How to Ride a Break Away at the Amgen Tour of California

In honor of the Amgen Tour of California week, we’re throwing back to 2018 where SE athlete Whitney Allison of Hagens Berman Supermint took the Most Courageous Rider jersey in the first stage.

“Be aggressive. Ride hard. Make sure the Supermint team leaves a memorable impression on the race.” That’s been a general strategy from Tad and the Supermint in all of 2018 and the strategy made them the
most exciting team to watch in the North American peloton. During a World Tour event such as the Amgen Tour of California, often times making the race entertaining can bear fruit for an underdog team. To that end, the Supermint team were instrumental in keeping the opening days of the race dramatic and fun to watch.

There are many reasons for a break away to establish. However, at the World Tour level, that reason is almost never, “the best riders got away,” which we typically see at the amateur level. Simply put, no small group can outrun a 100+ strong peloton of equally matched athletes. So why send it up the road? Some of those reasons are fame, save the sprinter’s lead out, fortune, jerseys (points, QOM, etc), team classification, contract negotiations, and to try winning the stage. When the short-term interests align between riders up the road and the peloton, the break will ride.

Be patient

Sometimes, patience is a virtue. Whitney spent the first 2 hours of Stage 1 tagging threatening moves but mostly just “coasting” along in the peloton. Her average output was 2.1 w/kg and she spent nearly 24% of the time with a power output below 10w. However, you can see where there are extended periods of time where she was engaged in the action at the front. This was great individual execution as she was assigned portions of the race to engage and portions where she should conserve.

Perfect Timing is a Must

Timing is important in any sport and cycling is the same. Make a move when the peloton is stirred up like angry hornets and it goes nowhere. But hit them at the perfect time and you can take advantage of a number of variables that all result in no organized chase which serves as a window of opportunity to stretch out a gap quickly. Whitney gets a good gap without having to put forth a monumental effort. However, after the gap is created the hard part starts (pro tip: getting the gap is the easy part).

Photo: SnowyMountain Photography

Pick your breakaway companions wisely

This break away was on mostly flat terrain making it easy to analyze. It also shows us in very simple detail that there was a definite discrepancy between Whitney and her companion. There are many reasons for this mismatch in effort, but the two most likely scenarios are 1. Her companion did not want to participate in the break or was instructed not to work equally. Or 2. She was unable to contribute equally to the effort. Either way is immaterial now and is only important in the moment to calculate your
opponent’s motivation and predict her action.

We are able to see the degree to which Whitney was outperforming the breakaway in this snapshot. Here, you can see a power output of ~25% difference when she is on the front vs in the draft. When riding in a duo, the draft effect is far less than 25%, indicating that the two riders are not at all contributing equally. Second, you’re able to see what amounts to Whitney being on the front for ~30% more than her break away companion. And finally, and most telling is the speed difference. Whitney
routinely was forced to bring the speed back to 27-28 mph during her pulls and when she was not in front, speed would fall to 21-22mph.

Photo: SnowyMountain Photography

Know when to go to it solo

Taking flight solo from a break away should always be a decision made to attain team or individual goals. Many riders make an impulsive decision and they are netted nothing. By leaving it late, Whitney and Supermint Team accomplished a couple key things. First, they make a successful bid for the Most Courageous Rider jersey. A late attack and subsequent solo effort could have snatched it away from Whitney and all her hard work of the day would have been without a jersey. By attacking her break and
riding alone, she shortened what was left of the stage and along with the recent memory of the effort, scored approval and with that the jersey.

Go all in

Even more telling was Whitney’s performance once she took flight. Even after 2:45 of racing, Whitney was still able to give her best 22 minutes of the day, clocking a solo effort at 4.55w/kg. That’s a gutsy performance worthy of a World Tour Race and indeed, a good time to show her true colors.

Whitney’s decision to send it on a solo mission was ultimately unsuccessful in winning the stage or gaining her any advantage in the general classification on the day but it did net her a Most Courageous Rider jersey and gave Supermint some excellent momentum into the next day where they would send the jersey over to Lily Williams in similar fashion.

Photo: SnowyMountain Photography

About the Author: Adam Mills has raced at the elite level since 2002 and graduated with a Masters Degree in Exercise Physiology from the University of Kansas in 2005. His true talent comes with his ability to combine his vast experience with his knowledge of sport. He is indeed a student of science, sport, athletic performance, strategy, and tactics. He continuously educates himself by keeping up to date with current research trends and methods in sport and his clients have reaped the benefits from this work with over 15 national championships in 10 disciplines on two continents. Adam is able to incorporate these attributes on a daily basis to help his clients reach and exceed their goals whether they are a beginner or a seasoned professional. Learn more about Adam and Source Endurance here.