What's Cool In Road Cycling

PRO TACTICS: Ring the Fire Bell to Breakaway

We’ve just upped your daily dose news you can use – here’s another in our series of race tactics you can use at home. Forget throwing yourself willy-nilly off the front in hopes of sticking a break – the team with a brain is the team with a gain…


Living in an apartment or dorm and hearing the fire alarm jolts you from deep sleep and out into the street. The serenity of the night suddenly breaks apart as people hustle to get outside. In the Olympic Men’s Road Race, Paolo Bettini charged up the Lycabettis Hill twice awakening the pack to his strength and forcing everyone to crawl back into their saddles and chase him down. The pack failed and Paolo took the gold.

Amateur teams should plan a fire drill for every race they enter. Pick an advantageous section of the course and then have a portion of the team attack. If the first break is caught, the rest of the team should keep punishing the leading edge of the pack. The rush of the accelerations will break the rhythm of the road and catch a majority of the riders asleep. The rest of the peloton will be forced to fight the fire. A few miles of flame throwing from your team will create a breakaway.

My team’s favorite time to pull the alarm is about 5 miles into the race. We gather near the front of the pack and one teammate attacks. If no other teams follow the attack, or the solo rider is ignored by the peloton, he simply sits up and comes back to the field. Once the smoke clears from that initial break, the rest of the team explodes off the front and forces the other riders awake. If that attack fails we keep our position at the front by riding in a paceline at attack speed. Two or three minutes of hard riding reduces the peloton to fumes when two or three teammates launch another small group attack. Usually a couple of riders from other teams are awake and ready so the four riders break from the pack while everyone slows to recover from the excitement.

This strategy works best when narrow roads or hills add to the challenge. An attack on a narrow road can only be chased by, at most, five or six opponents at the front of the peloton. If those particular riders are not interested in chasing, the break immediately goes free. Hill attacks also limit the number of riders physically and mentally able to respond. Bettini chose both and only one rider (Sergio Paulinho) had the right positioning and oomph to follow.

Bike races can only end in two ways, sprint finishes and breakaway wins, so organizing your team is easy. Reserve two riders to stay in the pack and cover the potential for a sprint finish. Everyone else is free to light firecrackers in the attempt to go solo. With six or eight strong teammates continuously creating fires, the pack will dial 9-1-1 and eventually let the arsonists escape.

Now get out there and try this at home!

David Harrison has led multiple amateur teams throughout the Midwest, Rocky Mountains, and New England. His book, Professional Road Racing Tactics for Amateur Cycling Teams is available on www.roadbikerider.com.

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