road-cyclist-blurred So you have trained to be at your best for the event. Working out a strategy is the fun part of cycling and what makes cycling such an interesting sport. It does not matter that you are only riding a shorter course and not in with the "guns" doing 100/62 or so km/miles. You can still ride a strategic event. Sometimes things don't turn out the way you have planned and you end the event exhausted and dejected. Other times they go really well and you finish on a high.

Photo: www.diycycling.com

There are three ways you can ride most events:

  1. As an individual
  2. As part of a team in a relay
  3. In a team riding together for the whole distance. This is the most fun but very hard to get a group that are of equal fitness. You would need to practice riding in an echelon formation (more about echelons later) several times before the event.

The strategy starts by assessing the course you will be riding. If there are a lot of hills on the course then train on hills. If it is rolling country then train on rolling country. If at all possible ride the course before the event. If you are at the start of the event (as opposed to a later section in a relay) the first decision you have to make is what position in the group (peloton) you should be in. Are you strong enough for the front? If the peloton splits should you be in the front group or remain in the back group. If you end up in the front group and they are too strong, you will get left behind maybe on your own which will sap your energy really quickly. If you decide to go in the second group and they end up too slow, unless you can get some support to form a break away, you are going to end up having a Sunday ride or you may decide to break-a-way on your own.

You should always be thinking and noting what the riders around you are doing. Keep an eye on the terrain ahead. Always look for an opportunity to break away or get some advantage over the others. Who is hanging back on the hills? Who is looking strong? Who is looking tired? Let say you are in the front group but only just hanging in there. You are not strong enough to take your turn at the front. If you are carried for the whole event, have the courtesy not to challenge the leaders in a sprint at the finish line.

In my relay event at Taranaki I had the third section. I guessed the relay groups would be well broken up by then and I would be riding the 29km/18mile like a time trial. That is exactly what happened. I rode on my own, passing as many riders as I could and keeping my speed up to prevent any riders passing. The strategy worked really well increasing the teams placing by a good number.


Echelons

I found this article in my filing cabinet. It explains echelon riding very well. Source unknown.

How they should work.

echelon These types of pack formations are simple and essential, but everyone seems to make a big deal out of performing them correctly.

Let's say the wind is coming from the right(*left) as you ride down the road among a small group - say, nine riders.

You are riding paired, the lead rider (you) is to the centre of the road.

You gradually pull over to the right and immediately start to ease off to let the rider to your left(*right) take the lead.

As each rider from the left(*right) line works up the formation and takes their turn at the lead postion, you will gradually be dropping back in the right(*left) line and so it works in a circular fashion.

Each rider works for a short time in a true echelon, often only a few seconds and certainly less than a minute, when the next rider takes the lead.  

When wind becomes a challenge

When the wind is coming from the right(*left), the lead riders move out to the right(*left), providing enough shelter for those riders in the working group, without being stuck in the proverbial "gutter".

Riding the gutter, or extreme left(*right) side of the road is tricky and dangerous. It provides the least protection in a big group of riders echeloned across the road from right(*left) to left(*right) and followed by a train of single file riders running down the gutter.

The danger of being in the gutter is not only from rough road, making handling difficult, but from the riders in front of you who grow tired and open a gap. Gaps are extremely difficult to close in windy situations. When you ride or race in a strong cross wind, the pack generally splits up quickly and you have to stay towards the front. Once you are dropped in a strong wind, only the rare rider can make it back up to the front group. Bike handling can become erratic with high winds, so keep a firm grip on the bars and ride defensively.

The safest approach is to be up the front in the echelon, or to form a second tier of echelon behind the first. You benefit from the front tier, and stay out of the gutter. Echelon riding is especially important for any small-group riding fast.  

Common mistakes

The most common mistake in an echelon formation is failing to follow the rider in front of you all the way back (on the line that is dropping back). You need protection to recover, and this is what keeps the group tightly formed. The second most common mistake is to pull too hard at the front. You are aiming to keep a consistent pace. When the pace is erratic, it is more difficult to maintain and gaps open up. (*right hand drive countries)

Group riding and drafting

group riding Being protected from the wind by a rider in front of you is said to reduce your energy requirement by 30%. When you are able to tuck in behind another ride it is a good opportunity drafting to rest up and regain some energy. You can do this with only one other rider or in a group. Although there are similarities to riding in an echelon formation, group riding and drafting is a lot less organised with the front riders usually leading for longer than the few seconds to a minute. In the case of a group the stronger riders often dominate the front. However they can also suddenly break away leaving the weaker runners behind.

There are dangers cycling with other riders. The bigger the bunch the higher the danger of someone touching another bike and going down taking others with them. The danger is higher in event riding where there is likely to be inexperienced riders among the bunch.

Some tips upping your survival rate.

  1. Don't get mesmorised by the rear wheel of the bike in front of you. There is a saying, "you go where you are looking" so look a bit ahead glancing at the wheel in front to assess the distance you want to maintain.
  2. If possible don't brake, just ease off your speed. If you do need to brake do so lightly.
  3. If changing position do so gradually and communicate with other riders.
  4. Be cautious if you overlap your front wheel with the back wheel of the bike in front. This sometimes occurs in a cross wind. The front bike needs only to change direction a little and you could get tipped off.
  5. Communicate with other riders. Point and yell a warning of road obstructions coming up (pot holes, road kill). Put a hand up and yell "stopping" when approaching intersection etc. If you are in the middle of a bunch and get a puncture, put a hand up and yell puncture then gradually slow letting the bunch move round you.
  6. The safest place to ride in a bunch in order of safety is: the front area, the side to the middle of the road then the side to the gutter.
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