Lessons Learned From Espinoza Del Diablo

This blog goes beyond the metrics. 

Also, I share my opinions on race tactics; I’m not telling anyone how they have to race though. I lean more on my amateur and pro/am cycling results to back up what I’m saying.

While you’ll be able to see the metrics and what it takes to really break away and drive a break for the first 1.5h of a road race, as I thought back on the day, I wanted to point out some mistakes that I made that day which could have quickly and easily cost me the victory.

Running Late & Warming Up

I didn’t want my tardiness to throw me for a loop, but I knew that I wouldn’t be able to warm up much before the race. With an 8am start and an early alarm clock going off to ensure that I could eat enough before the race, I left Nashville 15 minutes later than expected; not my usual routine.

But it’s a road race, do I really need to warm up?

For me, I religiously ride about 20 minutes of 75% FTP just to make sure the bike is rolling properly, get one last pee out, and open the legs up a bit (not all out sprints, but some kicks).

I got to the line and knowing that this course has some serious attrition to it (it’s just up and down all day), I wasn’t too worried about the start. Mistake.\

I did forget that there’s a pretty scorching 2 minute climb right off the bat, so hopefully no one attacks.

This leads us to my point: simply being late made me feel okay by sitting in crap position, completely vulnerable to teams throwing guys up the road, with me in no position to respond. Cue the video.

How To Make The Break

I was going to name this video How To Make A P/1/2 break, but it was the weirdest formation ever. 

Luckily, no one attacked on that initial climb. After we got over that, I was ready to roll.

There were some early attacks that you can see in the video, and then at one point, the 3 strongest guys eventually rolled off the front and no one did anything.

It was very odd. I looked back like, “We’re leaving!”, and people didn’t chase this time.

I asked a strong Cat 3 why he didn’t come, and he said, “I watched the move going, knowing that was the race, but was behind some guys.” More on this later!

So the breakdown of the video wasn’t that interesting in my opinion, but what you can take away from the video is what you need to do in order to sustain a break in a P/1/2 field; that didn’t change, we smashed!

The metrics below show the first 40m and 1h30m AFTER we started hitting it hard. Doesn’t include the beginning downhill portion and first bleh attacks which went for 8.5m and really only had the first 2 minute climb in it. These numbers are for an 83kg cyclist.

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The following image shows how front loaded making a break is...some really hard attacks, some zone 5 VO2Max work, establishing the break, and then driving that thing down the road.


There’s tons of threshold and supra-threshold work here, hitting over an hour at 380-580W.

Horrible Positioning

I decided I’d just cruise for a bit in the field for the first time in a LONG time, as being aggressive usually allows me to create a break or find myself in an early break with stronger riders. So, being late had me thinking, “I’ll sit in and warm up and then race.”

This gave me such a huge perspective and understanding on how so many people miss the break: You cannot be warming up in the local race if you want to make the break.

Now, if you’re reading this and you’re a Pro/1 racer at something like Joe Martin, that is not a local race. You can probably warm up in the race as long as you don’t have plans of being in an early move.

But, in so many local races, the early move IS THE MOVE. Time and time again, the strongest guys whittle the race down early on simply to improve their chances to win.

The flip side is that the smartest racers in the local fields will work against the strongest riders to get away from them as soon as possible.

There are numerous times where BIG DOGS show up to local races, and Patrick and myself have figured out a way to get the win simply because there were two of us, and only one giant.

Two very good amateurs can beat one very good pro, but you have to work together and stay away from the strongest rider, NOT MARK THEM. More on that later.

So, simply going up the first climb in the middle of the pack had me feeling boxed in and claustrophobic. How do people race from back here? Simply, they don’t. They get left behind.

You want to be surfing the front, always asking yourself: “If things POP OFF RIGHT NOW, can I go?” If no, move. Which leads us to the next point: you never get boxed in, you box yourself in.

“I Got Boxed In.” No, You Didn’t.

In a chaotic big field sprint you can get boxed in. Someone moves over, slows down, and there’s nowhere to go. Really crafty sprinters might argue that you should be looking down the road and even foresee this happening.

But to the main point, many times racers have said they were boxed in at points during a road race. More often that not, that’s them just explaining how they were sitting in the middle of the pack with nowhere to go. That one is all on you.

Shadowing Riders Doesn’t Work

With P/1/2/3/M35/M45+ ALL in one field, we had 30-40 guys at the start. Based on how people raced once we got going, the usual “I’ll follow his wheel no matter what technique” really backfired. 

There were riders clearly shadowing, or marking, me, which I think is the worst tactic ever. Think of it this way: if you’re marking me, you’re considering me a threat. That means you should be trying to get AWAY from me, not ride on top of me. Shadowing is silly.

We can review the same tactic that was used in the State Road Race this past weekend with the effect of marking me out of a win, but the teams doing that DIDN’T EVEN GET ON THE PODIUM! Plus, they marked the wrong guy!!!

A current UCI Pro (Rolly Weaver) and a man littered with amazing palmarès (Mike Olheiser) rode away on the final climb with everyone looking at me. Not wise; the race rode away.

Then Brendan Sullivan broke free and that rounded out the podium. No one in Tennessee on the podium at our state road race! No one in that race can honestly feel good about wearing their state champ jersey with such a lackluster finish. We all need to race to WIN. If you don’t win the race, you aren’t a champion that year.

Back to Espinoza:

Marking stronger riders doesn’t work. If they are stronger, guess what they’ll do later? Ride away from you, or the race will go up the road before that. Figure out ways to get away from them.

My poor positioning was a GREAT opportunity to create red alerts when people saw me sitting mid pack on the first climb. Teams should have sent people up the road ASAP. How did they miss this opportunity? By shadowing me.

Instead, the video above played out, with Kyle and myself rolling up the road after TJ flatted, leaving everyone minutes behind.


  • Be early to your race so you are ready to SMASH right from the gun

  • Be warmed up. It doesn’t take much, but it’s important, even at a road race

  • Good positioning is gold. 

  • Can You Launch Now If Needed? Don’t box yourself in.

  • Don’t Shadow Stronger Riders; Break Away From Them!

Brendan HouslerComment