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Cycling Breakaway Calculator

Created by Piotr Małek and Mateusz Mucha
Reviewed by Steven Wooding and Jack Bowater
Last updated: Jan 18, 2024

The cycling breakaway calculator estimates the time and distance needed to catch a breakaway in a cycling race.

Cycling races wouldn't be half as exciting without all the breakaways that we get to see and cheer for during every race. Riders get into breakaways for plenty of reasons – to widen the gap between them and their main rivals on the mountain stages, to grab particular jerseys and win classifications, and, most commonly, to win stages and races. When this happens, there is only one question on the minds of everyone watching – will they make it or not?

And this is where mathematics comes in handy. Professor Hendrik Van Maldeghem of Ghent University, Belgium, came up with an equation that can, with surprising accuracy, predict whether cyclists will make it or not. He tested it during plenty of races, and the results turned out to be very precise very often. The equation, and as a result, our calculator, lets you calculate how much distance the peloton needs to catch the group of riders ahead of them. This calculator takes into consideration the following values:

  • Number of riders in the breakaway – number_of_sprinters;
  • Time gap between the breakaway and the peloton – time_gap;
  • Speed of peloton – peloton_speed; and
  • Speed of breakaway – sprinters_speed.

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Different equations are used depending on the number of riders. If there are 10 or more cyclists in the breakaway, the equation assumes they get tired at the same pace as the peloton riding at the same speed (this relation has also been tested).

The fewer the number of riders in the breakaway, the more important the role of fatigue is, and the shorter the distance the peloton needs to cover to catch them. However, the equation doesn't take into consideration factors such as wind or the road's profile and will be most accurate on flat stages.

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Prof. Van Maldeghem's formula is as follows:

distance_needed = time_gap × peloton_speed × (6 × peloton_speed / (3 × (peloton_speed - sprinters_speed) + √(6 × peloton_speed × time_gap × (10 - number_of_sprinters) + 9 × (peloton_speed - sprinters_speed)²)) - 1)

The time gap is expressed in hours and speed in kilometers per hour.

You can find how many walking steps you saved by cycling using our steps to miles calculator!


Why is there a breakaway in cycling?

Cyclists break away in cycling to win individual stages in a race. They risk their overall time but at the cost of improving their winning chances.

There are breakaway specialists, skilled riders whose sole purpose is to breakaway from the beginning of the race.

What elements are important of a cycling breakaway?

The important elements that estimate the time and distance needed to catch up to a breakaway in a cycling race are:

  1. Number of riders in the breakaway.
  2. Time gap between the breakaway and the peloton.
  3. Speed of peloton.
  4. Speed of breakaway.

What is a peloton?

A peloton is the primary group of cyclists in a race.

Most of the racers prefer to ride with the group as it gives many advantages ranging from reduced drag to having a leader to follow in tricky terrains.

How much is the distance to cover with 8 riders in a breakaway?

If we assume eight riders in a breakaway, with a speed of 20 km/h having a time gap of 40 minutes, and the peloton speed at 30 km/h, the distance to cover is 36.5 kilometers.

Piotr Małek and Mateusz Mucha
Riders in breakaway
Time gap
Breakaway speed
Peloton speed
Distance needed
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