By Alison Powers, ALP Cycles Coaching
Whether it’s a team ride, weekend bunch ride or race, we all fear getting dropped. It’s either slowly losing the wheel in front of you bit by bit or knowing that the moment the road turns up, you’ll be moving backwards until you’re riding on your own.
Here are five tip to help you stick with the group.
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 or have to close/create a gap- 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.
Alison Powers only recently retired from cycling, finishing her final season on the UnitedHealthcare Women’s Team. Her career has spanned a wide array of wins, including the 2013 USA Cycling Professional Criterium National Championship where she won in memorable fashion by soloing after an early breakaway that obliterated the pro women’s peloton. Other standout results during the 33-year-old’s 2013 season include the win at Redlands Bicycle Classic, second at the Tour of Elk Grove, third at the US National Road Championship and the US National Time Trial Championship, and stage wins at Cascade Classic, Tulsa Tough, Tour of the Gila and Redlands Bicycle Classic. Hailing from Fraser, Colorado, Powers has been racing bikes professionally for eight years and is a true athlete with her career beginning as a teenager in mountain bike racing. In her mid 20s, she added in alpine ski racing before switching over to the road. In addition to being the current Criterium National Champion, Powers has two other national championships (Time Trial, Team Pursuit) and 2 NRC titles (2009, 2013).
About ALP Cycles Coaching
ALP Cycles Coaching is located in the mountains of Colorado, and is a cycling coaching company with over 25 years of professional sports experience. ALP Cycles Coaching is unique in that we have 4 coaches, Alison Powers, Jennifer Triplett, and Patricia Schwager who each brings her own coaching strengths and personal experiences. We work together to create a training plan that works for each and every person. Visit them online at http://alpcyclescoaching.com
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