By Alison Powers- ALP Cycles Coaching
1. Get in the draft
Learn to draft off other riders and be comfortable riding in close proximity to others. If you draft behind another rider who is cutting into the wind you gain an advantage. Up to 40% less energy can be used in the draft when a group of people are riding together. To be the most effective when drafting, a cyclist needs to be as close as possible to the bicycle in front of them. The shorter the distance the larger the decrease in wind resistance. This means, if you stay tucked nicely in the group of riders, you will save energy, and thus, have more energy available for uphill or fast sections, and have less of a change of getting dropped.
2. A little bit now or a lot later
If a gap does open, close it quickly. A little bit now or a lot later means you can suffer a little bit now and close the gap, or you can suffer a lot later when you are all on your own and chasing the group. If a gap does open, do not panic but be decisive and quick in your response to close a gap. Why waste 1-2 (or more) minutes chasing the group, when you could have dug a little deeper and closed it in 3 seconds and then be back with the group and recovering in the draft?
3. Be aware of terrain changes and wind conditions
Every time a group ride comes to a hill, the riders surge and the pace picks up. If you pay attention and see the hill coming, you can be ready to shift, stand up, and follow the pace of the group. If you are not aware and did not see the hill coming then you are caught reacting to the group and you are already a step behind, slowing down, and struggling to keep up. Be aware of your surroundings and be prepared to act on what is going to happen- be proactive. If the group is riding in a tail wind and then makes a left hand turn, there will be a cross wind. Plan ahead (before the turn) to be on the side out of the wind when the group exits the turn.
4. Spin, high cadence pedaling
Make sure you are spinning the easiest gear possible (for you) in a group. Be aware of the other riders’ leg speed and cadence and make sure you are pedaling at least at the same cadence or hopefully slightly faster. Spinning at a higher cadence allows you to react quicker to pace and terrain changes than one that is mashing a bigger gear. You can always switch to a bigger gear later on in the ride- as you get tired- but it is very hard to go the opposite way- to go from mashing to spinning without losing power.
5. Suffer, HTFU, and never give up.
The best advice I have ever gotten about bike racing was this- ‘whatever you do, do not let go of that wheel. The pace will slow down and it won’t go this fast forever.’ Bike racing and hard group rides involve suffering. Our hearts beat fast, our legs hurt, it’s hard to breath, but if you can dig deep and push yourself to stay on the wheel (in the draft), the pace will slow and you will still have contact with the group. If you give up too quickly, you are forced to ride on your own and will never know your limit or how much you can really suffer to stay with the group. Do whatever you can to stay with the group- shift gears, stand up, sprint, grunt, cry, vomit—whatever it takes.