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Research suggests teams may need to rethink tactics and may explain why so few breakaways succeed

A new study by academics in the Netherlands has found that cyclist riding in a peloton get much more protection from wind resistance than was previously thought to be the case.

Published in the Journal of Wind Engineering & Industrial Aerodynamics, the study found that riders encountered between five and ten times less air resistance than had been assumed beforehand.

It also found that the sixth, seventh or eighth rows in the bunch were the places to be to get most protection while still being close enough to the front to respond t any attacks.

Lead author Professor Bert Blocken of the Eindhoven University of Technology & KU Leuven said that a cyclist in the middle or rear of the peloton would encounter only between 5 and 7 per cent of the air resistance a solo rider would experience.

"Put it another way,” he explained. “it is as if a rider is cycling at 12 to 15 km/h in a peloton that is speeding along at 54 km/h.”

The research was based on computer simulations and wind tunnel studies of on a peloton of 121 model riders and, according to Professor Blocken, could shed light on why so many breakaways fail.

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"It turns out that current calculation models used by some race teams to determine the best time to escape are based on the wrong assumptions,” he said.

“Perhaps these new results will lead to more successful escapes and partly explain why so few escapes succeed, and why the peloton often hauls in the riders that do escape,” Professor Blocken continued.

He said that the research could help professional teams with their tactics and where they should seek to position their riders, saying: "At the very back, the air resistance is very low, but there is less opportunity to react to attacks and chances increase greatly for getting caught in a crash.

"So for classification riders or sprinters, the best position is in row six, seven or eight: there you are sufficiently shielded by other riders and you're near enough to the front,” he added.

Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.