Attack the Pack: Turning Lame Accelerations into Winning Attacks!

By CTS Senior Coach Daniel Matheny

I have to be honest here, folks. I’ve been out at the early-season races, both as a competitor and as a coach, and I’m seeing a lot of really poor attempts at attacking the peloton. I love the enthusiasm, but that’s about all I’m seeing and enthusiasm doesn’t bring home prize money.

Really, though, who’s going to tell you that your last “attack” was a lame effort? If I’m racing with you I’m certainly not going to stop you from wasting your energy. But as a coach, what I want to see is greater commitment and more snap!

I mean if you are going to do it, light up that asphalt and make me work to catch you. Otherwise, you are just ramping up the pace and dumping valuable energy into towing everyone around!

The key is creating separation, which is the only thing that differentiates attacking from taking a hard pull at the front. You have to snap everyone off your back wheel and immediately create a gap big enough to give your pursuers a moment of pause. When you launch, you want them to ask, “Can I match that acceleration?” and “Can I make it across that gap?”. When attacks are weak and indiscernible from pulling through, everyone just latches onto your wheel. But when attacks are sharp and explosive, physically they create space between you and the chasers and psychologically they create indecision. To win you need to exploit both.

Let me show you an example of what a sharp acceleration looks like, at least from a performance standpoint. This is important, because explosive accelerations are something you need to train if you want to execute them in competition.

Here's an example from a ride this week with an athlete who has the same power at lactate threshold as I do, and weighs just about the same. And to make this example even more like a race situation, we threw in these accelerations after climbing 3000 feet up from Colorado Springs, so we’d both have some fatigue to fight against.

The first file is a portion of my SRM file and I initiated the first attack (marked 13sec attack).  I was out of the saddle and giving it a pretty good go. Notice the cadence is high with a 115rpm spike and a 105rpm average for the 13sec, and the peak power was over 1000watts. The second file is from the other rider, and I’ve highlighted his reaction with “Thought about it…”.   His reaction was quick, but as you can see from the data, he only mounted a small surge before giving up. He's competitive, so he thought about getting onto my wheel, but I created a big enough gap, quickly enough to make him think twice.


A few minutes later, after cresting another small hill, you can see he surged twice, which I'd quantify as different than an all-out attack. Don't get me wrong, his surges at 500w and 780w were respectable and I had to work to stay with him, but he stayed in the saddle and ramped up his speed too slowly. He didn't commit to creating separation. That allowed me to get in the slipstream with efforts noted in my file with "Cover" and "Match" highlights.  

Here are some quick tips I’ve been using to help my athletes become better attackers:

  1. Attack with momentum:

Look for ways to get free speed before you stick your nose into the wind. You can drop a few feet off the back of the wheel in front of you to give yourself some space to accelerate in the draft. Or you can accelerate – or at least not brake – through a corner when everyone else is braking. You can even let someone going for a prime sprint be a leadout for your attack.

  1. Attack from the sweet spot:

If you launch an attack from too far back in the group, the guys at the front will have plenty of time to accelerate before you get by them. If you’re already on the front, it’s hard to use the element of surprise or gain free speed from drafting. Often, the sweet spot is from 2nd through 5th places, maybe down to 10th place. You need to be near the front, or have a way to use terrain or the course to gain a ton of speed if you’re going to go from further back.

  1. Get your feet moving fast:

Chris likes to say that when you’re feet are going fast you’ll go fast. You can increase power output by pedaling harder (force) or faster (angular velocity). Force X Angular Velocity = Watts. We know you’ll attack with a lot of force, but if you also have a higher cadence (100-120rpm) to go along with that force you’ll see even higher power numbers and quicker accelerations.

  1. Understand what you’ve signed up for:

The attack and the 1-2 minutes after it are the hardest part. What we see from power files is that once you’re away, either with a group or solo, the pace and necessary power outputs in both the breakaway and the front of the pack come back down to more sustainable levels. In other words, you have to produce extreme power outputs to make the selection, but you won’t have to maintain those extremes all the way to the finish.

  1. Know when to cut your losses:

Not all attacks work, even if they’re perfectly executed. To avoid being blown out the back of the pack as they catch you, don’t keep fighting to stay off the front when it’s clear you’re going to get caught. The exception is when you’ve made a late-race move to win; that’s an all-or-nothing move so you have to dig in right until the final meter. But if you’re farther out from the finish and you want the chance to get back into the pack to have another shot at victory, sit up once you know you’re getting caught. Giving yourself even 10-15 seconds to catch your breath and grab a quick drink may give you the slight recovery you need to accelerate hard to get into the pack’s draft. Just don’t slow down so much that they’re streaming by you at Mach 1.

Attacking is the best way to take your fate into your own hands in a race. It can whittle down the size of the field, create a breakaway group, set up a counterattack from a teammate, or set you up for a solo win. But for any of those scenarios to play out, you have to execute a snappy, explosive attack and create separation. Now, go get ‘em!


  • Hors Categorie Climbing Camp: July 9-14 in the Colorado Rockies. Come climb both of Colorado's 14,000 foot paved road climbs: Mount Evans and Pikes Peak!
  • Epic Mountain Bike Training Camp in Breckenridge, Colorado (June 27-29) is perfect preparation for big summer off-road goals like the Breck Epic, Leadville 100, and many others.
  • 6 Gap Century Recon Camp in Dahlonega, GA (Aug 8-10) includes an entry into this classic and extremely difficult event!
  • Free Raceweight Weight Loss Program! All you have to do is use our newly-re-launched online signup process to sign up for a CTS Coaching Package by 4/15.
  • Mt. Mitchell Recon Camp: April 17-19 in Brevard, NC. Tackle some of the most iconic climbs in the Southeast, including those on the course of The Assault on Mt. Mitchell.
  • PR*Bar and Recovery: As Dirty Kanza approaches and we’re putting in bigger and bigger mileage, the coaches and I are relying even more on PR Bars for recovery!

Daniel Matheny is a Senior Coach for CTS, a Category 2 road racer, and a pro mountain bike racer. He coaches pro riders Sonya Looney and Tammy Sadle and is one of the top skills coaches at CTS. For information on CTS Coaching and Training Camps, visit

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