Riding in the peloton takes knowledge, fitness and know-how. For many enthusiast riders, taking that next step and showing up for a group ride is the best way to not only meet other cyclists, but to take your riding to the next level.
In order to find out from one of the best, we asked Team Columbia-Highroad rider and former U.S. Postal and Discovery Team rider Michael Barry to offer Road Bike Action readers 10 secret pro tips on how to negotiate riding in a pack.
Relax in the peloton and learn to move with the flow of the group. Once you have some experience riding in a group you will soon realize it has a certain dynamic to it. You will quickly be able to find the spots with the most draft, away from the wind, and the spots where it is the safest to ride.
There is no better way to learn how to ride well in a group and gain comfort in a peloton than to spend time riding with others. Be calm, focused and observant. This will help to improve your bike handling skills and make informed tactical decisions.
2. Stay Up Front
Stay towards the front of the group, as you are more likely to avoid crashes, be ready for attacks and stay ahead of splits in the group, and you will not feel the whip of the elastic you will surely experience at the back of the group.
If a rider at the front is accelerating out of a corner at speed, you will need to do exponentially more work the further back in the group you are because a peloton goes progressively slower through a corner and therefore progressively faster out of the corner. To win, you need to be in the front, out of trouble and saving energy. A good place to be is in the first 10 to 20 riders, as you'll be out of the wind but ready for any surprises.
3. Hide Your Suffering
Use your game-face to gain a psychological advantage—hide your suffering or show it. When Lance Armstrong was isolated without teammates in the mountains during the Tour, he pretended to be suffering to encourage a high pace from his competitors. They burned their motors trying to drop him early on as they thought he was suffering more than he was.
On the final ascent he hit them with a potent attack, catching them all by surprise and putting himself closer to the overall victory in the Tour. When you're feeling good, don't show it; when you're feeling bad, try not to show it either.
4. Work Smart
While in a small group or breakaway, do only as much work as the rider who is doing the most—never more, otherwise he or she will have more energy left than you when you get to the finish line.
5. Watch for Erratic Riders
Look out for riders who are dangerous, and steer clear of them. A rider who is not holding a straight line, who is taking his hands off the bars all the time, whose bike isn't in good shape, or who isn't looking ahead is someone to keep away from.
6. Look Ahead
Always keep your eyes on the road ahead of you and not only the rider in front of you. Watch out for corners, potholes, etc. It is a bad idea to put blind faith in the rider in front of you. Keep your head up and be aware.
7. Make Allies
Be respectful of other riders in the group. An adversary may quickly become an ally when you're in a breakaway with him or her. Nobody likes a loud-mouth or a dangerous, inconsiderate rider. Being in a peloton is like driving in traffic—be respectful of others and don't get road rage. Make friends in the peloton. If people like you, they are more likely to cooperate in the breakaways and let you into the line to get a draft.
8. Get Fueled Early
Fuel up in the early kilometers of the race with both liquids and solids and this will pay endurance dividends. When you're cruising along in the bunch, try to eat around 350 calories an hour, and stay hydrated by drinking one to two bottles each hour, even though the pace may not be high and the race stressful. A bonk comes down on a rider like an axe on a piece of wood. It will come by surprise, rip you in two and will end your race. Stay fueled.
9. Sprint Smart
Sprinting success requires more than just power and speed. You must position yourself well, keeping your nose out of the wind until the final meters of the race without getting boxed in by other riders. You want a clear shot at the line and don't want to be impeded by another rider.
It is an art that requires intelligence, guts, risk and aggression. A good sprint also requires as much saved energy as possible. Be smart, stay out of the wind, stay up front in the first 10 and race to the line with every ounce of power left in your body.
10. The Curse of the Wheelsuck
Don't be a wheelsuck in a breakaway. Nobody likes a rider who doesn't do any work and then races to the victory. Doing so is like stealing candy from a kid—dishonest and lame.