Many cyclists and triathletes participate in group rides. They have a unique place in our training and overall preparation. They can simulate a bike race, add some intensity to your tri training, be great prep for those doing draft-legal ITU races, and let's face it, they're just fun!
Pro triathlete Matt Reed is seen on the local group rides in Boulder, Colorado, often. Many long-distance triathletes add in a fast roadie-like group ride to mix things up and get some high-intensity training. Tony DeLonge, winner at Ironman USA Lake Placid in 2005, threw down a record bike split on his way to an 8:56! Tony would take part in the Tuesday group ride outside of Boston quite often.
Regardless of your racing goals, group rides can be great training—but all group rides are not the same. More so, the same group ride can be a very different experience for different people.
The Group Ride Sweet Spot
First off, we are talking about the fast rides. Hard, pre-set course, if you get dropped no one is waiting for you rides. Not the "team rides".
The first thing you should not do is try to make the ride something it's not. I have heard this before, "I'm gonna do my threshold (or tempo) work on the group ride tonight." Ah, no you're not.
A group ride is not the place to do the type of training where you're on the legs every pedal stroke for your selected interval time...unless you can ride on the front of the group in your zone for that long without anyone coming around you. I'm guessing you can't.
A group ride gives us a few unique things we simply can't get alone:
- Higher speeds — Turning bigger gears, even at a similar wattage, has a different feel
- Variable power — The up and down, stop/go/stop/go nature of a pack ride
- A large amount of total anaerobic riding
- The repeating nature of these above threshold efforts
- Higher cadences, hopefully
- The unknown — Going hard when you would like to rest, recovery periods when you least expect them
- Pack riding skills — Learning to relax in a group, dealing with cross winds, more efficient riding when the situation is stressful, better bike handling on a efficiency level
If you are going to do a ride of this nature, you should be looking for at least some of these things.
OK, so you're going to do some group rides. Now what? What's a good ride for you, what's not so good? First off, know the route; maybe ride it solo or with a few friends before so you know where you're going, where the big hills, downhills and turns are.
Intensity, the Key Factor
This is where I see so many people blow their group ride training. If going on a group ride involves you hanging on for dear life for 20 to 30 minutes, accumulating 40 percent or more of your time above threshold (power time), getting dropped and limping home barely able to push Zone 2 wattage, the ride is to hard and you're doing more damage than good.
You want your ride to be challenging, not over-reaching; you want to be able to do your training the next day. You should be able to finish the ride, if not with the front group at least a group of other riders. Beyond this, look to be able to do a few hard efforts without getting dropped—go to the front and do some pulls, a few one minute attacks off the front, etc.—and be able to recover in the pack when you need.
Some more tangible factors to aim for:
- Spend no more than 20 percent of your time above threshold power, or 30 to 35 percent of your time at maximal heart rate. Even a road cyclist, who is trained for lots of anaerobic time, is going to have a really hard ride with more than this.
- Your best hour of normalized power should be below threshold. If you start doing long sections of time at threshold, things are going to get unmanageable fast.
- Wattage spikes: 10 watts per kilogram of body weight. This is a big benchmark for bike races and mass-start rides. The more of these, the harder your overall effort is going to be. Get up to 12 or more wattage spikes per hour and you're going to feel it! In a tough criterium cyclists can see up to 40 in an hour.
Find your sweet spot. Make sure you can keep training after the ride. Can you finish it? What does your power file and heart rate data look like? The overall questions is: Can you get all of these adaptations in (mentioned above) but minimize the crushing fatigue and muscle damage of a full-on race effort?
Before you decide on the group ride workout, get some info on what you're in for, know your route and decide what you're really looking to get out of it. Is this ride going to give you that?
Be safe and have fun. Tough group rides can be the most fun you can have on two wheels.
Eric is a full-time triathlon and cycling coach. He is the owner of EK Endurance Coaching and works with athletes of all levels. To see EK Endurance Coaching's highlighted results and learn more about what they can do for you go to EKendurancecoaching.com