Group Riding Skills For Your Best OMWDC
Riding in a group safely and efficiently is one of the key skills of road cycling, and in the Old Mutual Wealth Double Century in particular. The first few times you ride in a group it can be daunting, which is why we encourage all teams to have a few training rides pre-DC where they can practise their skills and get to know each other from a cycling perspective.
For most of the Double Century, you’ll be riding two-abreast in a double pace line. This allows everyone behind the two leading riders to shelter from the wind. South African law prohibits us from riding two-abreast – so this is something you can only really do within an event, or when the yellow line portion of the roadway is wide enough to accomodate it without hindering other road users.
Decide how long each pair of riders will spend on the front before you set off – a few minutes in windless conditions, shorter the strong the wind is, forcing the front riders to put more effort in.
The front riders must keep their speed as smooth and controlled as possible, from both a safety and an efficiency perspective. No sudden braking or changes in pace, either up or down, particularly out of corners. Always have your hands ready to brake – fingers on the levers – by riding on the hoods or in the drops.
It’s best to keep a wheel length between your front wheel and the back wheel in front, until you get to know your riding partners and the day’s wind conditions a bit better. Never, ever overlap wheels – leave that for the pros and their razor-sharp reaction times and circus-level skills. Keep your head up and look ahead for hazards or signals from the other riders – watch the back of the rider two or three in front; by the time the cyclist directly in front of you has reacted to something, it’s often too late for you.
As you get closer to hills, widen the gap a little to allow for slowing down as the front riders will lose momentum quicker into the wind. If you need to stand up and pedal, indicate with a flick of both elbows simultaneously and try not to let your bike shoot backwards by giving a tiny bit more power as you stand. This will stop the concertina braking that will destroy your group’s momentum.
On the downhills, the front riders must try to keep pedalling, or the riders behind will have to brake, losing overall momentum for the group. Before really long descents, let everyone go down at their own speed and regroup at the bottom.
DON’T DO THIS! Half-wheeling – edging your front wheel a smidgen ahead of the rider next you – is disastrous in a group situation. This isn’t the time to play games – you are all as strong as you need to be, and the goal is to get the group to the finish together, not beat each other up. Instead, try to keep your handlebars level with the rider next to you. If you are unsure about pacing, always let the more experienced riders set the speed.
The front riders are responsible for warning the group about upcoming hazards. The signals should pass all the way back through the group. When on the front, make sure you always let the rest know if you are going to slow down or brake.
Call clearly (but not too loudly) and give notice of hazards using hand signals the team understands as early as you can to allow time for the group to react. Keep your pace even with the rider beside you at all times.
This paceline is the most efficient way of keeping your group’s speed high. A fast ‘through-and-off’ is a flowing machine consisting of a fast line and slow line. It’s a lot like a double pace line, except that riders continually rotate, with one rider replacing the previous one at a time compared to the double paceline, where the pair swings off and goes all the way to the back. Before starting, it’s essential to agree which side will move up the group (usually on the right or outside).
Because it allows for very short turns on the front, it’s possible to push the pace high, which is why this technique is often used in breakaways during races.
The most important action takes place at the front; as the rider in the fast line draws level with the rider in the slow line, the slow rider should ease off the pedals slightly. This lets the fast rider to move over safely.
The rider one behind the fast line rider will then do the same, pulling through then easing off once in the slow line. Turns on the front are hard but brief, lasting between 5 and 10 seconds depending on the speed of rotation.
Riders in the slow line will begin to drift backwards in relation to the fast line, soft-pedalling as much as they can without leaving a gap. Once the last rider in the fast line has gone past get back on the pedals, move across and accelerate back into the fast line.
Smoothness is key to keeping this safe and efficient. Changes in pace can be slight increases or reductions in effort, no more. The slow line rider shouldn’t ease off completely and the fast line rider must never surge. The biggest mistake is to accelerate when you get to the front – you don’t need to, and you will disrupt the whole process; simply ride past the previous rider at an unchanged pace, move left and your turn is done! The goal is to maintain not increase the train’s momentum.
Rotation can be anti-clockwise or clockwise, decided on by the wind direction. If it’s coming from the right, the group will rotate clockwise, and vice versa, so that the resting riders are doubly sheltered.
Through-and-off needs practice and effective communication, with the reward being tnot just a really cool feeling of team effort but considerable speed gains.
The single pace line
The single pace line is the ideal technique for smaller groups, or when riding two-abreast isn’t suitable – like leaving room for the faster groups passing in the DC.
Turns on the front are usually much longer than with through-and-off, allowing for a greater recovery time. Time spent in the wind depends on the experience and fitness of each rider. A weaker or more exhausted rider might only manage 20 seconds, the stronger riders in the group could do a minute or more to reach the same point of fatigue. The important thing is for each rider to ride within themselves. Overdoing it on the front and then not being able to hang onto the back of the group as you try to recover will destroy the group, and slow it all down. The group goes faster if riders leave the front before fatigue causes their speed to drop.
As before, smoothness and consistency is important on the front. Once you are done, pull out of the pace line and fall back down the line, without easing off the pedals completely and then slot in behind them (without overlapping wheels).
When it is your turn on the front, keep the speed the same, without accelerating noticeably. It should feel like you are slowly having to put more effort in, until you are ready to pull off, rather than ‘jumping’ to increase the pace.
These techniques require team work, trust and cooperation, something that is best practised in training, long before the big day in Swellendam. But once you master them, each offers significant efficiency savings to all the teams in the Old Mutual Wealth Double Century. The racing guys will get back to their hard-earned braai faster, and the rest of us mortals will do so marginally faster but, most importantly, rested enough to make the last few hills manageable without having fried our legs doing too much early on.