Friday, March 20, 2009

How long should a sprint zone be?

Since Dan and I threw in three sprint zones during last tuesday's Country II Ride (see tuesday night's blog), I've been thinking about how long a sprint zone should be. Of course, I think this depends on the category of the riders in the group and the total length of the ride, but I'll be specific and say that my comments are targeted at a group of riders that travel in the 18-19mph average range for a ride distance of about 29 miles (sound familiar???;).

With this relatively short ride, I don't think there is room for a sprint zone of any real distance. Also, since the group ride is intended to help people become accustomed to pace lines, riding close and understanding the draft, it is important to maintain the group cohesiveness. Again, this pushes the decision of sprint distance to something less.

Maintaining the cohesiveness of the group should be a primary goal for any ride leader. To do this, there should be a logical re-grouping point after any sprint zone (and it should be communicated as clearly as possible). The group will definitely get spread out. Some folks are simply faster than others, but there could be people who just are not interested in the sprint and who simply maintain the target pace. Of course, a stop sign / intersection is a very logical re-grouping place.

Another constraint in a ride of this type is the route. The Donaldson country rides traverse numerous country roads of varying lengths (between intersections). Another factor in southern Greenville county is the traffic patterns. I believe it is better to maintain a solid group formation on the busier roads. This allows better opportunity for vehicles to pass as a close knit group is a smaller entity compared to a group that has been spread out.

Another question that comes up for this discussion relates to how specific should the start and stop points be? I think the stop point needs to be clearly defined, so really that just leaves the question of the starting point.

Unfortunately, where the starting point should be is directly related to the length of the sprint zone. In the three locations Dan and I identified for last week's ride, the roads are about 1.5 miles long from intersection to intersection. I think the start point can be somewhat vague, but there should be a signal 'releasing' the riders from the group formation (aka 'start' point).

Since the three locations are situated between intersections, I think it is important to allow a rolling re-group (soft pedal) after the initial intersection. I think we can eat a 1/8 to 1/4 mile with this soft pedal. After this soft pedal zone the ride leader should signal the 'entrance' into the sprint zone. A whistle is a logical choice of signaling device.

Assuming the intersection to intersection distance of 1.5 miles, and we just ate 0.25 miles (give or take) in a soft pedal, we're left with about 1.25 miles. The sprint finish line should be clearly marked with enough distance before the re-group point so the riders don't have to jam their brakes to stop (say 1/8 to 1/4 mile from re-group). So we're talking about a total sprint distance in the range of 1-1.25 mile.

I think this is a good sprint distance for riders at this category and for this ride distance. It is too long for an all out sprint (unless you're sandbagging in this group ;), but short enough that the group won't really get too spread out.

Last tuesday our final sprint zone 'started' at the railroad track crossing of Perimeter road. The 'end' point was pretty much the parking area (very vague - it's a work in progress but the distance was about 1.25 miles). Because of a two rider break-away, I laid the power on early. Although I was with other riders as we gave chase, we were really pushing the pace. As riders reached their limits, I was able to stay on the wheel of the guy who ended up in front as we descended the hill at the end of the runway.

Of course, as we bottomed out and started to climb, I just didn't have anything left. Everyone (really, everyone) passed me going up the hill. This is what made me start thinking about sprint strategy and sprint distances.

These tuesday evening rides are training rides and I think there are a lot of people in this category that are in the 'right' speed range (meaning they might be able to carry a higher average speed, but it would be for a shorter distance). Setting up sprint zones gives an opportunity for riders to stretch their legs a little and have some friendly competition. Perhaps more interestingly, it also gives them an additional training opportunity.

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