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When is the best time to attack in a bike race?

Being a smart rider can help you read the race with ease

A cyclist riding solo Photo by: Getty Images

There’s an important moment in any race, and if you start looking for it, you can use it to your advantage. It’s called a lull. If you watch pro races on TV, it’s easy to spot. Remember when Tom Pidcock was 17 seconds ahead of a small chase group at Strade Bianche? Six men are (usually) faster than one, and sure enough, they were soon only 10 seconds away. He was in their sights. It was only a matter of time before he would be reeled in. Except then it happened: the hesitation. Riders started looking at each other. There was a brief lull. And like that, the race was over. Pidcock’s lead grew, and he took the win.

There are various times lulls occur, but the more you notice them, the better cyclist you will become. It’s also one of the best ways to win a race solo.

The lulls after a flurry of attacks

Sometimes in a race, there will be multiple attacks. Bang, bang, bang! Riders to the left, to the right. Attack, chase. Repeat. And then, it will just stop for the briefest of moments. You can almost feel the collective pause. When that happens, it’s time for liftoff. If you time it perfectly, you’ll get a huge gap that may prove to be enough to win. The key is figuring out when the lull is about to happen and when you should strike. Every race is different, but being aware of the upcoming moment is key to being a better cyclist.

The lull at the crest of a hard climb

Unless you’re Tadej Pogačar, attacking at the bottom of a fairly sizable climb will result in you being caught halfway up. The same can be said for launching halfway up the climb. However, if you pay attention, you’ll notice that there are many times that a pack of riders will almost heave a sigh of relief just as the climb flattens out and you’re about to crest it. If there’s a short false flat or gentle grade just after a hill, even better. When that lull happens, the pack sometimes almost says, “Phew! The hard part is over!” Guess what you do then? Kaboom! In that lull, if you give ‘er, you can get a huge gap in no time.

Lulls in the cat and mouse of a breakaway

If you’re in a small group coming to the finish, it’s likely all the other riders will be looking at each other. If you linger near the back of the group, you can prepare to launch a sneak attack. As the other riders are messing about, you can drop back a few lengths, then sprint away on the other side of the road and leave those poor saps in your dust.

Learning to love the lull

Although local races aren’t quite like pro races, they do end up being somewhat of a microcosm. A bit shorter and slower, but you can employ the same tactics that the full-timers do. Watching pro races and spotting those moments will help when you go back to your weekday crit or weekend event.