There is nothing worse than getting dropped regularly. But luckily it doesn’t come down to who is the fittest so there is a strong chance you can fix this problem by following these tips.
Be smart and lose your ego
Going faster is what draws many cyclists to group rides. Before you try to attack or take long pulls, though, learn to sit in the group comfortably. A common mistake is to think you must take the same number or length of turns as stronger riders. If you are getting dropped, you don’t need to spend time at the front. Take short pulls and minimise time on the front. If you are sitting on the back make sure you call each rider through as they get to the end of the working group so they don’t end up chasing a gap expecting you to come through. No one will judge you for that — they’ll likely respect you more for knowing your limits and finishing with them. Just make sure you don’t sprint around them at the end of the ride. Big noting yourself on STRAVA won’t win you any friends either. Thank the stronger guys and be grateful they have towed you much faster than you could’ve done on your own.
Learn from the seasoned riders
To learn how to save energy, watch for the rider who gets through each ride with group but who is clearly not the fittest. These riders have a knack for saving energy and expending that energy maximally when it counts. Watch how they pull through the group by drafting the rider ahead until the last moment, then take a short pull at the front. These experienced riders will usually be tucked up getting aerodynamic, and they will use a higher cadence to allow for quick accelerations and to decrease muscular fatigue.
Sit close but look ahead
If you find it intimidating to get close enough to the rider directly in front of you, consider looking further ahead in the group or at least at the front hub of the bike ahead rather than directly at the rear wheel that’s only inches away. Staring at the rear wheel makes it almost impossible to react to potholes and changes in speed quickly, so you risk a crash or at the least you will find it unnerving and lose the wheel, then find yourself working too hard as you lose the draft. Following directly behind a rider may not get you the most draft if there is a cross wind: You may have to sit off to one side. To improve your ability to find the drafting sweet spot in any condition, follow a friend on a windy day on a twisty course and see how the drafting sweet spot moves as you change direction. Add speed as you get more comfortable and confident with moving around and following closely.
Close gaps straight away
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?
Anticipate changing terrain and wind direction
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.
Keep the cadence high
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
Power over rises and out of dips
So often the bunch will smash is up a rise but back off a bit over the top. If you lose contact up the rise don’t back off but once you crest you need to accelerate and descend flat out for a minute or so and you will often get back on to the bunch. If rises are your enemy make a point to get to the front just as you are coming out of a dip and use the momentum to slingshot you in to the rise quite fast. Then you have some room to slowly drift back through the bunch and end up on the back just before the top of the rise. Then whatever your do don’t lose contact with the group.
Train your weaknesses
You need to train to survive. If you always seem to lose contact with the bunch over the top of rises then you need to train for that. The most effective survival strategy is to find a rise similar to what you do with the bunch and do a maximal effort all the way over the last half of the rise and for 100m over the top of the crest. Recover for as long as it takes to cruise back to where you started and repeat this enough times to accumulate 15 -20 mins of absolute flat out effort in total. Do this session twice a week and before you know it you will be finishing with the bunch.
Suffer, harden up and never give up
Whatever you do, do not let go of that wheel. The pace will eventually back off. You just have to go deep within yourself for a short amount of time and it always calms down. Cycling is a hard sport. It more often comes down to having the most mongrel rather than who is the fittest. So put a teaspoon of cement in your coffee and hang on to the bunch as if your life depended on it. That’s what everyone else is doing.
To start training today contact Angus now to not only stick with the bunch, but lead sometimes. Contact Angus now!