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Ride vanishing up the road? Don't panic

Image: Hairpin (CC BY-NC 2.0 will_cyclist|Flickr)

It’s an awful moment: that sinking feeling when you realise that today your legs just won’t cooperate and you’re watching your riding companions heading off down the road, unable to summon the speed to hang on. What should you do?

The answer, as is so often the case is: it depends. Let’s look at a few scenarios, including a race, a chaingang, a club ride and a ride with friends.

Racing

Chasing back on (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Gordon Ross|Flickr).jpg

Chasing back on (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Gordon Ross|Flickr).jpg

Chasing back on (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Gordon Ross|Flickr)

If you’re in a race and dropped on your own, it’s probably game over. Getting spat out the back of your first few Cat 4 go-arounds is a rite of passage for almost everyone who races. Depending on the course your options are to treat the rest of the race as a hard training ride that will help build the fitness to stay with the bunch in future; or to simply try not to get lapped for as long as possible.

If you’re not alone, then there’s a glimmer of hope. If the bunch eases off from its current friskiness you may be able to work with other dropped riders to rejoin the race. Even if you don’t manage to get back on, it’s a great opportunity to work on your paceline skills. Riding through-and-off, a small group can travel very quickly, but you’ll have to be disciplined both to keep the pace high and to not lose anyone.

Group rides

Paceline (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 reid.neureiter|Flickr).jpg

Paceline (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 reid.neureiter|Flickr).jpg

Paceline (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 reid.neureiter|Flickr)

On a group ride, things may be different, depending on the format of the ride.

On a high-intensity chaingang training ride, the usual rule is that if you get dropped you’re on your own; the ride won’t wait. As in a race you may be able to work with other riders to get back on, but you’re more likely to be putting together your own mini-chaingang.

On a more sociable ride, like a club run, you should be able to get back on. The most common place to get dropped is on a climb, where it’s generally considered acceptable for fitter riders to stretch their legs as long as they wait for the group to reassemble at the top.

TIP! Don’t bury yourself trying to get back on, then; ride at a comfortable pace, conserving your energy for the rest of the ride, and rejoin the group when you get to them.

If the pace was already a bit hectic before the climb, have a word with the ride leader. He or she almost certainly doesn’t want you to have a miserable time hanging on for grim death at the back of the group.

If you get dropped on a flatter section, the same applies. The ride leader should have been keeping count of the group size, and should either slow or stop the group so you can catch up. Again, pace yourself and team up with anyone else who’s been dropped.

When you do rejoin the group, even if you’ve regained some energy, resist the temptation to blast past. You want to be riding with the group, not getting everyone revved up to get giddy again.

Sometimes though, it all goes wrong and the ride just gets away from you. If that’s because you’ve run out of energy or are getting cold, then it’s time to take action. Get to shelter, preferably somewhere warm like a cafe, warm up and refuel.

Hopefully you’re not alone and there are a couple of others to ride with you. The one time I’ve been in the situation of having simply lost the front half of a ride, it was because an inexperienced but very fit ride leader blasted off with the group’s other fast riders, and gapped us. At the next junction we had no way of knowing where they’d gone so we did our own ride from there on.

TIP! This is one reason I’m a big fan of mapping GPS units. If you get dropped in unfamiliar country, they’ll get you home.

The situation's similar if you're simply riding with a group of friends. You've probably got a ride leader, even that's just the person who knows the route. Someone should be in charge of keeping the ride together; that can be the ride leader, the strongest rider in the group or someone who just likes looking after his or her friends.

On a ride like this your absence is more likely to be noticed straight away, so once again, don't panic, and ride steadily until you rejoin the group.

TIP! Riding with friends, you're also more likely to have the phone numbers of other people on the ride so you can call someone if they've vanished or you've had a mechanical.

Avoiding getting dropped

One of the most common mistakes less fit riders make is to ride near the back of the group. If you get into trouble back there it’s easy to be missed and for there to be nobody around to help.

Plus, you’re more likely to get dropped in the first place. Changes of pace at the front have a ‘concertina effect’, stretching the group out. If you’re near the front you have a chance to stay on as the front riders accelerate. By the time the wave of acceleration gets to the back, the front riders can be travelling fast enough to split the group and leave you behind.

TIP! Ride near the front instead where you can see and respond to what’s going on. If you’re starting to struggle you have more chance of being noticed by the rider leader; you can even ask for the pace to drop a bit.

Keeping a ride together

Helping out (CC BY-SA Wesley Nitsckie|Flickr).jpg

Helping out (CC BY-SA Wesley Nitsckie|Flickr).jpg

Helping out (CC BY-SA Wesley Nitsckie|Flickr)

A social ride should begin and end with the same number of riders. The ride leader’s role is to know the route and make sure the pace is such that everyone can keep together.

That means being constantly aware of where the back of the group is, especially on hills where weaker riders are more likely to get dropped.

If, as ride leader, you’re not the strongest member of the group, then don’t let them just sit at the front towing the ride along. Instead, lead from near the front of the group and have Captain Fit ride near the back to keep an eye on slower riders.

