Anatomy of a GREAT Group Ride, Part 4
This post is Part 4 in the series, Anatomy of a GREAT Group Ride. I highly recommend that you read PART ONE, PART TWO, and PART THREE. 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 training rides in large groups.
There are all kinds of Group Rides out there, some great and some not so much. Part One of this series in particular defines the various factors that go into making a Group Ride great. Before we jump in, the phases of a GREAT Group Ride leading up to this post are the Meet-Up, the Roll-Out and Early Stage, the Initial Surge, Attacks and Bridges, the Paceline, All Strung Out, and the Final Pulls. These are the phases detailed in previous posts.
So here we go, the final phases of a GREAT Group Ride:
- The Lead Out – Great, long-standing Group Rides almost always end with some kind of sprint. The Lead Out sets up the sprint and it’s where the sprinters come out to play. This is also quite possibly the most dangerous aspect of any Group Ride so it’s important to know what’s going on. The Lead Out is usually initiated by an attack where others follow or a veteran rider moving to the front and simply drilling it. Everyone familiar with the ride will recognize this when it happens. If you’re new to the ride, it’s best to sit in and watch how things unfold. Every Group Ride and Lead Out has it’s subtle nuances and regular players know one anothers’ tendencies. This is key in a Lead Out on an open road with 20 or more cyclists traveling faster than 30mph. You don’t want someone in there who doesn’t know what’s going on. When you’re sufficiently familiar with the ride and other riders’ tendencies, you might feel ready to mix it up. When you’re ready, your timing and choosing the right wheel to follow are key. When you’re in the mix, the one thing you cannot do is lose a wheel or open up a gap. This is simply bad form and will identify you as an unreliable wheel. So hold the wheel in front of you. Usually the first few riders know the job: go as hard as you can for as long as you can then slowly and smoothly move off to the right. Do not move out of line to the left, out into the road. When you find yourself on the front, don’t get tactical, just go as hard as you can for as long as you can. If you wanted to contest the sprint and find yourself on the front too early then recognize where you are and what’s going on: you messed up your timing or place in line. You’ll have another chance tomorrow or next week to get it right so just get down with the job at hand and ride hard. If you pop, pull off to the right slowly and smoothly. If you’re in a good position a few wheels off the front, 100 meters or so from the line, then you’re in a good spot to sprint.
- The Sprint – The sprint line is usually a road sign or other roadside marker. Just like in the Lead Out, if you’re new to a Group Ride it’s best to sit back and watch as the sprint “line” is not always easy to pick out. Veterans of the ride usually aren’t quick to point out where it is to newcomers as this may encourage those unfamiliar with the ride to join in the high-speed finale. And for good reason. If a rider is unfamiliar with the location of the sprint then they’re most likely unfamiliar with the subtle nuances of how a the sprint unwinds on a particular ride. Even strong riders new to a particular Group Ride would be best served to take part in the Group Ride for a few weeks before stepping into mix. So you’re in a good position from the Lead Out and you’re ready to uncork your final burst for the line. If you’re second in line 100 meters out, perfect. Wait for the Lead Out rider to pull off and launch. Above all else, hold your line and sprint straight. It’s most likely that all hell is breaking loose behind you as riders try to match your sprint, follow your wheel, or come around you. You’re on an open road with traffic too so all this is going down in the narrow area from the shoulder/bike lane/part of the right lane. If you’re a few wheels back and start your sprint early to try and come around the riders in front of you, it’s a good idea to take a glance to your left to see if someone is coming around you. Do not sprint or try to come around riders on the right (shoulder side of the road). And don’t take your attention off the wheel in front of you. A lot is happening here in the blink of an eye and realistically it takes years of experience to do this well AND safely. I’ve had riders go down right in front of me because someone up front swerved out of the Lead Out unexpectedly to start their sprint. This is bad. Additionally, if there’s a car coming up from behind, that kills it. Sprint over. So hopefully the riders behind the Lead Out will have your back and give a “car back” call. If all goes well, if the Lead Out and Sprint are done safely and smoothly, you’ll get that great rush of flying along north of 35mph with your guts in your throat. Maybe you’ll even win a sprint or two! But remember, it’s not really a race after all. Unnecessary risks are not worth it. We’re all out here to have fun. Identify consistently unsafe riders and stay away. Or better yet, calmly point out (after the testosterone from the sprint dies down) an unsafe habit or move that puts the rest of the ride in jeopardy. Be safe above all.