The Sprinter's Guide to Cycling Volume 2: Group Rides

Volume 2: The Sprinter’s Guide to Group Rides Roadies like long solo rides – the longer and more arduous the better - and usually starting at the crack of dawn. Roadies also like to ride in groups with each other – to prove their fitness and to socialize with other humans capable of understanding their awkward attempts at conversation. Today’s Sprinter’s guide focuses on group rides and the differing approaches of the sprinter vs. the roadie.

Group rides are inevitably planned by roadies – by their sheer volume it only makes sense. It shows too in the routes planned – which inevitably and yet apologetically involve the toughest local hills. This is a feature of roadie culture – an odd mix of humility and hubris. “Today’s ride, unfortunately, involves a triple repeat of the bonecrush foothills,” followed by false groans. It is usually during these commencement activities where roadies complain of their lack of fitness and share reasons why the've not trained enough. "My wife gave birth to twins Monday, so I've hardly been out at all this week," quoth the roadie preparing for the Thursday ride...

The Roadie rules for group rides include careful organization and taking long pulls at the front to carefully push the pace. A long careful acceleration – particularly on a false flat or long hill that destroys the field following – this is laudable in roadie culture. To demonstrate their humility and largesse, roadies declare a “regroup at the top” policy to remind the less aerobically gifted of their  failures. Conversely, sudden or even mild accelerations on a flat or tailwind section will result in cries heard from the back, “Steady! Steady!”

Roadies also insist that “pulling through” is a requirement for the ‘honor’ of participating in a group ride. One could argue that the entire group ride culture anchors to roadie strengths of long pulls at the front, hills and headwinds, yet somehow the sprinter counter-culture managed to include the sprinter mainstay of “sign sprints,” a topic to be detailed in a future post. Yet, even here, roadies have managed to try and manage sign sprints. As an example, in Phoenix, a weekly 60 mile training ride around South Mountain features a sign sprint near the end of a long straight section. Each week the ride leaders make it clear that, “no sprinting for the Orange Valley stop sign sprint unless you’ve taken three full pulls at the front.” Odd, that rule fails to exist in real races…

The Sprinters guide to group rides is simple: hangout, draft, chat, and win the sign sprints. Hangout: sprinters take no pride in “time-at-the-front,” so drifting in the roadie currents near the back works just fine. Draft: in two-by-two pacelines in crosswinds, sprinters will inevitably be in the downwind position. A short pull at the front and back to the back we go. No shame in that. Chat: sprinters, unlike roadies, are not in the group ride for a demonstration of our ability to suffer. Helping our cycling brethren engage in normal human conversation is part of the burden of the sprinter. Win sign sprints: Just like in real racing, there are arbitrary finish lines that determine the actual winner. “Time at the front, longest pull, most punishing route,” these and other arbitrary accolades have been  designated by roadies for roadies but have no bearing on a real race. The sign sprint is the only true race mechanism in the training ride and as such it is the sprinter’s job to win them. If possible, winning most of the sign sprints is best, but the golden rule is that the final sign sprint is the 51% vote – win that one and you’ve won the day.

Next up: The Sprinter’s Guide to Sign Sprints