With cycling season rapidly approaching and the fact that I was perusing Bicycling Magazine’s archives yesterday morning, I bumped into a neat, short video that talks about how long to pull up front when you’re in a group. I’ve only been riding in groups for one season now so while I know my way around, I still have a lot to learn about tactics – and tactics do matter in the non-leisure group rides.
My biggest problem is tailoring the pull to the group. While I am a decent cyclist, because I train alone so much I have a tendency to be a one speed fits all kind of guy and that doesn’t always work in a group dynamic – especially when you’re talking about a big group or a group of riders who are faster or slower.
Starting with the faster group because this is the easiest to deal with, you pull as long as you can without gassing yourself too much to latch on at the back. After your pull, we try to go a mile each unless we’re into the wind (it’s a half-mile or so in that case), you allow the group to speed passed, as you get to the back, you will have to speed up a bit to latch on at the back – miss this by more than 24-36 inches and you’ll be off the back – and fast. This may mean you take a shorter pull than the rest of the group, don’t sweat it, just give them your best.
If you’re riding with a group about equal your talent, then a mile or two at the front won’t be a problem, nor will latching back on. Take a decent pull while maintaining your speed. Watch yourself on climbs that you don’t go too aggressive, I’ve dropped entire groups without even knowing it on a decent climb. This may not seem like a big deal, but I had dropped all of my help. Climbs are meant to be a little slower, just know that if the folks behind you start passing, it’s time to pick it up a bit – but don’t, under any circumstances, time your pull so that you’re falling to the back on a decent climb. The likelihood that you’re too cooked to latch on increases greatly. Pull off before the climb or after (mountain riding is a whole different story).
If you’re riding with a group slower than you are – I ran into this on a couple of centuries last year – having a speedometer helps. Take a glance at the speed when you’re second from the front and maintain that for the duration of your pull. My comfort zone for a century pace is somewhere between 20 and 22 mph. I rode with a couple of 18-19 mph groups last year so I took three-mile long pulls at the front. A) Because I could and B) because I wanted the other guys to have an easier, enjoyable ride. If you don’t have a speedometer, I also use a Roadie mirror – it plugs into the bar at the end of the drop – to make sure the group is tight behind me and I’m not pushing too hard… You’ll see it in the face of the guy behind you, if he’s grimacing take it down a notch. I’ve been on the other end of this, riding behind a Cat 2 racer and he busted my butt on his pulls. He hurt me, and while I did enjoy the experience (at least until mile 85 or 90), most people aren’t the glutton for punishment that I am.
Pulling, at least to me, is about doing my level best to do my fair share while making it to the finish line.
I’ve linked to the sites that I pulled the following photos from – the Double Pace Line photo is taken from an excellent “How To” on beginner pace line riding. The second is good as well.