For most of us when and how to attack is something of a hit and miss thing; all too often there’s little logic or thought applied to the action, just go for it on a wing or a prayer. This is probably why most moves simply don’t work. Primarily we’re talking about racing situations, but the same principles can also be applied to cyclo sportive type events, and even the regular chain gangs, when the wind up comes for the final minutes before that last sign, knowing how and when to attack could make the difference between being first home and shot out of the back.
We all watch pro races on TV, and can often recognise those classic formats and situations of when and where certain riders tend to attack, and of which kind of attacks tend to work, and which don’t. For sure even at that level there is a fair amount of hit and miss going on, yet there are certain riders who somehow seem to almost always be in the right place at the right time, and always seem to wangle their way into the right moves, or more often than not make them – and there is in truth very little luck involved in the process, it’s down to smart thinking and positive action. When it comes to launching off the front and giving it all Italian star Salvatore Commesso is a virtual maestro, and is renown as one of the most aggressive and attacking riders in the pro peleton, which is why we tracked him down at the Tour de Langkawi and asked him to demonstrate how he manages slip the pack so often; “I don’t have so many victories, but the ones I do are very important.” Grinned the former double Italian Champion and double Tour stage winner.” And for sure that tells us there’s more to it than aggression and chance.
Pre race prep
“A lot of the time how and when you attack will be determined by the situation and conditions of the race at that moment, but pre race knowledge, thought and planning is also very important. Certain races attract certain kinds of racing; some are super hilly and so you know there will be many attacks by certain riders, some are just made for flat out sprints, and there are those rolling races which are more unpredictable – these are the best races to take your chance in.”
“Before an event I always look in detail at the terrain, the field and weather conditions. If there is a long open flat run in, or you are facing a strong head wind then attacking is not so easy, or at least not until the closing moments. If it is a multi day race then you need to work out when the main riders are less likely to respond – which is usually before or after the mountains, and then make your race plan around that. Being the kind of rider who likes to attack and make my way in a small group I look for races that suit this – rolling terrain, twisty roads, and then I will have an idea of 2 or 3 places where an attack will be most likely to succeed, and try to plan around that – although you have to remain versatile.”
Finding the opportunity
“You must of course be prepared for anything, but do not waste your energy attacking just for the sake of it. Know how far out you think you can go for, if you plan to go for a long break then you will need some help, maybe even talk to 1 or 2 other riders before this and see if they want to go with you.”
“There are key moments to attack, and you need to see how the race responds to other attacks first. I always like to see 2 or 3 breakaways go before I go myself, allow things to cool down and the chase to soften up. Try and avoid attacking into a strong wind or on a wide road, you need conditions and terrain on your side. Hills are good places to attack, as is just over the summit – it is harder to respond and organise any chase. Attacking straight after a breakaway comes back is a classic, it is also expected, so maybe wait a little longer.”
Making your move
“When you prepare for your attack you must be focussed and mentally ready to give it your all. You must be close to the front, not right on the front, but certainly in the top 20 or so. Try not to be like an open book, or others will be ready for the attack. Get in to position, without making it obvious, check who is around you, and if anyone you want to follow you is there let them know it’s time.”
“Make sure you are in a gear that you can accelerate in, and when the lull in pace occurs or the opportunity presents its self go for it. You need to attack full on, sprinting – out to the side of the group is best, so as not to allow them to just get on to your wheel, but there is no need to go to extremes. You should be almost flat out for at least 200 meters before doing anything else, maybe at 80-90%.”
To go or not to go
“After the initial attack you need to make an assessment as to whether or not it’s worth continuing. If the field is right on you then it’s best to save your efforts and go again later. If you are a long way out then you will be hoping for a few more riders to join you. If they are not there and you have a gap keep going and see if they come up to you, but if it’s a long way out leave something in the tank.”
“If you are into the closing kilometre and you find yourself alone then you really need to give it everything. If on the other hand you have riders with you then you must save something for the line, take something of a gamble.”
“How much you put into an attack will depend on many factors. If you are a long way out then always play cautious and save energy. If you have other riders with you do not be pushed into working too hard and wasting your energy. It’s only really when you are alone or with another rider or two who are working at the same level and you are close to the finish with a potential winning gap that you need to give it everything, and even then you must save enough to respond to an attack or for the sprint. If you know the other riders with you are faster in a sprint, then you must save something and try a late attack again, probably just when they have finished a turn, or when it is almost time to sprint.”
Out of sight..
“The old saying that out of sight is out of mind is very true when it comes to bike racing. This is why wide open and straight roads are not so good for attacking, if the riders behind can see you it’s much easier to chase you down. Try and avoid riding in the centre of the road, stay close to the roadside so that you are not so easy to see, and then the road is twisty try and stay on the side that keeps you hidden from behind.”