The tactics are the magical thing that most miss about cycling
The breakaways happen to give valuable TV exposure to the smaller teams. Often they are directed, but sometimes they are planned for wins, though that’s a very rare thing.
So basically, they try, to just get their sponsorship exposure.
Now, then what happens is the GC guys that are down on time, try and join. If they’re too high up the timings, they are stopped.
What the leaders of the whole race are looking for, are other teams to be threatened on the overall timings, and other teams to use up riders chasing those guys.
So if someone 10 mins down on the ladder breaks, the teams with guys at 7 or 8 mins will need to catch, but the overall leader won’t bother, and will play the waiting game for other teams to chase.
The best description I ever heard was Geriant, where your riders are bullets. You have to choose when to use your bullets, you can’t constantly fire.
Riders recover in a 3 week race, but they can’t work hard every single minute of every stage.
So basically the leaders are looking for their closest threats to use up their riders and not become a threat anymore, and the teams further down are looking to move up, but also need to worry about the threat below.
Sometimes, there’s attacks at the right time that lead onto climbs, descents and can allow a solo rider to keep away as we’ve seen in the Giro a few times now. That’s good stage planning, good tactics and training.
Of course, there’s always the sufferlandrian in every race that just does it to suffer and win the cash to keep the team going