Tuesday, April 14, 2009

What's it mean to be a ride leader - part 3: When the hammers strike

So I've led the CIIa group (18-19mph w/ sprint zones) four times since the start of this year's Donaldson season. Here's the links:
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
Tuesday, March 31, 2009
Tuesday, April 7, 2009

And of course, tonight was the fourth time. The first two rides, we maintained excellent group integrity throughout the entire ride and we did a respectable job obeying the rules of the road. Excellent feedback from a lot of folks and I think it got people pumped up about the upcoming riding season.

Last week, not only did we have some horrendous winds to contend with, we had some hammerheads out there. I was pleased that we maintained excellent group integrity for as long as we did. Those hammers wanted to push from early in the ride. Thanks to those folks who helped maintain our pace up to Reedy Fork Road (after Holly Road). Once we got on Reedy fork road for the big pull back towards perimeter the hammers started striking. I was surprised that we were actually fairly cohesive even in front of the Michelin Plants. Once we turned onto Perimeter road, the hammers let loose their blows and the group totally fractured.

Tonight, it was much the same. However, the hammers who got out there today weren't super interested in holding back the pace at my request. It was only after an excellent move by another rider (who I unfortunately didn't get his name) that these folks held back the pace a little. I was starting to get a little frustrated as we made the climb up Woodville road and made the right onto Davis road. Our average pace was already hovering at 19.1 - 19.2mph, so I was trying to get the leaders to back off just a little.

As we approached the right turn for Reedy Fork Road, the leaders were still pushing through the stop sign. As I rode through the stop sign, this guy was right next to me. I didn't really intend for anyone to hear it, but I muttered "this is the last time I'll be leading a ride". He gave me some encouraging words, then rocketed up to the front of the pack and spoke with the guys doing the pulling. They backed off, and I re-gained some motivation. I wish I would have got his name - he made a big difference tonight. That wasn't the only time he stepped up to help bring the pace down a little.

Of course, that little stretch along Reedy Fork Road leads right into the first sprint zone. It was like holding back a thousand head of cattle keeping those hammers reigned in even a little. Some people will probably get the idea I'm a control freak and I'm holding them back from the ride they want to ride. So, let me give my perspective on the purpose of these 'intermediate' rides.

Yes, I call this group, traveling at an average pace of 18-19 mph an 'intermediate' group. Why? Because I don't really know what makes a cat 4 or cat 5 rider (or cat 3 or cat 2 or cat 1 for that matter, but that's actually besides the point). My vision of a ride at this pace zone is for those people who are building strength and group riding skills / bicycle racing mentality. These individuals are still are not quite strong enough to move into the B group or to ride with the C1 group.

The individuals in this group have been riding on the road and in groups for some time - a week, a year, several years - whatever, they have good understanding of group dynamics and have good bike control skills. They can maintain position in a pace line, and are comfortable and confident enough when the pace lines break up a little. For example when starting a pull up a hill and slower riders begin to drop back in the pack - the pack tends to get a little less organized and the individuals in this group are aware enough to handle that smoothly.

However, I think also that there are others who have just moved up from a slower pace group, and are looking forward to improving their group riding skills and want to do that at a pace that will offer them some challenge. It is for these folks that it is important to maintain the advertised pace. Perhaps they are capable of riding at an average of 19mph, but even kicking that up to 19.2 or 19.3 pushes them beyond their limits.

So, what can I do about the hammers if they don't want to hold the pace back a little? What I can do is give them something to think about. I mean, that's the purpose of the sprint zones. The purpose of the sprint zones has less to do with your overall physical prowess than it has to do with the thought process and strategy you use to get through that sprint zone. Sure, its likely the hammers will be the ones up in front and 'winning' the bragging rights for the sprint zones, I just hope they are thinking about it a little. If they are able to launch immediately from the whistle and pull the pack all the way to the finish, then they are sandbagging and should move up into a faster group.

So that's my nutshell vision of the sprint zones, what about the rest of the ride? Instead of thinking about this ride as purely a physical workout, combine it with a mental workout. Cut the pace back a little, give other people a chance to lead the pack. Talk to the other riders up front - set up a rotation for pulling the group. Think of this ride as an opportunity to develop those other teamwork skills that are so vital in bicycle racing. It's not a race!

It's funny actually, there for sure was one actual team out there with us tonight. I saw several other riders who were also wearing team kit, so I'll assume that there was at least two 'teams' out there tonight. It was indeed some folks from these teams who pushed our pace tonight. Of course they weren't alone, there were unaffiliated riders who were contributing hammerheads as well.

What is interesting to me is these 'teams' didn't even maintain their own 'team' integrity once we got back onto Perimeter road. The hammers got out front and pushed the pace from 19.0mph (actual reading when I stopped at the Michelin Road stop sign) up to 19.4mph (actual reading as I rode alongside the golf course) - this was on maybe a 3 mile section of Perimeter road - they were definitely hammering the pace.

My vision for these rides is really pretty simple. Instead of pushing the pace because you can or because someone else pushed it for a while, consider the group as one big team whose goal is to maintain group integrity for the entire ride. I'm willing to bet that the big bike teams don't go out there and push the pace all the time, they stick to a pace that is likely pre-determined (perhaps determined on the go based on who's attacking or whatever). The point is to try and develop those skills that are necessary beyond the pure physical. It's likely to make you a much better rider in the long term.


