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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.

Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.