Acting as a ‘ride lieutenant’, your fittest rider can patrol up and down the group, coming up to let the front riders know if the pace needs to drop, and dropping back to help slower riders.

TIP! An incredibly useful skill for fitter riders is the ability to physically push another rider. To do this, drop down a couple of gears, and come alongside the rider who needs help, on their right. Reach out with your left hand to their lower back and gradually pick the pace up to a level you’re comfortable with. Being on the right side of the rider means you’ll still be able to use your rear gears if you need to shift.

A rider being helped like this will often perk up so you won’t even have to push very hard to get them back to the group.

If a rider’s not flagging that badly, but still needs a bit of help, then assign a really steady, and preferably tall, rider to provide them with a wheel to follow.

I was lucky enough to ride with former England rugby union captain Lawrence Dallaglio a few years ago. Also on the ride were Sam “Richard’s son” Branson and his then-girlfriend Isabella Calthorpe, to whom he’s now married.

A relatively inexperienced rider, Isabella was struggling to keep pace even on the flat. I chatted to her a bit about following a wheel, then called to Lawrence: “Can I borrow you a second?” The big man looked a bit puzzled at being told what to do — he’s kinda used to being in charge — but waited while I escorted Isabella up to him. I showed her where to sit behind him so she could take advantage of his slipstream and she followed him for the next 30 miles until the route hit the mountains.

Your ride is unlikely to have a 6ft 4in, 17st, former England number eight as a windbreak, but you probably have someone who can fit the bill and ride steadily by keeping a very close eye on their speed and effort level (a heart rate monitor is handy for this).

Our official grumpy Northerner, John has been riding bikes for over 30 years since discovering as an uncoordinated teen that a sport could be fun if it didn't require you to catch a ball or get in the way of a hulking prop forward.

Road touring was followed by mountain biking and a career racing in the mud that was as brief as it was unsuccessful.

Somewhere along the line came the discovery that he could string a few words together, followed by the even more remarkable discovery that people were mug enough to pay for this rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work. He's pretty certain he's worked for even more bike publications than Mat Brett.

The inevitable 30-something MAMIL transition saw him shift to skinny tyres and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.

23 comments

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Leviathan [3057 posts] 2 years ago
5 likes

I've never dropped myself.

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Edgeley [540 posts] 2 years ago
4 likes

If you are Geraint Thomas and this happens, grit your teeth, get over the bad bit, and then pedal like hell in a big gear downhill.  

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J90 [430 posts] 2 years ago
2 likes

I can never tell if I'm going too fast or too slow for the group when I'm on the front, so I let someone else do it.

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PaulBox [681 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes
J90 wrote:

I can never tell if I'm going too fast or too slow for the group when I'm on the front, so I let someone else do it.

Same, I'm rubbish at judging pace without using my computer.

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davebinks [153 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes

" When you do rejoin the group, even if you’ve regained some energy, resist the temptation to blast past. You want to be riding with the group, not getting everyone revved up to get giddy again.  "

That is something that I have seen and it's utterly stupid riding from the slower rider. The group has waited for you, then you blast past them. They see that as the sign that you want to race.....

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davebinks [153 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes
PaulBox wrote:
J90 wrote:

I can never tell if I'm going too fast or too slow for the group when I'm on the front, so I let someone else do it.

Why not just glance behind you to see? How do you think the "someone else" does it?

 

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BBB [482 posts] 2 years ago
9 likes

Always make sure you have a phone with you so when you get dropped you can order a new set of lighter and more aero wheels straight away.
They will make such a difference next time, 1-2mph according to the internet  3

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FatBoyW [264 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes

" Generally accepted that fitter riders stretch their legs," I think this is wrong often a ride will go too slow on the flat and then lighter riders push up the climb. Good club riding is to keep the effort steady and that means speed varies greatly with the terrain, too many don't work hard enough on the flat

 

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rix [230 posts] 2 years ago
2 likes

Get a 32T cassette. It will keep you moving and won't destroy your legs on tough cilmbs.

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turboprannet [303 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes
rix wrote:

Get a 32T cassette. It will keep you moving and won't destroy your legs on tough cilmbs.

For hilly rides these are great, especially if you have a "traditional" 53/39 or semi-compact 52/36 front chainset.

 

However if the ride is flatter I find that the 2t jumps can be a right pain in the cock in terms of keeping momentum. 

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Nemesis [14 posts] 2 years ago
3 likes

If you get dropped, ride eyeballs out until you catch them. If you don't catch them this time, go home. One day you'll have no problem catching them up. Rule #5. 

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Al__S [1293 posts] 2 years ago
2 likes

One thing I try to do if there's a rider strugging a bit is to get them to sit 2nd or 3rd wheel in the group. No matter how well disciplined the group is, invetiably the further back you are every acceleration and deceleration gets magnified, so the back will always be yo-yo-ing a bit, which contributes to people struggling. If you get the weaker riders near the front it will be easier for them and they can more easily let the riders on the front know how they're doing with the pace. Often weaker riders will go on the back because they "don't want to be a bother", this is the wrong place for them.

