When someone says you can keep up with “anyone” on a Sora-equipped aluminum road bike, and that’s definitely been said, in that statement there’s a nugget of truth hidden inside a big pile of bullshit. I’m going to try to save you getting your hands dirty digging for that nugget of truth.
Peter Sagan “kinda” did it, and he even came in second place in that race, if memory serves. Sagan’s was a Dura Ace Di2 equipped, ceramic bearing everything, $3,000 50 mm carbon fiber deep-section wheel’ed aluminum bike. In other simpler terms, not at all what we’re talking about in the opening statement. Put Sagan on my gravel bike and put him in the peloton and let’s see how he does. There’s no doubt he’d kick my ass all over the place, but we’re not talking about him racing a fifty year-old weekend warrior B Group’er. We’re not even talking like vs. like – Sagan is at the top of the cycling peloton’s heap.
Starting with the little nugget of truth first, a 24-ish pound aluminum road bike, as shown above, with the proper legs over the pedals, and the proper tires under the bike, and decent gearing, is a formidable machine. You put Sagan on that bike and I guarantee you he can keep up with all but those in the pro ranks – and that’s because there’s a world of difference between my gravel bike ($1,150 new) and his S-Works Venge or Tarmac. A world of difference.
I can keep up with anyone in the C and D Groups on that gravel bike, probably even put a hurting on many of them. There’s only one problem; I normally roll in the B Group. Now, it might be possible to keep up with my normal group on my gravel bike, but only if I hid in the back the whole ride. I don’t consider “hiding” keeping up, though.
In simple terms to understand, there’s no chance me on an entry-level Diverge is keeping up with me on my upper-crust Venge. Anyone who tells you otherwise is full of something. However, if we were to put one of the faster guys in our A Group on my gravel bike, it’d be hard on them, but I’d bet they could keep up with our B Group ride… and even take a few turns at the front. I think that fairly illustrates the difference between an entry-level bike and a mid-to-upper-level road bike.
The simplest way to understand what you’ll need to keep up with a group you’re interested in is to look at what they’re riding. With the B Group I ride with (which is most Clubs’ A Group), I can get away with riding a supremely, excellently, beautifully updated 1999 Trek 5200 with v-shaped alloy wheels with some excellent hubs (and bladed aero spokes). It’s not easy and I have to work a little harder than I like, but I can make up for the minor disadvantage with a little extra “want to”.
On the other hand, the same ride on my ’13 Specialized Venge is vastly more enjoyable. Lightweight (15 lbs. vs. 18), aero frame, aero wheels, beefy frame at the bottom bracket for power transfer, carbon fiber everything… The speed is simply easier, though I like to clarify that while the speed is easier, I’m not appreciably faster on the “better” bike.
Having spent as much as I have on bikes and upgrading those bikes, the simple solution is to buy the lightweight, expensive rocket. Once you’ve got the good bike, any problems are in the engine. On the other hand, if that’s out of the realm of possibility, as it was with me, simply get the best bike you can, put some good wheels on it, and upgrade it as you get some loose spending money. It’s more expensive over the long run than just buying the super-bike, but I like to advocate responsibilities over toys. Even if I have a tough time living up to that advocacy… it’s a lot more enjoyable picking each upgraded part to customize the bike, anyway.