Monday, March 21, 2011
Always practicing, always learning
It became pretty clear to me after this weekend that we need to continue the conversation we started last week regarding group ride etiquette, or more importantly, general technique and skills practices. But we need to take a bigger step back. This past weekend we had a really big group, in Omaha terms, and I got to thinking that most riders have probably never ridden in that big of a group on that kind of a ride.
We've all raced in big groups, or raced along during the Wednesday worlds rides, but how often do you roll out of town for a LSD (long slow distance) ride with 20+ people? That's how I started riding as an eager fourteen year old. Lucky for me I had some really great guys teaching me the ins and outs. Kevin Burke, Jeff Hansen, Dave Cech, Hajo Drees, these were my mentors in the peloton. When I started I was lucky to stay with the group until we hit the first real hills (about 6 miles), but each week, I could make it one hill further before getting dropped. In these early days the first thing I learned was how to ride in a double paceline. The riders didn't go on the attack at the first sight of open county road. Instead we practiced riding in a group for the first half of the ride, skills training. The double paceline is the basic building block for pretty much everything road cycle racing.
The double paceline is great for a couple reasons. First, with riders riding two abreast it cuts the length of the group in half making it easier for cars to pass. This weekend we had 6 or 8 guys riding two abreast up front but after that people were dropping into a single file line which really stretched the group out and made it difficult for cars to pass.
Second, it teaches you to maintain a steady tempo. This is very important because it will make you a safer rider. Abrupt accelerations or decelerations in a group are what causes a significant number of crashes. We had a couple close calls while I was at the back of the group this weekend, all caused by someone accelerating too fast and then approaching the rider in front too quickly. Learn to increase and decrease your speed gradually, this will help you in a race situation too when there is even less organization in the peloton.
Thirdly, it teaches you to ride confidently while in close proximity to others. The ability to ride just inches away from the rider next to you and in front of you will help you save energy and you'll need this skill even more during the next step of learning how to ride in a group. In addition, the double paceline is great for beginner riders that aren't the strongest. Because the group is not constantly rotating, it let's the newbies sit sheltered in the group for a longer period of time while the stronger riders can take long pulls at the front. Don't ever be afraid to go to the front and take a pull, just keep it short if you're unsure of your strength. If you're feeling strong, sit on the front a little longer (if you have a strong partner too). I always like the one hill pull. Pull to the top of the next hill and then file to the back.
That "next step" I mentioned above comes quickly. Eventually the ride pace will increase as the group size drops and you'll find yourself riding in the more technically challenging circular paceline or echelon if there is a crosswind. The tighter you ride in these formations the more energy you'll save.
It was pretty awesome having such a big group this weekend. Hopefully we can keep it going and it gets safer and more fun each week.