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Daily Archives: August 21, 2020

Group and Club Rides: The Art of Not Getting Dropped When the Cycling Gets Fast (And Knowing When Fast is too Fast)

Okay, so we all know I ride with some fast folks.  Some people think I’m one of the fast people.  To an extent, I am, but a lot of that speed is strategy.  I’m going to share with you some of my secrets for sticking with it when it gets tough.

  • The first one is simple:  Save the good legs for the big rides.  We have a guy who runs a really fast ride out of his house every Saturday.  50 miles and they usually average 23 to 24-mph on open roads.  He likes to tell every new person who shows up, “You gotta bring your good legs to this ride”.  You DO NOT, the day before a ride you know is going to be fast, go out and do hill repeats or anything else that’ll tax you for the next day.  For instance, my hard days are Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday…  Monday, Wednesday and Friday are moderate to fairly easy days.  It’s okay to take the time to smell the roses to save your legs for the hard rides.
  • No matter what, I always pull through in a group.  My turn at the front, if I’m already pushing max heart rate, may be short but I never – NEVER – pull out early so somebody has a gap to make up.  This is one of the biggest douche moves in club cycling (right next to pulling up front and exiting a double pace-line up the center of the group… look at me now, never).  If you can’t stand the heat up front, keep your butt at the back where it won’t get in the way.  Always do your best to not disrupt the group pulling your butt around the course.
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  • Now for the good stuff.  You’re going to have times where you think you’re cooked – at the end of your rope.  You’re probably not.  Get off the front after your turn and recharge.  You’ll feel better in a minute.  Don’t confuse how you feel at the front with how you’re doing overall.  The front should get your heart rate up.  It’ll drop down after your turn.
  • If you’re legitimately hurting, take a short turn up front.  The group will respect you for taking your lumps up front, even if you can’t hang long.  If, however, one of the regulars offers for you to hang at the back, by all means, take them up on it.  I have to give it a short pull every now and again and doing so saves my bacon – especially into the wind.
  • Use intersections to drop back a few places if you need a longer rest.  Using this tactic gets a little tricky, but it works.  Don’t use it too much, lest you get the reputation of wimping out of your duty to the group.  Use it to get you to the good side of a bind.
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  • Know who’s wheel you can trust and who will get you dropped.  You don’t want to ride behind someone who will get you dropped at the first sign of the ride getting tough.  There’s nothing worse than coming off a good pull at the front, just to have to bridge a gap because the rider in front of you dropped just as you came back.  Sure, that’s a twatwaffle move on their part, but a little caution on your part will save you having to bridge immediately after a turn up front.
  • While at the back, later in the ride, take an assessment of who is hurting.  If one of the riders you’re behind seems like they’re flagging, pass them up at an intersection and get in front of them.  Better to be in front of them one or two places than behind them when things get tough.  This way, if they drop, you’ll be rested when it happens so you’ll be able to bridge a gap.
  • Don’t try to hammer the group with sudden accelerations early, just to blow up later in the ride.  Watch your sprints for town signs, etc.  First, everything in a group ride should be smooth.  If you can ride faster than the guy who just flicked off the front, great.  Ramp the speed up slowly so A) the person who just pulled has a chance to latch on and B) the group behind you doesn’t have to work extra hard to bridge a gap you just made.  If you surge as soon as they flick off, you’re a dick.  A limp, tiny dick, too.  The group isn’t thinking, “Wow, look how strong Bob is!”  They’re thinking, “Where in the f*** does Bob think he’s going, that douche nozzle!”  Don’t be Bob.
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  • The ride can be tougher at the back if you’re not in an exceptionally competent group.  Spend enough time in a group and you’ve ridden behind this guy; six pedal strokes, coast, six pedal strokes, coast, rinse and repeat… he’s falling back a few feet every coast, then he closes the gap with those six pedal strokes.  This person is, whether he knows it or not, an @$$hole.  If you’ve got a few people behind “that guy”, the yo-yo effect is going to be horrendous… and a lot more work than taking your lumps up front.  Pass that loser up.  Coasting is just fine, but only if you’re able to maintain your gap with the rider in front of you.  Don’t be the start of the yo-yo.  The reason this is so difficult is you’ll have to pay triple the attention you normally would and you’ll be constantly hitting your brakes after hammering the pedals to make up the gap the person in front of you is making.  I can only stand about 30 seconds of this before I’ll pass someone up.  One thing is for sure, staying in the back with that is going to hammer you into the ground.
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  • For my last little nugget of advice, I’ve saved the most important.  If you’re in a group that you’ll struggle to keep pace in, be selfish about who you’ll ride behind.  Don’t put up with someone who isn’t riding competently just to stay at the back – or, if you must suffer someone, try to take it in small chunks.  Shake up the order of the pace-line at an intersection or after a stop.  You don’t have to start in the back after a stop.  Start out front and take a pull and after you’re done, you’ll drop to the back.  Or start second bike after that stop… this is a great way to take a turn early, after your heart rate has calmed down, before heading to the back for a nice, long rest before your next turn.

Now, every now and again you’re going to run into a group that’s simple too fast for you.  It happens.  First, if you don’t know where you are, don’t be the first one off the back.  Second is fine, that way you can team up with the other person who went of the back.  Next, don’t sacrifice good form to stay with a group.  In other words, don’t do any of those bad manner things listed above because you’re at the end of your rope.  That’s not an excuse and nobody else will care anyway.  Just do your best and remember, the group comes first.  Be good to the people and they’ll ask you back.

Good luck and ride hard.