Question: Hi Gale. I'm an aspiring female road racer. The news that there will be a greater focus on women's racing at the Tour of California and at the Tour de France gives me hope that one day soon more women will be able to race at the professional level and make a living. I'm also hopeful that the increased attention will bring more women to race at the amateur ranks. It's more fun to race when there are more than a handful of women at the start line.
Sorry for the long introduction, but it brings me to my question. Last season I did a few races and absolutely fell in love with the sport. As I prepare for the upcoming season of racing, I was contemplating training with a group of guys that have a fast ride on Saturday mornings. Some of my friends think the Saturday ride is a good idea and others think it's a bad idea. Without swaying your opinion with their reasons, I'd like to know what you think.
Should female road racers train with the guys?
Answer: Hey L.P. I'm excited to read that you're enthusiastic about road racing. As you and other women take to the sport, it can only raise the level of support at all levels. You have a great question, and I'll do my best to give you the good and the bad of training with the guys.
When I was learning about road racing and group riding etiquette, there were literally no women's group rides to help me. I found supportive men that were willing to help me learn group-riding skills and race tactics. It doesn't matter whether you train with men or women, find a group that's supportive and can help you learn the fundamentals in a safe and supportive way. Beyond the fundamentals, you need experienced cyclists to teach you race strategies and tactics too.
Ride at Your Level of Fitness
Every rider, male and female, will benefit from riding with cyclists that are similar in ability. It's no fun to be dropped on group ride 10 minutes after it begins because the pack is at a higher level of fitness than you. If you're looking to build early season or base fitness, try to find riders that are aiming to ride at a pace that's good for your fitness goals.
It is possible for you to jump in a group of cyclists faster than you are and draft. If done the right way, you and the other cyclists in the group can still gain plenty of fitness from the activity. The key to this strategy is to know what you want from the group ride before showing up for the workout. If you know the fitness of the cyclists you're going to train with, decide if you want to be the one pulling the group or if you need to be the one sitting in and getting pulled.
Of course if you plan to be pulled around by the group for the entire ride, inquire if that's okay with the other riders. I'm sure you're aware of riders that sit in for nearly the entire ride and try to contest a sprint at the end. These tactics are frowned upon and won't win you too many friends within the peloton.