Tuesday, April 21, 2009

What happened to the sprint zones?

Yes, the sprint zones are no longer to be promoted at the Tuesday night rides. As I mentioned previously , the Spinners Board of directors has considered the sprint zones as an experiment and was monitoring us closely. I received the news today that we can no longer actively promote the sprint zones. The reasons for this are quite good - it is all about safety.

The CIIa group seemed to be the largest group out there (until tonight anyway) and with that many bikes on those roads - it had some potential for safety issues. No problem, I went out as a renegade and marked up the roads without permission. The board was very understanding in allowing me a period to try it out. The have made their decision, and I am actually in agreement. We will no longer actively promote the sprint zones.

Ce la vie! It was fun while it lasted. Ask me about it on the next ride though ;)

What about tonight though? I had posted a comment after last week's blog that I had an idea to give the hammers an opportunity to ride the ride they wanted - well that idea came to fruition after some discussions with Dan. He volunteered to pick up as the leader of the CIb group. That group is the bridge between the CIIa and the C1(a) group. Turned out, his group was the largest group tonight. I'll have to see how it went for him.

Back to our ride. The group was much smaller than the past couple of weeks. This was really cool, and it made it more intimate (I think anyway - tell me if you don't agree!). Everyone was super cool about stopping at the stop signs - even when I asked to stop for a little to allow others to catch up. I really appreciate this as it is definately part of what group riding is about - THE GROUP!! That's not to say we didn't drop some people tonight though.

That is because tonight's ride was TOUGH! That wind seemed to be against us for the whole ride! How does that work anyway? Thanks to Bob and Braden (I hope I remember that right) - also to a couple of others who I didn't get their names. These guys were up at the front helping to keep us in our target pace for most of the ride.

I was a bit surprised early in the ride - we were struggling to keep the average above 18mph for the first 11-12 miles or so. It was not too long before we turned on to old hundred road that we started to find a groove and begin to pick up the pace a little. Of course, I think that little section of old hundred road gave us some opportunity to stretch our legs. It seemed after that, folks started to feel a little more frisky.

Personally, I feel pretty good about how we stayed together with multiple re-groups at stop signs or stop lights, some soft pedaling in some areas. Unfortunately, I think it is inevitable that we will drop some people. It's a tough call as a ride leader - do I keep the pace low to keep everyone together? Or, do I do my best to give peeps opportunity to catch back up with the tail end of the group with the re-groups while maintaining as close to our target speed as possible?

I know our target is a range of 18-19mph, so really, I consider our target to be 18.5mph. Of course, we'll vary a bit as we did tonight. My opinion is I take option 2 above (shoot for the target while giving opportunity to catch up). That's really the best I can do.

So, after old hundred road, we were feeling our oats a little. Our pace was picking up slowly, by the time we turned onto Holly road, we were at a solid 18.2mph average. The ride through Holly road will always be my favorite part of this ride. I think that section is the most picturesque with the rolling hills, the green pastures...not to mention it is just plain fun to ride on that twisty, narrow road!

We got onto Reedy Fork Road and did a pretty good job of pushing the pace just a little to bring us towards the 18.5mph target. Opportunities for re-grouping at the stop lights worked well to keep us together and again, those guys up front were awesome. Once, I even got called back for pushing the pace a little too much! Nice Job!

We made the turn onto Michelin Road, and the group was still pretty cohesive. I think we had a high percentage of our original group, and we had picked up some guys who hammered up from the group behind. I think too we may have picked up some folks who started with Dan's group, but I can't really be sure on that. When we stopped at the Michelin road stop sign, my computer was showing right at 18.5mph. I'm going to call that a success.

Unfortunately, when we turned off of Michelin road, we got a gap in the group because of traffic. The guys who had been doing a lot of pulling on the ride were in the lead group (maybe 6-10 guys), and then there was the rest coming behind. As the lead group made the right turn onto Perimeter road, I stopped to wait for the main group. I joined them briefly, before I asked if we wanted to see about catching them.

A few people pulled in with me to give chase to the lead group. I could see the lead group was already starting to fracture. I knew if I didn't bridge the gap quickly, I'd never catch them. Riding out in the wind is a terrible physical drain. I was feeling pretty good and I began to use the fractured group to help pull me up towards the front.

Braden and Bob were pulling at the front, and I managed to get on Bob's wheel. As Braden started to tire and pull to the side, Bob and I moved up. I called to Braden to pull in the draft and we got into a rotation for a while. If you haven't worked with a few people in a rotating pace line, you really need to try it. The three of us kept up a pretty solid pace for a while before we finally dropped Braden.

Bob and I went into a 2 bike rotation. This was truly the most fun I have ever had on my bike! Bob and I were hammering for about all we had (well, I was pretty near my limit, I think he was feeling it as well), and we were in a constant state of rotation.

As soon as the lead rider (rider 1) would get out front, they would begin to drift to the left (coming out of the lead position). The tail rider (rider 2) would maintain the pace (in fact it was a bit of a slingshot coming out of the draft) and come up to the lead's right.

