
Another version of the fake attack is to attack up one side of the road, taking the entire pack with you, only to be counterattacked by your own teammate up the other side of the road.
It’s all part of a plan. Picture this: The wind is hitting your peloton from the right. You attack up the left side of the road, and you string out the field in the left gutter. Suddenly, up the right side of the road your teammate attacks on his own. Now, in order for riders to catch your teammate, they must bridge across the width of the road and into the wind. He has an immediate gap. That may be all it takes to discourage anyone from following. Or at least it will discourage the riders who are on the bubble.
That’s another thing to consider. As I said at the beginning, not all riders have the same capabilities and strengths. If an attack goes off the front, the riders nearest to it may not be willing or physically able to respond. If Rider X attacks and the first five riders on the front of the field (let’s call them Rider 1, Rider 2, Rider 3, Rider 4, and Bachelor 5) are cooked from a previous effort, then Rider 6 is already five bike lengths behind before he begins to respond. That’s a gap. If Rider X’s intention is a solo breakaway, he’s away, and the chase is on.
Rider 6 will likely hesitate because he’s expecting R1, R2, R3, R4, and B5 to react. If they don’t, Rider X has a bigger lead.
That’s a smart attack. Rider X assessed the strength of the riders around him, and he attacked when those riders had been weakened in battle.
I hate Rider X. Unless he’s on my team.
We’ve all seen them. We’ve all made comments about them. We are powerless to stop them. The ill-fated bungee attack is a phenomenon that we see most frequently in the lower, less experienced categories. Riders will attack with all the heart and hubris of Hercules, but they will only last for about a mile. It’s as if they’re attached to an invisible bungee cord. They come back as fast as they go out.
In almost every racing community, there is at least one local racer who is known for his bungee attacks. This rider, however, is completely unaware that he is doing it. He truly has every intention of breaking away. However, as the old saying goes, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
I’m reminded of an episode of the TV show M*A*S*H in which there was a character named “5 O’clock Charlie” who flew over the encampment every day at precisely 5 p.m., dropping a bomb far off target, to the hearty guffaws of the 4077th staff.
That is the bungee attack. With almost clocklike precision, the attack comes at a meaningless point in a race, lasts for about a mile, gets reeled in without any real effort, and gets unceremoniously spit out the back, to the
hearty guffaws of the 4077th staff.
The thing is, one of these days, it just might work.
Editor’s note: Excerpt republished with permission of VeloPress from ‘Reading the Race: Bike Racing from Inside the Peloton’ by Jamie Smith with Chris Horner. Learn more at VeloPress.com.