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matchfit [10 posts] 2 years ago
2 likes
Al__S wrote:

One thing I try to do if there's a rider strugging a bit is to get them to sit 2nd or 3rd wheel in the group. No matter how well disciplined the group is, invetiably the further back you are every acceleration and deceleration gets magnified, so the back will always be yo-yo-ing a bit, which contributes to people struggling. If you get the weaker riders near the front it will be easier for them and they can more easily let the riders on the front know how they're doing with the pace. Often weaker riders will go on the back because they "don't want to be a bother", this is the wrong place for them.

 

Thats a sound tactic and one many more should follow.

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pagik [17 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes

Ride hard till you get better at it. It's that simple.

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john1967 [88 posts] 8 months ago
1 like
pagik wrote:

Ride hard till you get better at it. It's that simple.

 

well its not quite that simple.

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Simon E [3381 posts] 8 months ago
2 likes

If you choose to join a chain gang or a fast group ride (and you should know this is the case beforehand) then you'll be aware of the possibility of being dropped. And no, they won't wait. It's a tough training session, there's no babysitting.

All social rides should be no-drop and at the least have a rider at the back who knows the route and will slow to wait for anyone who gets dropped or has a puncture.

Helping weaker riders to shelter and ride in the wheels, waiting at the top of a hill etc should be normal. Any group leader who doesn't accomodate weaker or inexperienced riders is not doing the job properly.

J90 wrote:

I can never tell if I'm going too fast or too slow for the group when I'm on the front, so I let someone else do it.

When it's your turn on the front you simply ride at the same pace as you did before. It is obvious if you bother to do a shoulder check occasionally.

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Goldfever4 [403 posts] 8 months ago
0 likes
FatBoyW wrote:

" Generally accepted that fitter riders stretch their legs," I think this is wrong often a ride will go too slow on the flat and then lighter riders push up the climb. Good club riding is to keep the effort steady and that means speed varies greatly with the terrain, too many don't work hard enough on the flat

 

In my experience it is the other way round. The paceline works too hard on the flat and everyone puffs out as soon as the road goes up a bit.

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Rupert [193 posts] 8 months ago
1 like

If it's a clubrun and you see a new rider getting dropped it's obviously sensible to ride with them on the hills to also conserve your energy for bollocking the numpties that race up every hill on clubs runs.  The numpties should be told to get a life and buy a racing licence. 

If it's a road race and you get dropped it's always a case of doing your best to get back on or if you can't do that  to finish as fast as possible, same goes for chain gangs. 

 

Clubruns should always have a "lanterne rouge" rider who rides at the back. In an ideal world this rider should be the fastest and strongest rider of the group, who spends his or her time giving confidence to the new or weaker riders. 

Lead riders of the group should be the most experienced that don't need their ego's boosted by being the first to the top of a hill on a CLUBRUN. 

The pace should be a pre argeed pace, experienced riders will know the feel in the legs to set a pace that all riders can cope with. Clubruns should be all about teaching new riders how to ride in a bunch, especially if new riders have ambitions of racing in the future. 

 

 

 

 

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Yorkshire wallet [2204 posts] 8 months ago
0 likes

I only 'like' hills so I find it really hard to keep any pace up on the flats, psychological thing. Even on Zwift I can't be arsed on the flat bits but I'll bust a gut for 30 minutes getting up that mountain section. 

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CXR94Di2 [2202 posts] 8 months ago
0 likes
Yorkshire wallet wrote:

I only 'like' hills so I find it really hard to keep any pace up on the flats, psychological thing. Even on Zwift I can't be arsed on the flat bits but I'll bust a gut for 30 minutes getting up that mountain section. 

30 mins, what are doing, walking up it  4

Only joking

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IanW1968 [368 posts] 8 months ago
0 likes

...and on a social ride the ride lead is not the person at the front(other when its his/her rotation) they should tell you if youre pulling away. 

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Martyn_K [272 posts] 8 months ago
2 likes

Gotta say that power meters are an excellent tool for keeping a group together. If i'm leading a ride then i tap out the first few miles or so on the front and get an idea of the group pace and link it to my power output. You can then easily level out the effort level (output) through undulations in the road to ensure everyone stays on. If there are a few riders in the group with PM's then share that optimum output so everyone knows roughly how hard to go. Power is absolute so there is no way to misunderstand how hard you should be working on the front in order to maintain the group.

 

Another great tactic is to have a 'cut loose' zone, usually the last 5 miles, for the dash for home. The strong riders can kick off the front of the group within this zone and generally don't pull the group during the rest of the ride. Obviously a sweep is required for those staying on pace but as it's the last 5 miles everyone is likely to know where they are.

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davel [2512 posts] 8 months ago
0 likes
Simon E wrote:
J90 wrote:

I can never tell if I'm going too fast or too slow for the group when I'm on the front, so I let someone else do it.

When it's your turn on the front you simply ride at the same pace as you did before. It is obvious if you bother to do a shoulder check occasionally.

Shoulder check, absolutely. You'll know if the pace isn't right.

But that counters the  'simply ride at the same pace as you did before', which isn't advice I'd give anyone new to taking the front.  The pace will vary naturally enough (incline changes;  headwinds/tailwinds/crosswinds) to allow the potential for serious gaps to develop.