Rider 2 is now in the lead and drifting to the left. Meanwhile, rider 1 is drifting back to take the position directly behind rider 2. Rider 1 would never actually hold the wheel of rider 2 for any amount of time, as the slingshot effect would nearly throw rider 1 back toward the lead position and the rotation would continue.

The best part was that the rotation was so dynamic we were constantly in a counterclockwise movement. Bob and I held this rotation for a while - don't know exactly how long, but when I looked down, our pace had gone up to 18.7mph.

Finally, Bob and I looked at each other and we knew we couldn't hold the pace up that last long hill on perimeter road (near that small pond). We backed off the pace and gave a relatively easy pedal in to the finish.

Thanks go to everyone who rode with us tonight. It was a really fun ride - the way every ride should be.


  1. I am riding the fence on removing the sprint zones but I do agree that safety is the key to making this a great ride for all.

    I rode with the C3 group last night... not a great outcome. Will not use your blog to share but I will say that there are riders that need to be much more cautious. Crossing the yellow line with oncoming traffic is a bad idea.

    You are an awesome ride leader. Keep it up!!

  2. JD, I think it's great that you are doing this and writing about some techniques like rotating a paceline. I thought I would make a suggestion about a 2-rider rotation based on what you said above. Your description of a constant rotation works great for groups of 4 or more riders, but it is generally accepted that 1-3 riders can go faster for longer with a slightly modified rotation style. I have experimented with the technique over my career and I can attest to it's effectiveness.

    When rotating with 1-3 riders, each rider should take a slightly longer pull at the front to give the riders behind time to recover slightly. If you keep the line rotating constantly, you really don't get that much draft for that long. therefore, it is more common for a duo to take slightly longer pulls at the front. Not faster, but longer pulls. This allows the rider following to catch their breath a little. It is also common for the stronger rider to pull a little longer or pull the harder sections. With 2 riders on a fairly calm day, you might take 30 second pulls. This really does make a difference in the rotation and the speed of the pair. This technique is imporant to maintain pace for a longer period of time. So, your constant rotation might do 18.5 mph for 5 miles, but then you might have to slow down. If you take 30 second pulls and give a little more rest to the following rider, you might be able to maintain 18+ mph for 15-20 miles or more.

    I just wanted to give a little input on some things that are not always easy to learn. Thanks again for leading the rides and promoting cycling in Greenville. You make a huge difference and that's awesome!
    Steve Baker

  3. Glad it went better this time around. I jumped on with Dan and the semi-hammerhead group and things went pretty well, I believe. Unfortunately, I got caught out in the wind a couple of times and had to really bust it to bridge the gap and bonked hard around mile 23. so, I had the dubious honor of dragging myself back all alone in that wind. Tough times, but I think the group had fun.

  4. With the exception of the ride where I got dropped a few weeks back, last night's ride was the hardest for me. The wind makes such a huge difference during these rides. I finished last night at 18.4 MPH average (compared to last week's 19.2), and I felt like I rode my first century. I wish I had a watts meter to see how much more work is required to fight against those 16+ MPH winds....it sure felt like a lot.

    I managed to make it up front for a few minutes during this ride and I gained some more respect for those of you who maintain that position. My anxiety level goes way up when I'm pulling a group, or even just a couple of riders. I'm constantly worrying that I'm either going to fast or too slow and, as a result, my heart rate climbs just enough to effect my performance. Last night it caused me to quickly drop to the back and try to hold on while recovering. I guess that skill comes with more experience and more confidence, so I'll keep practicing.

    Great ride last night John! It was both painful and fun...but that's cycling!

  5. Actually, when i moved to the left, into the wind, to let John pull through I was imediatly easing up to recover. Then when I came across John's rear wheel I found that the sweet spot was to his right, so I paused there for about 20 seconds each time. John may have percieved that the rotation was continuous because when I was drafting, I was to the right and overlapping his back wheel, because that's where the best protection from the wind was. We kept this up for about 2.5 miles at around 23 mph almost straight into the wind!
    It was great fun!

  6. Robin,
    Sorry to hear about your ride last night :( Hopefully next week is better!

    Thanks for the tips. I understand your points. As you see in Bob's comments, perhaps it wasn't quite as dynamic as I described, but I struggled for a bit in how to describe it. Hopefully, we'll get some more chances to try this stuff out as the year progresses.

    Glad to hear your ride went well. What was the average pace when you dropped?

    Great to meet you. Thanks for taking your turn at the front. It gets tough if you stay out there too long. That's why the teamwork aspect of cycling is so important. Hopefully, we can continue to work on this stuff as the year progresses.

    Thanks for the comments and further clarification! I also found that the sweet spot was just to the right and overlapping the rear wheel. Tough to describe what was happening. Appreciate all the pulling you did during the ride as well.


  7. JD,

    I'd say our average by the point i fell off was around 19.5. when it was all said and done, I ended up averaging 18.4. It was amazing how much tougher it was in the back of the pack compared to in the middle of the group. Dan and I were chatting at the back, and Jim Cunningham dropped back to talk as well and he made the comment that it was significantly more difficult back where we were than in the middle of the group.

  8. Sam & Lucy said to tell you there are plenty of sprint zones still - between our livingroom and office. A little tight for riding tho. :)


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