One of the pieces of advice given most often to riders trying to get faster is to ride with people or groups that are faster than they are. And it’s pretty good advice, because faster group rides motivate us to go harder and longer.
Keep in mind, though, that riding with faster people and faster groups can create some challenges. You want to give it your best and challenge yourself, and you don’t want to get dropped out of the parking lot. It’ll take some time until your fitness helps you keep up naturally. In the meantime, here are a few tips for hanging with the fast group.
Know what you are getting into
Know the course
Research the ride course in advance. Many of the faster group rides use the same course for each ride, and some research ahead of time can really help. Learn the terrain and any major turns, and look for areas that could give you trouble so you can plan for them. Strava Flyby and Garmin Connect Segments are both great ways to see how hard the ride will be.
Know the riders
Get an idea of who might be there and how they ride. If you know some of the competition and how they’ll likely ride the course, you’ll be able to make informed decisions that will help you keep up when the heat is on.
As aero as possible
Too many times I see new riders show up to the fast ride for the first time with a jersey two sizes too large and a vest or wind jacket that functions like a parachute once the speed hits 20 mph. If you join the fast group, you have to think and dress fast. Keep the kit tight; vests and wind jackets should be form fitting.
One of the things that makes it hard to step up to the fast group is the pressure we can feel to do some work, take pulls, and share the load. My advice: don’t. This is how you get dropped, at least until your fitness is truly at a level where you can handle that work. I’m amazed at the number of times I see slower riders taking a lot of pulls early when they have the energy to pull, because I know they’re simply setting themselves up to be dropped later when the heat turns up. Start conversative. There’s never a shortage of guys willing to take pulls in the fast group; let them do it until you feel ready to take some turns.
Ride the wave
Learning to manage momentum in the fast group is a challenge. Close riding tends to make you nervous, and nervous riders love to brake. Be more proactive about momentum. Don’t get caught breaking at the bottom of rollers and then have to reaccelerate and power up to catch or hang on. This means moving forward to the front few in the group, or, alternatively, moving back. If you know the route and know the riders, you know when these areas are coming. Drop off the back a little and allow yourself to naturally roll through the saddle, catching the accelerating riders on the uphill with your momentum and then pushing to keep up. You’ll burn less energy and have more left in the end.
‘Ride the wave’ at the back – if you can
It’s the economy
Throughout the ride you need to be thinking constantly about your economy. This means generating the highest speed for the lowest invested energy. This can be accomplished with the development of a few good habits. First, learn to paceline and keep tight gaps. Yes, everyone knows this is the rule, but you need to focus and do it all the time so that the savings add up over time. Second, pick the right wheel to follow. This one is simple: pick the largest rider who demonstrates a good smooth riding style and follow that wheel. He’ll punch a little bigger hole for you and hopefully not make gaps himself.
Build your fatigue resistance in the fast ride
Sticking with the fast group is more about building resistance to both aerobic and anaerobic fatigue, not pure power. As you learn to be more economical and not have to push the hyperdrive button as much, you’ll need to focus on building fatigue resistance. How? It’s pretty simple, but easier said than done. Stick with the group a little longer each ride. This will force you to think more economically (instead of focusing on max power) and will allow you to set milestones that will build fatigue resistance. Once you can make the whole ride sitting in, then think about adding a few pulls. The idea is to be progressive with time more than max power.
Jumping in with the fast group is a great way to get faster! Adding a few of these rides to your training regime will quickly get results in your performance if you’re smart and ride them correctly.
Jump in with the fast group
Tim Cusick is the TrainingPeaks WKO4 Product Development Leader, specializing in data analytics and performance metrics for endurance athletes. In addition to his role with TrainingPeaks, Tim is also Head Coach at Velocious Cycling Adventures. You can reach Tim for comments at firstname.lastname@example.org . To learn more about TrainingPeaks and WKO4 visit us at TrainingPeaks.com.