Ride hard and ride safe by following these tips for making the most of training with friends.
Group riding looks spectacular when you see the professionals doing it in the Tour De France, with only a few millimetres between each rider’s wheels. Maybe you’ve even seen Alistair Brownlee on TV, working together with an elite group of triathletes to escape from the chasing pack.
The pros make it look easy, but it’s a skill that takes practice. Now, of course you can’t ride directly behind others in an age-group race, and we all know the seven-metre rule prohibits drafting, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do group riding in your training. Indeed, when out with friends, road and traffic conditions often dictate that you have to ride closely on your friends’ wheels.
Protection from the wind and reduced air resistance can give a power saving of 15% for the following rider, so it makes good sense to master this technique. Lets face it, we all know a three-hour training ride can turn into a bit of a slog, and banging into a headwind is no fun. When you’ve mastered the skills of riding on a wheel you can ride hard, then drop back and recover, while someone else takes their turn on the front.
Training in this way lets you develop leg speed and endurance without the muscle damage that’s a risk when you ride hard on your own. Riding close on a wheel can be a little daunting if you’re not used to it but with practice you’ll find yourself riding faster, with less effort, making your training more productive.
Master the techniques first before you start to increase the speeds. Whether it’s just two or 12 cyclists, the principle is the same. Get yourself into a line, one rider behind the other and build up the speed. The rider on the front then swings to one side, eases up slightly and waits for all the riders in the line to pass, and then drops in behind the last person.
In a large group, turns on the front are short – maybe only a few metres – while a smaller group requires longer turns. Ride calmly, keeping the gap in front of you as small as you can. Initially you’ll instinctively keep the gap big, but as you gain confidence the gap will reduce.
Your front wheel shouldn’t overlap the wheel you’re following. Ride at a consistent speed and avoid any unnecessary braking or sudden change of direction that could take your fellow riders by surprise. Try to keep your pace smooth on climbs and descents, as changes in speed will force the other riders to brake or catch back up.
When it comes to your turn on the front, don’t accelerate as it will break the rhythm, and the rider dropping to the back will have to sprint to get back on the group. The aim is to keep the group speed constant, even if you’re working harder because of the wind resistance.
If there’s a crosswind, it’s best for the line of riders to fan out across the road, each one taking offset shelter from the rider in front. This is called an echelon, and it’s only really possible on closed roads, but you can try it out with a small group.