So how do I make "guy in orange off the front" or "two teammates working together against a third guy" into a better story? I think I've been looking at it from the cyclists perspective (capture the moment that they already have a context for) than from a spectators standpoint.
That's kinda difficult really. There are no clear guidelines as to how you're gonna do that. It takes a fair bit of luck and a keen eye to read a race and catch such things as they occur. I was lucky to catch it in my example for "MG_0607" . I ride bicycles ( specifically roadbikes )myself for the past 18 years or so and would assess where and when such breaks might occur on the course. And would move to such areas to catch such shots IF possible. Usually, its easier to catch the emotion and facial expression on the riders faces with some of the action and form a story from it.
Same race different year, different conditions. Managed to catch the emotions of the two riders :
This is one key aspect of sports photography that's really hard to catch. And also why top sports photographers are highly regarded professionals. It takes a fair bit of luck too as in my examples above.
Actually I think shot #2 was at 1/30, but I don't have the exif in front of me. The problem was there wasn't enough environment to give any motion blur at high shutter speeds. A solid blue wall just doesn't really blur much.
Oh, don't get me wrong, not saying you're can't do really slow pans. Just suggesting that you need to adjust your panning to the needs of your environment. Its possible to shoot as low as 1/30 but its rather impossible to do a good panning follow-through if you do not have sufficient space to move around and prime the AF.
On the other hand .. panning isn't just about the motion blur, nor about getting as much of a blur background either. Its about achieving the 'sensation' of motion while yet being able to give your subject the requisite attention it deserves. In this case, the overall effect is actually quite good but would be better if at least the rider's face was clear and sharp. It would have worked just as well if it was something like 1/50 or 1/60 and you got more of the rider in sharp focus.
And as cited previously, compression of images can be quite a pain for such shots sometimes. So you're good. Just don't be too obsessed about 'getting the background as blur as possible' ... it doesn't work that way.
Here's what I did with a really close up, 5~6 feet away, the riders were going pass me at about 40km/h, was a 1/125 shot.
Here's 'Tinker' Juarez with the setting sun in the background and dim, dim evening light. Flash was used for fill and this was shot using an ultrawide 12-24mm on the 5DII. ISO was 1600, at 1/125 shutter. Just to illustrate the 'slight flash fill' ...
Thanks. Glad you like it.
I waited about an hour for Tinker to come by for 2 rounds at the same spot as I was anticipating the sunset. There were maybe 5 or 6 shots taken over 2 passes and this was the best that came out of it.