I’ve saved this pitfall for it’s own post because it has the potential to make or break a Group Ride experience for you. If you’ve been following along, this is part 3 in a series that began with 6 Common Pitfalls in the Group Ride and Common Pitfalls in the Group Ride, Part 2. How many times have you found yourself in a bad position in the pack going around a corner or up a hill? And how often during a ride, especially when you’re on the limit, do you actively engage in thinking about the strategy of your position? This pitfall has to do with how you position yourself.
Confession time: if I get dropped in a ride or race, it’s most often because I’ve had consistently poor positioning which results in bad momentum.
Let’s face it, there are very few of us that can sit on the front and dictate tempo throughout an entire ride. If you can, then this post may not apply to you. If you can’t, then I’ll bet you find yourself in many different positions in the group throughout the ride. If you’re not on the front, then sitting in is the best place to be. But if you’re not moving forward then you’re probably moving back. It’s an issue of momentum. Here’s the pitfall and how to think through it:
- Losing Momentum – Any time the group hits a transition in your route (say a 90 degree turn, the start of an uphill roller, or the bottom of a climb), the general tendency for the middle or back of the group is to slow slightly. This is bad if you’re in one of these positions. The problem is that the front of the group will carry their speed and even accelerate through the transition. The result is the Yo-Yo or Accordion effect (see #2 in 6 Common Pitfalls). This acceleration accentuates the momentary hesitation of the middle/back of the group and you must work twice as hard, even sprint, to match the speed of the front of the group once you’re through the transition. Match burned. If I find myself in the middle or back of the group at the bottom of a roller, here’s what I’ll do:
- Know the route and ANTICIPATE the slow down and impending surge.
- Well before the bottom of the roller, I’ll safely and smoothly move to the outside of the group. (See #3 and #4 in 6 Common Pitfalls) .
- As the transition begins, I’ll use my existing momentum and get out of the saddle, giving it a few hard pedal strokes. This propels me past slowing riders, moving me up towards the front of the group.
- Once I’ve matched my speed with the front of the group, there’s almost always a safe gap to smoothly move back in line. This isn’t cutting the line, per say. Invariably, another rider will open up a gap, I’m simply moving into that space and closing the gap. It may be borderline sneaky but it’s smart if done well and safely.
- Then, safely back in line, I can virtually soft-pedal as the group crests the top of the roller.
It’s a little bit more of a difficult situation if it’s a tight corner. Essentially, you need to be in a good position well before the corner. This is where your route knowledge comes into play. As best you can, you want to move up a few hundred meters before the group begins to turn even if you have to burn a match. Better to burn a match before the turn than burn it sprinting out of the corner to close down a gap .
There’s no moving up once the group is turning because there’s only so much room on the road and you want to hold your line. You don’t want to move over on anyone, bad form and unsafe.When you’re in good position and holding your line through the corner, you want to get back on the gas as soon as possible. Remember, the first few riders with a clean line are carrying all their speed and haven’t had to slow for an instant. That’s the speed you’ll need to match to avoid opening up a gap.
At some point if you’re in a bad position on a roller or in a corner, you just have to bite the bullet, slow down, then sprint. But doing this over and over puts even the strongest riders in the hurt locker. You’ll know better next time to be in a better position well before the roller or turn.