How do you ride in a group so as to be safe and fast? What are the best ways of keeping your effort constant whilst riding in a group? How do you improve your confidence in a group?
The weather is amazing here at the moment! It is probably the best winter we have had here. It has been consistently dry as usual but the temperature seems to be higher and we are having lots of clear sunny days. So we have had high twenties for several days this week.
Now this may not be so much fun if you are riding here having just arrived from the UK but once you have adjusted to the heat, and having to drink more, the conditions are near perfect! I have always loved the heat and my muscles just feel so much looser in the warm weather. Jen finds it a bit tougher and has good and bad days!
So we have had family here last week but still managed to clock 17 hours of riding. As we suspected, Jen started to feel better by Friday and trained again on Sunday, with a hard session of thirty second efforts. All the other rides for her included pieces up to the lower end of sweetspot all week with her seeing the higher end of sweetspot on Friday when she was feeling as though she had recovered.
After her tougher training day on Sunday, we then did a four hour ride with the group on Monday with 2000m of climbing and after a sluggish start, she rode at sweetspot on all the climbs and had a really good day. So a solid week all round, with some good recovery and then a couple of good quality sessions.
The group we ride in is a super group of people. Despite the continual ups and downs here, the group tends to ride together a lot of the time and then we have specific climbs, particularly before the tea stop, where the group will split and people will ride at their own pace.
All the credit for this excellent group riding must go to Martin. He started the group off and has spent a lot of valuable time and energy helping people, who are relatively new to cycling, to improve significantly. These individuals are invaluable to the sport and are responsible for getting a lot more people to enjoy this great sport. So this weeks blog is about group riding – how to ride better in a group yourself, and how to get a group to ride better together.
Group Riding Skills
As I have mentioned in this blog before, we were quite fortunate to ride with the Bicester club. We met some great people to ride with over the years there (and HUGH!!!!) (only joking Hugh), but the main reason for the success of the club was the group riding.
Again we had some quite strong-minded riders who had good ideas about what a club ride should be like and were generous with their time ( a big hi to Ken and Andy in particular – hope you are well guys. Hope to see you in October back in the UK). The club rides were excellent – constant pace, well disciplined and safe. No-one was dropped. Weaker riders were encouraged, given help and sheltered in the group if necessary.
As a result, the club has gone from strength to strength and I believe is now up to 5 rides on a Saturday and Sunday!
Over the years that we have been running Polkadot, we have met many people who have struggled to ride comfortably in groups, and most of this was due to riding in groups that were not well disciplined. I know that riding alongside other riders can seem intimidating at first for new riders, and then if the group that you choose to ride with when you first ride is jumpy and erratic, then you never get over this fear and probably end up having your first crashes as a result!
But with a few simple changes, the riding can become better and so much more fun for everyone.
The key point here is that the club ride is NOT a race. It is a co-operative event. If the club ride is well structured, the average speed of the ride will be so much higher with less waiting around and perfect for those long, zone 1 miles. Modern roads are way too busy for pretend races most of the time anyway!
When the club ride is a pretend race, the pace is erratic. People then start to get tired, and then start doing stupid things, like over-taking in dangerous situations and taking risks at junctions. The pace is then inconsistent, which results in people riding into the back of others.
However, if the effort is constant (ESPECIALLY up hill!!!) rather than surging, then there is little concertina effect and now everyone is safer and fresher. If you really do want to have a burn up as part of the ride, great! Just choose a safe part of the course, maybe before the tea stop so that anyone dropped will know they can meet up a few miles later, and announce this to the whole ride. That way, you can choose to take part, or not!!!
At Bicester, we would always ride in two lines and rotate at the front, with each rider spending three minutes on the front on the left, and then three minutes on the right before slowly dropping down the line and then back to the front.
This is EXCELLENT practice with the effort being shared out and everyone getting a go. Later in the ride, if someone was struggling, they could then sit on the back whilst the stronger riders take the wind, so they can then get more out of the ride.
I have often noticed that the people who want to treat this as a road race are also reluctant to go to the front! They want to play the game of sitting in throughout, only to blast off up that killer hill later! Come on guys! All you are proving is that when you are fresh, you can beat someone who has worked harder than you!!!! Big deal. This then leads to the whole stop-start problem and now the ride is dangerous again.
I always feel that if you want to race, you should pin that number on and have a go! Now you can find out whether you can cut the mustard or not! But beating other riders who have ridden on the front all ride is poor! (Sorry if this is a bit preachy, but this is the bad side to this great sport!).
So if you are new to the sport, find a club that has a clear club ride strategy. Before you join, just ask them what the rides are like, or go out on a few. And if the rides are rubbish, go somewhere else. These pretend races are poor training at best and dangerous at their worst! If you get in the right group, you will feel safer from the start, other riders will help you with hints and tips to improve, and then you will grow to love it.
And before we move on, what are those hints and tips? If you haven’t had the benefit of some wisdom from one of the experienced members of a club, here are a few tips to get you started.
