Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Sprint zones - the experiment continues

So last sunday, I went out and marked up some sprint zones on the 29 mile Donaldson Country Route. Tonight, I volunteered to lead the CIIa country ride (18-19mph average speed). It would be the first opportunity to test out the sprint zones.

The most difficult part of leading these rides is communicating with the other riders. Tonight we only had about 30 riders or so in our group. This may have been a consequence of the weather (turned out great after all) or maybe because Lori split the group into the group I lead (CIIa: 18-19mph) and another group (CIIb) advertised at 17-18mph average speed.

As we started the ride down Perimeter road, I drifted back through the group doing my best to communicate to them some basic information about the sprint zones (and to remind them to be safe). This was difficult as the group wasn't super tight and even if it was, only about a half dozen people who were closest to me could hear me. I tried by making three or four announcements - holding pace with a section of the group as I called out at the top of my lungs, then dropping back a few riders and doing it all over again. I don't know if that helped or not. All I can do is try. If you rode with us tonight, post up your feedback. If you have an idea to make the communications easier, I'm open to suggestions.

As we came off of Perimeter road, I noticed that our average pace was already very close to 18mph. While this is certainly in our target zone, it was about 0.6 mph faster on average than the last two rides. Not a major issue, but I was concerned that today's pace was going to get pushed a little.

The weather was holding for us, and as we rounded the curve on Griffen road, the hammers started coming to the front. I appreciate the group effort in maintaining the pace - despite several different people pushing off the front, the main group held the pace and would keep the hammers from creating havoc (and resulting in a fractured group - again, what's the point of a group ride if there is no group?).

For some reason, there weren't as many people ready to pull the group as our last couple of rides. No problem really, but quite different from my previous experience. We rolled through the beautiful countryside with speeds up to about 27mph on the downhills, but dropping to 13-15mph on some of the hills. Our average pace slowly climbed towards 19 mph.

I messed up when we turned on to Garrison Road. I got briefly confused and started notifying folks that the first sprint zone was coming up. As we made the left fork at Richey Road, I realized my mistake and made my apologies. The first sprint zone was still 4 miles away! As we rolled along Woodville road and made that little climb, people started to stretch their legs a little. The pace continued to climb (slowly, but it was climbing).

As we made the right turn onto Reedy Fork Road, I called out the notice that our first sprint zone was coming up. I asked for a soft pedal after the right turn onto Old hundred road and let them know I would signal the sprint zone with my whistle. I reminded them to think about strategy for a mile long sprint zone.

We soft pedaled for a quarter mile or so, and I gave the signal just before the 1 mile mark. As expected, there was a couple who broke right away. I was surprised to see the main peleton with only a slightly increased speed - people were thinking about it. The pace gradually increased through the half mile mark, but people started to reach their limits as we came to the 500 meter mark. There was some strong efforts up front, but a friend of mine, Pip, broke out of the pack at about 300 meters or so and motored ahead to take the sprint. We re-grouped at the stop sign. I think people were having a good time.

We crossed Hwy 418 for the first time and the average pace began to break into the 19+ mph zone. As we rolled along Hopkins road, I urged the leaders to hold back the pace just a little. As we crossed Reedy Fork / Mckittrick road, a group of three came flying past us. They announced "The group behind you has caught you". My response - "you're going too fast then!" - but, that's a subject for another blog.

As we approached the turn for Holly road, once again, I announced the approach of another sprint zone. I also cautioned those around me to be careful on the narrow, curvy road. We made the turn and kept a soft pedal for a short distance before I gave the signal with about 1.1 miles to go. Lots of people laid the power on and the group was flying down the road. I really love this section of the ride, but it truly can be a dangerous spot. I need to find a better method to communicate the potential dangers on this section of the ride. We made it through cleanly but I didn't see who got the finish first. I did see Pip among the first riders to stop at the stop sign. The most interesting part of this little section - we re-acquired the small group who had blown past us (literally - through a stop sign).

We paused briefly at Reedy Fork Road to let everyone catch up (the group really didn't get spread out very much) before making the turn to head back. Our now slightly bigger group started powering along Reedy fork maintaining the average pace right at 19mph. I was surprised when I pulled up to Dan and he indicated that his computer was showing us to be about 0.4mph off our last ride average pace. My computer was definately showing us at a slightly higher average pace (19 as compared to 18.8 from last week).

As we came to the stop sign at the corner of Michelin Road and Antioch Church Road, I announced the last sprint zone would be coming up after the turn onto Perimeter road. As we made the right turn (before the left that would put us on Perimeter road), we caught sight of the Police escort for the A group. Of course, shortly after that, we saw the A group. I think this lit a fire under everyone (at least those in the front). I was calling for a bit of a soft pedal, but those up front wouldn't hear of it. They set off in chase of the A group.

Despite my efforts, there was no soft pedal at all. The 1.5 mile mark is right at the Michelin plant parking lot. I saw clearly that we were already sprinting, so I gave the signal for the sprint zone. A few people later commented to me they thought we were already sprinting. Another friend of mine came hammering past me. He was moving and managed to get out in front of our group. He held on for about 3/4 of a mile before he started dropping back. I feel a little bad about it now, but as I rode past him, I said "Kip, you blew it". Really I meant his strategy was not sound, He was strong as far as it lasted though.

I don't know if anyone up front saw the finish line for the sprint or not - they just kept the pace hammering until they got in front of the fire station. I was far enough back I couldn't see who was up front.

So, with this little experiment, I have learned how difficult it really is to communicate to the riders in the group. What will make it more difficult is a relatively constant influx of 'new' riders joining the group every week. I'll keep trying, but feedback or advice is always welcome.

The other difficulty I saw this week is in controlling the pace. Although we came in right at 19mph (a success in my book), there were times that people wanted to push the pace. I am thankful for my fellow riders who listened when I commented that our pace was running on the high side and dropped the pace slightly. I could probably write an entire blog about the importance of maintaining the 'advertised' pace.

What is my conclusion after tonight's little experiment? I think it was fun, I think people enjoyed it. I had some positive comments from my fellow riders. Mostly, I need to figure out a way to better communicate while on the road. In the meantime, I'll do my best to communicate through my little blog.

Happy riding!


  1. Great job, John. What fun!! I really look forward to these Tuesday nite rides. Thanks for putting so much effort into making them such a highlight in our week.

  2. sounds like a fun ride, i wanted to get out there with you guys but got caught up in work. maybe next week.

  3. Great Job John, I enjoyed the ride, I was upfront not making the pace go any higher but to avoid crashes, it is an awsome experience, and you did a great job communicating, this is you first time after all, looking forward to next week.

  4. "As we crossed Reedy Fork / Mckittrick road, a group of three came flying past us. They announced "The group behind you has caught you". My response - "you're going too fast then!" - but, that's a subject for another blog. "

    --- sorry about that...we had a groove going in the CIIb group that kept us moving very quickly. i hope we didn't lose anyone.

  5. I think having the sprint zones is a good addition to the ride experience. I know it taught me a good lesson last Tuesday evening.
    On the first sprint I was in the back of the pack and worked my way up and eventually finished near the front (I think I was 4th or 5th). So on the second sprint I was pretty confident I would be 1st or 2nd! Turns out I was wrong. I took off at the whistle and ran out of gas about half way through...I ended getting passed by everyone. I think a jogger even around me! But at least I learned a little about pacing myself (and also humility). Hope to see y'all again next week!


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NOTE: I have switched on the comment moderation because I have been getting a number of spam comments lately. Be patient, I'll post it up as soon as I can! Thx JD