Attacking, done right, shocks your opponents. When they realize you're attacking it's already too late. They think there's no way I can follow.
A true attack is violent, hard, fast.
These are the best times to attack:
1. When you are completely exhausted. Because everyone else should be too and won't respond. But you have to go very hard and very confidently. It's sooo hard to do.
2. When there's still a lot of race left, and the peloton is sleepy and not motivated to chase.
3. When a break is caught, because the racers that chased it down will be tired and not motivated to start chasing right away.
These are times you shouldn't attack:
1. When you feel rested and perky. Everyone else is rested and perky too and waiting for something to happen.
2. When going downhill (unless it's a technical descent or something). Only attack going uphill.
3. When a break is being chased down.
There are all sorts of attacks:
WEAK ATTACKS Men who could not truly get away, but kind of go out and then come right back to a peloton that didn't even change its pace.
STRONG ATTACKS These are attacks from strongmen that could work, and everyone knows it could work, so everyone attacks to try and bridge up to them which just means the pointy end of the peloton moves faster and comes back together.
ATTACKS THAT GET AWAY The attacks that stick are from riders who are strong enough to make a separation at a speed that intimidates, as well as either being seen as not likely to work because of a small or no team presence, or because teammates help block chase efforts.
GOOD ATTACKS These are attacks on climbs, or somewhere when the peloton pretty much can't follow and other racers have a hard time bridging. These are the sorts of attacks that will break up a peloton. I love being in the first 10 spots or so during a race when one of these attacks happen. I can just feel the peloton falling apart, and when the attack is done and the dust has settled, you look around and a 50 person peloton has whittled down to 15.
EARLY ATTACKS Sometimes a racer or two will go off the front at the beginning of a long road race, and everyone thinks there's no way they can make it this far out so no one chases. And you never see them again.
Attacking is tough business, and most people never do it since the best bet for most races is sticking it out in the peloton and waiting until the end. And attacking, and then going faster than the peloton, takes sooo much strength and energy.