What's Cool In Road Cycling

Toolbox: Fall Training Rides

These are great days! The cool fall weather and disappearing sun always bring back fun rides that define many seasons past. What can you do with rides during the fall to improve for 2017?

Cross season or base, you may well have some sort of structure for the week to come that is pointing you towards a future goal. If you are racing the intensity is up, as well as recovery. If, instead it’s your ‘off season’ they may include high kilojoule base rides without too much focused intensity.

I thought Tim Cusick’s annual review series on breaking down racing performance and overall training has been tremendous. Coaches and athletes can all learn to better understand the realities of what our amazing bodies can do. Overload and recovery is a dynamic process of trial and error balanced with data and a progressive approach. Of course the off season provides ample opportunity to work, deepen and refine other elements of your cycling repertoire. There are plenty.

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Group Ride Etiquette
Without channeling Miss Manners and delving into the very fine points of etiquette, let’s just get this out of the way. You need to ride better in a group!

Part of the thrill of those fall, small group and team rides is going fast across a fun road! Taking turns in rotation and upping the ante as you rail along, hopefully with a nice cross tailwind so you can really fly!

If you can’t manage to pay enough attention to what’s going on around you and avoid obvious catastrophe ahead of time by doing so, why should I be excited to show you my favorite roads? Mistakes hurt and crashing sucks. Learn to ride in a group better. Overlapping wheels is dumb, but not as dumb as riding 2 cm off the guy in front of your wheel to “maximize the draft.” And stop descending like Froome, it’s not graceful on you!

Ok, I’m glad I got that off my chest…

Team Rides
The easiest place to learn the art of fast group riding is with your team. Similar category riders should try to ride together as often as they can, but mixed group rides also push everybody to ride their best. Even a once a month team ride with consistent drill work together can make a huge difference in accelerating your learning curves in both fitness and tactics. Learning to push a paceline efficiently at speed is one of the great challenges of group riding. Physiology doesn’t help when you can’t find the draft.

Your team may be big or small, may race or not, but doing the team ride is as much a part of the culture of cycling as coffee stops and spandex. On many teams it’s a requirement, and for good reason. Sharing the suffering is a primary part of the adventure, but you also learn to develop your roles and responsibilities. Who’s fastest over what? Who is the strongest at the end of those 3 hour “training ride” slug fests? What about those 40 minute criterium workouts? Watch and learn from each other, suffer in the cold wind, ride in the rain, dirt or snow. My point is the camraderie of a team, earned through riding together, is a great baseline. I hope you have a team you like.

If not, you might check out the local group rides…

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Group Rides,
I do hope there is a good group ride fairly close to you. I would say you need at least 15 or 20 people to have a group ride. Less than that and you’re sort of a break riding around together. You need to get used to having people around you. There are a few old school rides that were already legendary way back when in California: The Busstop, The Shootout, The Spectrum ride. I haven’t really done any of them for awhile, but they were a perfect crucible for pack riding. Working your way up the food chain from just hanging on to riding the bubble, or pulling on the front. The key to their success seemed to lie in the absolute brutal pace on the front. It was pure survival and if you made the selection it was a good week. I don’t know how they are now, but I hope they are still fast and safe (mostly safe). Then again if you go to the front and help drive the pace it will be right?

Being a good wheel, willing to pull through and share the work while maximizing those courteous moments by closing a gap, pointing out a rock, or generally “being a good wheel”, is both fun and a responsibility. Of course getting that status comes from doing group rides, so do a lot of them over the years. Maybe not every weekend though, there is much more to see…

The Free Form
Finally we’ve arrived at my favorite kind of ride, the fall free form! A day of your own, what should you do? Maybe some friends have a plan, maybe it’s just you, but you probably will end up climbing if that’s an option. Climbing takes you places leading to sweet downhills. It also helps with muscle endurance and efficiency, which most of us can certainly benefit from. These are those unplanned forays into wherever, when time is on your side. Finding new roads is always a good day and the freedom to stop for a coffee stop just adds to the glory.

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Summary
Which in the end is my point. Do the leg work of review and planning for next season, but give yourself the freedom to just go ride sometimes too. There is always something to learn on a bike ride. I’m a big fan of getting lost. I’m a big fan of mini camps with teammates and a winter’s worth of lessons on the local group ride. Go long sometimes. Ride more dirt. Don’t ride carbon wheels all the time. Be bold and polite. Doubtless there are unaware drivers writ large, but take the initiative to get their attention. A simple wave goes a long way to civility. We can use more civility.


About Matt McNamara: Matt is a USA Cycling Level 1 coach with over 20 years of racing, coaching and team management experience. This fall he is once again jumping into the ‘cross game in anticipation of a massive El Nino in Northern California and the arrival of much needed (and anticipated) rain! Matt is the founder and president of Sterling Sports Group. Learn more by visiting him online at www.sterlingwins.com.

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