If the pace in a group is constant, you can sit very close to the wheel in front and be totally safe. Just sit behind and slightly to the left or right of the wheel in front. If they slow slightly, you will naturally swing out to the side of the back wheel in front, without thinking about it, whereas if you are directly behind, you will have to think about whether to go left or right and before you know it, you have clipped the back wheel.
Sit up on the bike so you can see around or over the rider in front and see what is up the road. You will see things sooner and will be slowing sooner rather than slamming your brakes on. So put your hands on the hoods so you are covering the brakes and gears at all times and relax. Use your peripheral vision to judge where you are relative to the rider in front, don’t just stare at their back wheel all day!
If the rider in front does slow, try to slow gently. If you can pull out from behind the rider in front and into the wind, let the wind hit your chest and slow you slightly, no braking required, and if not, just feather the brakes. DO NOT hit the brakes hard unless it is an emergency. If you brake too hard, you will then have a large gap between you and the rider in front and you will have to keep making sprint efforts which will tire you faster!
As an aside, if you do find yourself in a group that is inconsistent, in a sportive say, the most consistent pace will be at the front of the group, maybe in the first four or five riders. This is especially true in a road race. So stay forward and take a few turns if you have to – it is easier!!!
And keep the gears down and spin. It is easier to speed up to close small gaps if your cadence is higher and it is less tiring over the whole ride. Save your strength for the climbs and later in the ride.
If you do hit the front of the group, then you can lower your head to improve your aerodynamics BUT ride next to the other rider on the front. Do NOT half wheel or half bike them. This is rude! Match your pace to theirs so that you can both ride the whole time on the front WITHOUT struggling. If one of you blows, the pace will drop significantly and now you run the risk of someone riding into the back of someone else – constant pace is better AND quicker.
Look well ahead for obstacles and potholes and SHOUT them out. I have noticed a few riders just pointing at the problem but I am not sure they are aware that the rider three back can’t see their arm! So shout – hole left, car on the right etc. And if you are maybe six back in the group, also shout so the riders at the back can hear.
And if you are at the back of the group and someone appears to be struggling with the pace, just shout out – knock 2 km/hr off guys etc (or with modern technology, drop 20 watts!!!) . It will be better to keep them on the back and then they can recover a bit, rather than let them crack and then you will end up waiting longer!!!
Maybe if they do go off the back, drop back to them to offer them a wheel to follow, and a bit of shelter and help them get back on. Again, this will speed the whole ride up and give you an extra workout! They will do this for you one day when you need help!
These starting points will get you there. Just think of the whole ride as getting EVERY member of the ride around the course as efficiently as possible and now the ride has a challenge to it as well as being great fun. We have had some superb rides where everyone has had a great day, we have covered the terrain quickly and got a great buzz out of the whole thing! I hope you can find the ride that works for you.
Another exciting classic at Amstel Gold. The new finish seemed to work well. The old finish at the top of the Cauberg was causing the riders to race negatively and save everything for one big effort at the end. Classics are not supposed to be like that, I think. So the new finish caused more attacking early on and then an exciting two-up sprint.
I actually think Kwiatkowski could have won! He went way too early on an uphill, headwind sprint. His initial kick was excellent and got him several bike lengths but he could not hold it to the line. And Gilbert was quickly back in his slipstream and then a comfortable winner. Probably a few sleepless nights for Kwiatkowski after that one. He will feel that he lost it, rather than Gilbert winning it!
And Geraint has started well in the Tour of the Alps. He split the lead group on the 3km climb at the end of the stage and was pipped by Scarponi, but he will take great encouragement from how he dropped everyone else, even if a couple got back to him. We saw him in Tenerife last Thursday, rolling around on the east coast roads, just before he was due to fly back to mainland Europe.
He has completed a big block of training here and will not be fully fresh and recovered yet so that is positive before the Giro. I still think Quintana will be tough to beat though!
So we move on to Fleche-Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege for the classics riders, the punchy climbers that is, and we have the next few stages of the mountainous Tour of the Alps, and then the scene is set for the Giro! Fantastic!
Jen has entered a race here next Sunday. It is mainly for fun as she hasn’t properly prepared for it, but she is always a great competitor anyway. This is a time trial up to Vilaflor but up the steepest route – one we used on the last trip this year, so if you were on that trip, you will remember the last 4 km at over 10% with sections up to 18%!!!
It is the route we use to come down from Vilaflor on day 1 of the normal trips, but you don’t really appreciate the severity of the gradients when you descend it
The normal races here are unusual in that they consist of a long ( maybe 50 or 60 km!) neutralised section, behind a car, followed by a finishing climb. So the winners are normally climbers anyway! But this one is a TT up a climb instead. Good fun!
So we will complete a long harder ride on Wednesday which will have some specific intervals in it and some longer sweetspot efforts for Jen, then she will have a couple of light days and then go for it on Sunday. We then have a block of over-reaching planned as we have about ten days before we travel back to France and so this will fit in nicely.
So we will have started the block by the time I write the next blog but I will explain what we are doing in that one. I am still a few weeks away from starting to train again, so more long steady rides for me this week, and then the block of training will be ideal as this will all be quite steady for me – just a lot more hours!!! I feel like I am ready though!
Have a great week everyone!