In the Giro, why let a breakaway go ahead?

I’m watching the Giro and they’ve just been talking about the breakaway being allowed to go out and have about 3-4 minutes lead but towards the bottom of the next climb the peloton will probably pull them back in.

Why do they do this? Why do they let them go out, leave them there for a while, then catch them back up again?

Because they think they can…
The more people in the group, the more efficient the group is, so riding in the middle of a large peloton is always more efficient than riding on your own or in a small group.

A lot of cycling racing is about judging what you think you can manage, what you think others can manage and managing your efforts.

If you were a GC competitor in the peloton then you’ve got to look at the break-away and decide whether it’s either large enough to be aerodynamically efficient and/or whether any of your competitors are in there and whether you think they can make it stick today, you’ve also got to think about whether the peloton is going to pull hard enough to catch them.

If you can sit in the middle of the peloton and a couple of your direct rivals go in a break-away that eventually gets re-caught then they’ve spent a large amount more energy than you for no benefit.

A better question would be “Why do break-aways form that are unlikely to be able to stick?”

That makes sense.

Can you answer that one?

My guess would be that sometimes they do stick so why not give it a try just in case.

Because someone will always be willing to take days easy and just make the time-cut so that they are fresh enough to ride flat out another day to win the stage, but no-one is fit enough to ride flat out every day for 3 weeks.

Ha, erm, that one is harder to answer.

Yes, you can only imagine that the answer is that they think they can make it stick. At the same time, someone might think they can pull someone out of the peloton to chase them and they’re actually doing it for a team-mate, to force someone else into a position of discomfort and exhaustion, or they simply think they can do the repeats and want to put work into someone else’s legs.
As @JGreengrass says, sometimes it might be someone who wants a shot at a stage win and isn’t really in the GC.

There are a lot of possible reasons, cycling is quite tactical.
That said, my answer to the original question remains the same, if you think the peloton is going to re-catch a break-away then it makes sense to remain in the peloton and let those guys wear out their legs.

I’m slowly getting use to some of the tactics, then something new pops up and gets me wondering again.

@digininja Sometimes it is a rider that isn’t a great sprinter or climber and a breakaway is their potential chance to win a stage. Sometimes it is strategic - one team’s rider trying to draw out another to throw off another team’s strategy or keep a rider from getting points or to earn points during a stage. Sometimes it is just for publicity. A breakaway can succeed but is more likely to do so if there are more riders in the group which may get similar aerodynamic benefits to the peloton. A few years ago I recall a breakaway with 20 riders and they finished about 1/2 hour ahead of the peloton - I think it was in the TDF.

He isn’t posting anymore to Strava during the Giro but Egan Bernal’s stats for stage #9 showed the benefits of the peloton to an elite rider. My recollection was that he was in Z1/Z2 60%+ of the time, with the balance in Z3/Z4 and very little - I think it was less than 3% in Z5. He conserved energy as much as possible and then had plenty of reserves to crank up that 12% gravel road at the end of the race.

Stage #5 of the 2021 Presidential Tour of Turkey is a good example of timing the breakaway correctly. Anthon Charmig tries breaking away from the group with another rider but started too soon on a sever incline and cooks his legs.

2 Likes

Regarding your original question, the answer is tactics. In this year’s giro there have been an awful lot of stages won by the break. Sometimes it is close (e.g. stage 3 or 17), in which case “the peleton” probably wanted to win the stage but got it wrong. Sometimes the peleton takes no interest in the stage win (e.g. stage 15 or 18).

Why would the peleton take no interest? Convention says that the team of the leader in the general classification (GC) will ride on the front, all other things being equal. Riding hard to control the breakaway will deplete that team’s resources, and potentially leave them vulnerable. Often the teams with sprinters will control the pace of the peleton on flatter days, as their team has a chance of winning - the balance being that one team will rarely want to do all the work throughout the day to get overpowered in the final kms.

A very important consideration is who gets in (or is allowed in) the breakaway. It is rare that a rider who is a GC threat will be able to get into the breakaway. If they try, then rival teams (principally the GC leader’s team) will continue to keep the pace of the peleton high, so that the break cannot escape. A similar thing happens if a threat to the points jersey would try and get into the break, the team with the points leader would ride them down.

When a breakaway forms that has nobody of threat then the time gap will be allowed to grow, so that nobody who is of threat can easily bridge across. Therefore the risk of leaders losing ground in the classifications is minimised.

Sometimes the terrain or the weather (wind) will mean that it is too difficult to control who gets into the break, and it is a battle of strength. This can mean the peleton is trying to catch the break for hours.

Who would try and get in a breakaway? Riders who think they have a better chance of winning from the breakaway, or small teams who want to grab tv time for their sponsors.