  1. I agree with you almost entirely. I want to move up from C3 at some point but I don't need to get crushed. Pack riding skills is one element of what I like to do-efficient pace lines and chain gangs. I would let the knuckle heads go off the front and say good riddance to them.

  2. John,
    Don't give up that lead position just yet! I'm starting to see familiar faces every week and our group is getting more and more established. And I think familiarity leads to better group cohesion. I also think it will help if you get some more people up front speaking out about maintaining the 18-19 mph speed during the ride. If I ever make it up front I'll be glad to help out.
    I was dropped by our group during that cold ride 2 weeks ago. About 12 miles in I fell off the back and had a lonely ride back to Donaldson. But I only blame myself, and it made me just want to work harder the next time. So I like the established pace and I also like pushing my limits.
    I was wondering what you thought about turning perimeter road into one long sprint zone? I noticed that this 4-5 mile stretch allowed several small groups to break away. I was in a line of four that felt like a real "break-away" for awhile. It added a new element to the ride. But I'm not sure of the safety factor involved with our group getting so spread out(especially going the opposite direction of the A's and B's). But maybe a long final sprint zone is the answer to the group's cohesion and the "hammers'" desire to test their limits.
    I hope to be out there again next week and I hope you opt to lead the group again. I'll try to introduce myself so you will know me outside of the Blogging world.

  3. i'm with you. if the hammerheads want to push it faster they should move up to a faster group. you keep your group at the prescribed pace for the lowest common denominator.

  4. Totally agree with you my man. I could not ride in this group last year because the 18-19 turned into 20mph +! To me there is a big difference between 18-19 and 19+. The only time I push it out front is before a long climb. I have to do this (not just because I only have one leg) but due to the fact that I am normally the last one up the hill and history has proven that we do not regroup at stop signs. It would be great if we could just look out for each other and progress as a group. If the group can stay together at a faster pace than let's go. But If we begin to splinter or start to drop off the back than just backing off a little so that we can regroup would improve the experience for all involved. I had one person mention that we "really did not go that hard tonight." He was one of the guys pushing the pace up front. Experience had demonstrated (Not all riders are like this) but that the ones who keep pushing the pace up front do so because they get dropped in the next group up and don't like riding alone. So they come down a level and inflict pain on us :)

    Well, I really appreciate your willingness to lead the group and I hope you continue to do so. I really like this group as it is challenging enough for me while not to challenging that I can't enjoy the ride.

    Keep up the good work!


  5. I'd suggest letting the group fracture into smaller safer goups of 15-20 riders. 25+ is too dangerous for those hanging on. I'd let the hammers go and anyone who wants to reform at the top of the climbs, do so.

  6. John,

    Don't stop what you're doing! It's a great ride, and I think yesterday was simply a case of some people who belong in the C1 group needing to just step up and go to a higher level.

    I've done this ride three times now, and I'm noticing that it's definitely grown. Yesterday was no exception, as it looked like we had 40 or so riders (if not more). I'd submit that maintaining control over that many riders is more than a one person job. I also noticed that, in the first couple of rides, Dan in the Global Bike kit helped you out as a sort of aide-de-camp. It might be helpful to try and recruit a regular or two to help out with group communication so you can keep everybody together and informed. In the larger UWBL group B rides, this was very helpful, I know.

    In any case, I think your aims and intent with this ride are spot on, and I hope you keep it up!


  7. Thanks for the feedback folks. Good ideas in letting them go by regrouping at logical locations (stop signs or after topping the hills).

    I have another idea if Lori gives me the bullhorn next tuesday. We'll see how things work out.

  8. JD,

    A group that size is impossible to fully control. I can tell you that there were riders their that belonged in Group 1 and similarly their that belonged in a slower group. I estimate almost a 1/3 should have been in a slower group. Since I was riding with someone else, I was in the back third rather than the front where I prefer to ride. In the back, it was like an accordian playing an adagio. Many riders could not maintain the pace uphill and then rather than smoothly close the gap, they would accelerate and then brake when they caught up. It was dangerous in the back. Most riders do not know what it means to hold their line in a turn. As far as once we are back on Perimeter Road, I favor the rule just let everybody hammer. Personally I beleive Lori needs to get a 2nd leader for 2a and aribitarily split the group in half. Don't give up, your doing a great job and you definitely have more patience then I would in this situation.

    Ron Bryson

  9. No you did not drop me :). I rode with the C2b group. It was a last minute decision to ride with this group so it took me almost 6 miles to catch up!! By the time I did my legs felt trashed but I managed to hang in for a while. I only opted to completely drop when I heard another rider comment on how "myself and another rider" needed to drop back into another group. Hurtful to hear but I kind of understood also. Still, I will not give up and will jump in this group again. Goal is to get strong and the C3 group is a bit slower than I like.

    Don't give up on being a leader. YOU ARE DOING AN AWESOME JOB!!!! Love the sprint zone idea!! Keep it up!!

  10. Thanks for the comment about my ride from Saturday.

    This Saturday is Meals on Wheels. Are you riding in this one?


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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