How to break away from the pack like Thomas Voeckler

We reveal the secrets for a successful attack

The breakaway is a skill that can be used in club runs — if you agree beforehand — during chaingang rides, and perfected with some intense training.

To get it right requires anticipation, timing, positioning, commitment, experience and plenty of energy left. In the professional teams there are riders who specialise in breaking away, often sacrificing personal glory for the team.

On the Tour de France especially, these guys are often involved in the most spectacular sequences. Recently Irish rider Connor Dunne, from Aqua Blue Sport, has featured as a standout breakaway rider. Other riders who have mastered it include Belgian Thomas De Gendt and Frenchman Thomas Voeckler.

JacobTipper rider with World Cup-winning Team KGF on the track and UCI Continental Road team Memil CCN Pro Cycling, and coach — talks us through what it takes to create a successful breakaway.

1. Training

Major races like the TdF can feature attack after attack, with breaks occurring from riders who not only have the anaerobic capacity to make the break at full gas, but also the ability to maintain relatively high power as they ‘recover’.

This ability to sit and maintain your pace relies on physiological makeup but you can train to be a breakaway specialist.

2. High threshold intervals

Training methods include prolonged sprints of up to 45 seconds at a time, which is a really good way to stress the central nervous system, necessary for you to adapt. 

Doing high threshold intervals (the maximum effort you can maintain) with sprint sessions thrown in, where you don’t ease off much in the recovery stage, can help teach the body to recover at a higher intensity and break away time and again.

3. When to strike

In team racing the directeur sportif will identify the opponents to watch — those likely to make these breaks. These riders have the engine to perform, but their positioning is a factor.

The break will come from within the group, building up their sprint momentum to pull away. It’ll often be at the moment when they’re least likely to make an attack — when they’re feeling spent — that they will actually do it.

A rider like Thomas Voeckler knows that if he feels gone, the others must feel it too, so it’s the best time to strike.

4. Prepare to go again

Timing is critical. You’re looking to create a gap, so you attack at speed. You can’t rely on the element of surprise, so practice the counter attack. When another rider breaks away and you’re in the pack that catches them — or if you are that breakaway rider — prepare to go again almost immediately as everyone catches up.

For a moment or two the regrouped pack will bunch up and there’s a slight easing off of the pace.

5. Experience

Breaking away from the front of the group will only work if you have the experience to know that you’ve got more in the tank than those around you. Even then it’s a big risk.

You’ll have other riders in your slipstream and you won’t have the momentum that a break from within the pack gives you. Pro teams work hard on pinpointing who will break away, from where and when as part of their race plan.

The golden rule — be committed

There are a number of physiological variables and elements to successful attacks but complete commitment to the breakaway is essential.

Only do it if you really feel all the components for success are in place. Once the timing and positioning are right pull out from the pack, make that surge, go full gas and don’t look back.

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