RobbieMRobbie McEwen,one of the greatest privateers ever, often won the sprint but rarely had a leadout.The summer grassroots season is upon us and that means there is a plethora of road events, 9 straight weeks actually.  Even though First City doesn’t always capitalize on their numbers, they usually get criticism for using team tactics (or attempting to).  Here are some tips from Will Hickey on how to win even when you’re outgunned.  


Cycling can be a very individual activity, but bike racing is a team sport. Effective teams start each race with a plan and work together to execute it. Racing without teammates can be daunting but it’s a great skill to develop. Even if you’re already on a team you should know how to race alone. Some weekends your teammates may be too busy to race, or maybe you make the final selection in a race but your teammates don’t. Sooner or later you’ll find yourself up against a team with greater numbers.


Here’s an introductory guide on racing alone against a strong team. For clarity I’ll refer to the solo rider as Han and the strong team as The Empire.


There are three critical things that affect Han’s decisions:

  • His current fitness and strengths as a rider

  • His own goals

  • The Empire’s race plan

Han needs to be aware of his own strengths and weaknesses. A combination of training and genetics will determine his abilities. Broadly speaking most riders are either good at sprinting or good at breaking away. Since Han has no teammates it’s especially important that he race to his strengths.


Han’s goals depend on his fitness and how much he’s willing to risk getting a bad result. Racing for the win often requires him to commit to an attack and risk a poor finish if he gets caught. But if he’s just racing for a top-10 he can be more conservative and increase the odds of getting a good (but not great) result.


Han also must pay attention to how The Empire is racing. Race plans are usually flexible and change as the race progresses, but they fall into two broad categories: breakaway or field sprint. If The Empire is racing for a breakaway they will take turns attacking one or two at a time. Eventually the rest of the field will tire and a breakaway will stick. That successful breakaway will include at least one Empire rider. Alternately, if The Empire is racing for a field sprint they will either chase down breakaways or, more likely, take turns covering attacks by following them but refusing to work.


Before the race starts Han should already know his own fitness and strengths and his goals for the race. Once the race starts he should watch The Empire to determine whether they’re racing for a break or a field sprint. With those three pieces of information Han can come up with his own race plan on the fly.


Han is a sprinter

Han is a breakaway rider

Empire’s Plan:


Field Sprint


Field Sprint

Han Racing to win

Follow Empire attacks, work in breaks and then win sprint.

Follow Empire’s sprinter(s) and beat them.*

Follow Empire attack and work hard. Attack break in last few miles.

Attack in the last few miles.†

Han Racing for top 10

Ignore breakaways. Win field sprint.

Follow Empire’s sprinter(s) and beat them.*

Follow Empire attack and work but not too hard. Repeat as necessary.

Follow The Empire’s sprinters and try to finish close behind them.


*Han can beat The Empire in the sprint by following their sprinter and either cutting into the leadout in the final mile or timing the sprint better.

†The Empire may be tired from controlling the race in which case a well timed late attack can foil their sprint. Rolling hills, corners, bad roads, and tailwinds will hinder The Empire’s chase and help Han once he gets away.


This chart is certainly not a definitive guide to racing solo, but it highlights the three big questions: Han’s strengths, Han’s goals, and The Empire’s plan. Being aware of those three factors and making decisions accordingly will serve any racer well.


A strong, organized team will always have the advantage in a bike race, but a solo rider can overcome those odds by making good decisions. Learning to outsmart and outmaneuver a team takes time, patience, and a lot of hard defeats. Those hard defeats and the long odds make the victories that much sweeter when they come.