This post is Part 3 in the series, Anatomy of a GREAT Group Ride. I highly recommend that you read PART ONE and PART TWO. If you have, you’ll know that we’ve moved from the Meet Up and the Roll Out, through the Initial Surge, and are now into the heart of the ride.
As in the previous posts, some of these phases will seem obvious but I contend that most of us rarely take the time to fully observe the dynamics present that actually influence the rest of the ride. This series is designed to intentionally take a step back and consider the innumerable social and physical factors that determine the character, quality, and tone of the communal nature of riding bikes in large groups.
Here’s what goes on in the middle of a GREAT Group Ride:
- Attacks and Bridges – After the Initial Surge, the pack will tend to settle in for a moment. For many, the ride just got really hard so there are a whole lot of mental calculations going on: how do I feel? How are the legs responding? Where am I in the pack? Who’s up front? Who looks strong and who’s suffering? A hundred considerations go through each riders’ head in an instant. The group is sizing each other up. If you’re suffering, this is one of the most difficult things to do in cycling: attempting to think clearly and objectively while your brain and body go into oxygen debt. The first rider to finish these calculations and who’s feeling good usually attacks or at least tries to move off the front. This brings on a host of new questions: Do I go too? Am I too far back? Is the rider in front of me opening up a gap? Should I close it? There’s always someone ready to go. How the group responds will set up the rest of the ride.
- The Paceline – Based on the Group Rides I’ve been involved with over the years, there seems to be 2 schools of thought on this phase: Either a single rider pulls until fatigued then slides off OR a handful of the strongest riders that are committed to keeping the pace high put their money where their mouths are. I’m a big fan of the latter. Not every Group Ride forms a solid, well-ordered paceline somewhere in the middle of the ride but the GREAT Group Rides do. A smooth paceline is one of the more enjoyable aspects of cycling. It takes a group of riders working well together, understanding the intricacies of pace and bike-handling, and a setting aside of personal agendas. This is where you find out who’s come out to play for real.
- All Strung Out – One of the results of a consistent, strong paceline is a weary pack as riders dig deep to hang on. As a GREAT Group Ride moves along, things should go in the direction of a fast, single-file pack. A sure sign of a mediocre ride is a bunched up pack, rolling 3-4 wide, at a medium pace. This is one of the beauties of the Group Ride – the strong are at the front while the rest of us are just hanging on. A GREAT Group Ride is great training and digging deep at this point is why Group Rides will make you a better, stronger cyclist.
- The Final Pulls – Just before the Lead Out, it seems there are consistently a few riders that won’t commit to banging bars in a Lead Out but they’ve still got some extra fuel in the legs. If you do the same Group Rides long enough, you know who these riders are. I appreciate these riders because they keep the pace high when everyone is starting to get fatigued and they’re not content simply to sit in. So they pour whatever they’ve got left into a few Final Pulls before the more aggressive riders move to the front for the Lead Out. The Final Pulls may actually be faster than the Paceline that preceded it. For the riders still Strung Out, this may be the end of their ride. Popped and dropped. But no matter, the Lead Out and Sprint are not too far away.