The post is already far longer than I intended, and there is much more nuance. Not everybody in a stage race has the same objective, and therefore will have different tactics. When the consequences of different team’s tactics interact, that is when you tend to get a really exciting stage.

4 Likes

I hadn’t considered the idea of letting the time increase to prevent someone bridging across.

I’ve a few of those other strategies before, it is the specifics of letting them go ahead but with a plan to catch them later that was confusing. Letting them go and stay out makes sense if no one else has interest in winning and the breakaway don’t threaten on points or GC but letting them go to deliberately pull them in later didn’t really make much sense.

The reason teams go in the breakaway even when it’s likely not going to stay away is because of TV time and sponsorship. That’s how most teams make money and how bike racing works since they can’t sell tickets to a bike race taking place on hundreds of km of public roads. In the grand tours it’s usually the smaller teams and invitees or teams that don’t have a GC contender that go in the breakaways. Even if they don’t win, that’s how their sponsors get TV time and decide to keep sponsoring the teams. So if you notice in the Giro the lower tier teams have riders in almost every single breakaway. And then once every blue moon they get a win because of a crash or the weather or other random variables.

4 Likes

The tactics are the magical thing that most miss about cycling

The breakaways happen to give valuable TV exposure to the smaller teams. Often they are directed, but sometimes they are planned for wins, though that’s a very rare thing.

So basically, they try, to just get their sponsorship exposure.

Now, then what happens is the GC guys that are down on time, try and join. If they’re too high up the timings, they are stopped.

What the leaders of the whole race are looking for, are other teams to be threatened on the overall timings, and other teams to use up riders chasing those guys.

So if someone 10 mins down on the ladder breaks, the teams with guys at 7 or 8 mins will need to catch, but the overall leader won’t bother, and will play the waiting game for other teams to chase.

The best description I ever heard was Geriant, where your riders are bullets. You have to choose when to use your bullets, you can’t constantly fire.

Riders recover in a 3 week race, but they can’t work hard every single minute of every stage.

So basically the leaders are looking for their closest threats to use up their riders and not become a threat anymore, and the teams further down are looking to move up, but also need to worry about the threat below.

Sometimes, there’s attacks at the right time that lead onto climbs, descents and can allow a solo rider to keep away as we’ve seen in the Giro a few times now. That’s good stage planning, good tactics and training.

Of course, there’s always the sufferlandrian in every race that just does it to suffer and win the cash to keep the team going

6 Likes

TV time. Much smaller group of riders in a breakaway = more time the camera is pointed directly at your sponsor’s logo.

1 Like

When the breakaway goes, then it becomes easier to control the race . Once the gap gets to be over a minute or so, then it discourages people trying to bridge across. You notice in the Giro, the race is hard until the break goes, then the GC teams relax, take a nature break and feed. It also allows the breakaway to slow and recover a bit.The starting pace in a race is often unsustainable ,but once things settle down you can concentrate on managing the effort

2 Likes

Great thread - awesome to read all the tactics involved here.

Does anyone have anything to share on the tactics of the time trial? I’d imagine it’s more of a simpler “go hard” approach (and try not get a puncture or take a corner too fast and narrow and crash…).

Furthermore, is there anything to consider on when the TT is in the stages? e.g. the Giro had the TT at stage 1 and 21 this year, but the Tour has it at Stage 5 and 20.

Maybe it’s designed to really tire riders out, so they mightn’t be as strong in the next stage?

Other way around in a TT you are on your own, so its a test of how tired you are from the previous road stages.

1 Like

Not too much to add to the previous answers other than one tactic that was employed by Sagan in S18 of the Giro to stop riders joining the breakaway now appears to be banned: ie catching up with the rider and hurling abuse at them

One observation though that has some nuances left to dissect is the size of the gap that the peloton “allow”:
~ 2 minutes: yeah you’re toast when we get serious but let’s all take it steady for now until we get to that flat bit near the finish
~ 5 minutes: hey have the stage if you’re good enough but we’re going to try and get a few seconds on our GC rivals on that final steep bit so watch your back on that bit
~ 10 minutes (or more): stuff this stage, we’re taking the day off, fill your boots!

2 Likes

As for the individual rider, I’ll leave Jens Voigt to answer that…
‘If you go (with a break), you can either win or not win. If you don’t go for it, you definitely won’t win.’

1 Like

That sounds good but isn’t true in the situation where the peleton allows the break to go with the intent of catching them later.

I’m sure some catches aren’t deliberate but some the commentators are calling from the very start.

1 Like

I think Jens was referring to the non-sprinters, like himself.

Very rarely (that I have seen) has the peloton caught the breakaway (on flat stages) and the win has not been a sprinter.

OK, makes sense.