Question: I started riding a year ago and finally got the confidence and fitness to show up for competitive 50-mile group rides on weekends. I can stay with the lead group until the last 10 miles. Then I get dropped, and it isn’t even hilly. My legs feel spent. One of the other riders told me I spend too much time with my “nose in the wind.” What does that mean? — Mack K.
Coach Fred Matheny Replies: Going fast isn’t just about the amount of wattage you can produce. In a group ride, technique counts at least as much as sheer power and fitness because drafting plays such an important role.
Studies show that a rider can save 15-40% in energy costs by drafting behind other riders. The variation is due to speed (drafting is more effective as speed increases) and the number of riders in front of you (more riders create a bigger slipstream).
Your friend is telling you that you have poor position in the pack. You’re on the front too much or you’re riding alongside in the wind. The latter happens due to fear of riding close to others packed in on all sides. The draft and, thus, the energy savings is greatest when you feel like a rolling sardine. But the danger is greater, too.
The solution is to work on pack riding skills in less-competitive group rides. It helps, too, to do the bike-handling drills I describe in Off-Season Training for Roadies.
And, do some “couch training” by watching videos of pro races and studying the pack techniques of specific riders. For instance, when there’s an overhead shot of the peloton approaching a corner, pick one rider and follow his movements. Watch the line he takes and where he is in relation to others.
Look for riders caught on the inside to see how they get past the tight apex without letting other guys “shut the door” on them. By studying the pros, you’ll learn a lot about pack dynamics.