Do Your Best 947 Irrespective of Your TrainingDonovan van Gelder
By the time you read this, the work for the 947 Ride Joburg has been done, or it hasn’t. Either way, you are going to be lining up for the nearly one hundred, undulating kilometres around the City of Gold. So, instead of writing a training plan, what we are going to be discussing here is how best to approach the event, to make the most of the work that you have done or, despite the work that you haven’t.
My training was spectacular ‘Lean Mean Racing Machine’
Our Winter training has been great. We have built a solid endurance foundation and have spent the Spring honing our racing condition with intervals, fast group rides and maybe some smaller races. We are in the shape of our life and the 947 Ride Joburg is going to be where we show this off. We might think there is nothing more to say except, “go and smash it!”
Bike racing is never as cut and dried as that. More often than not it is not the strongest that wins. It is almost always the smartest and, even if we are not in it to win it, riding with our head and not our legs will get us the best possible result. Even though we may be in good enough shape to ride the whole route on our own in a great time, using the other, equally strong riders in the bunch, will significantly improve the speed that we cover the distance. Even if we find ourselves in the fabled position of being the strongest rider in the group, we can still use other riders to maximise our end result.
Don’t spend the whole ride on the front of the group – Even if we do longer turns on the front than anyone else, dropping back and allowing other riders to do their turns, even if that is slower than we would like, will allow us to recover in the wheels and produce stronger, more consistent efforts for the whole duration of the event.
Don’t go through too hard – When it is our turn to take a pull, allow the rider in front to ease up and continue through at the same speed as we were travelling in second wheel. Once at the front we can lift the tempo a bit more but we must be mindful of what the other riders in our group are capable of. If we accelerate to the front too violently we will create gaps behind and potentially drop riders who can help us for a bit longer. Pulling too hard on the front once we are there, may not create the gaps that a sudden change in pace will, but we could put a lot of riders behind on their limits just to stay with us and, when we want to swing over and recover, they will not want to, or be able to, go through to the front. This results in a staccato pace that is slower than a group working well together. It will also inevitably cause us to fatigue faster than holding a steady pace would have.
Don’t forget to eat and drink – When we are feeling super it is easy to forget the hydration and nutrition. The body will eventually remind us but this will come too late to rectify and will turn a flying first half into a painful crawl in the second.
Do ride off those that aren’t helping – After the initial kilometres, where everyone is strong, we can use the tougher stretches of the route to test the bunch. No spectacular sprints off the group but rather some nice, strong, extended pulls on the front. The stronger riders in the group will match us and the weaker ones will be gapped. We want to trim the group to riders that can contribute. The smaller a group is, the more efficiently everyone works. There is always hesitancy from strong riders to fully commit when a group is bigger with lots of wheel followers.
Do go for glory – When the time is right and we know that we have enough in the tank to go solo to the finish we need to do it, but do it decisively. Now is the time for that spectacular acceleration to the other side of the road to create the gap followed by an extended effort to kill off the pursuit. This has to be done with authority because once a move like that is made, the cohesion of our group will be hard to regain. The more evenly matched the riders in the group, the closer to the finish we should try this. Apart from the fact we will probably benefit more by continuing to work through and off, we may find yourself on the receiving end of riders who are just as strong as us, working together against us.
My preparation could have gone better ‘Mid-Pack Monster’
Our training has been adequate. We know we can comfortably cover the distance but are lacking the top-end interval work and maybe a bit of endurance. In my own experience, this is where I have often had my best race results. It is a state where we are good enough without being in exceptional shape, so we are cautious about how we employ our efforts and, although we have decent legs, we use our heads to utilise them in the best way.
Don’t go to the front until you have to – Follow the wheels and conserve the ammunition for later. We will be strong enough to stay near the front but in the position where we aren’t drawing attention to the fact that we are not pulling our weight at the front of the group. Staying near enough to avoid getting gapped behind the splits on the harder sections of the route.
Make the effort when required – We need to be vigilant and not be scared of making the odd harder effort to ride across any gaps that might open up in front of us. In cycling, as apposed to running, it is worth making harder efforts than we would like from time to time, to stay with a stronger group where we can recover on the wheel. It is always better to be the weakest rider in a strong group, rather than the strongest in a weak one.
Chip in when the time is right – Saving energy and power in the early kays will allow a stronger finish but we don’t want to be selfish. Once we have made the split into a nice, working group, we need to start rolling through to the front to contribute. We want to be seen to be working with our companions or we will antagonise them and they will try to drop us. An effort that we may not be able to answer at our current level of fitness.
Don’t overdo the pulls – It is enough to go through and stay at the front for a few pedal strokes before easing up and dropping back into the line. We don’t want to smash ourselves with long turns on the front that will put us into difficulty getting back onto the back of the string once we swing off.
Don’t react to everything – When the inevitable attacks and surges happen, try to let others close the gaps so that we can come back in their wheels. It is also important to assess the situation and gauge whether or not we are strong enough to ride with the attacking rider or would we be better with numbers around us, riding at a more suitable pace for our fitness levels.
I’m hopelessly under-trained ‘Wheel-Sucker’
Whether the Winter days were too cold and dark or we weren’t sure if the event was actually going to happen this year, we are getting to the start at Nasrec well short of endurance, strength and speed. We are not contemplating any sort of average speed, we just want to get through the 100km as comfortably as possible, if that is possible. The good news is, it is. Unlike running a 100km, on a bike it is a lot less daunting and that is because of the slipstream provided by other riders and groups on the road.
Don’t follows any accelerations – We want to keep our effort well within out comfort-zone as much as possible. We need to follow the wheels to make the most of the slipstream that this offers but if the rider in front accelerates more explosively we definitely don’t want to follow suit. Those violent muscle contractions are what cause cramping later on in the race.
Use momentum to move up in the group – Just because we are not in good shape does not mean that we should just dangle at the back of the bunch. We need to be constantly trying to give ourselves some slippage room by moving forward in the bunch. Then, when the bunch accelerates or things just become harder for us on an incline, we can slip gradually back through the bunch, riding at our own effort, hopefully ending at the back, still on the wheels, when things become easier. We don’t want to expend energy moving forward though. After a climb or an acceleration in the bunch, there is always an easing. When this happens the group compresses and the riders in the slipstream hold speed longer than those at the front, in the wind. Instead of braking and holding our position towards the back of the group, we can use that extra speed to move up on the outside of the bunch without applying any extra pressure on the pedals. We don’t want to roll all the way to the front and disrupt those who are pulling the bunch along though. We also don’t want to draw any unnecessary attention to ourselves so that we are expected to contribute to the pace making.
Don’t drop back too quickly – Once nearer the front we should apply a bit more pressure to hold position if the pace remains easier. Holding that position until the next harder period, where we can gradually ease our way back again. We will need to put in some effort to hold position and not drop back too quickly but this kind of work is much less than what we would be doing out the back on our own.
Never ride on your own – If we do get dropped from a group there is no point in soldiering on, on our own. We will work hard, burn lots of matches and still get caught by the bunch coming up from behind who are working together. Then, once they have caught us, they will blow right past because we can’t lift the pace to get on their wheels because we have been slogging into the wind on our own. We definitely don’t want to stop and wait but rather just keep tapping along at a comfortable effort, constantly checking over our shoulder for the next bunch so that they don’t take us by surprise. It is always better to be caught on a downhill, as the effort required to get into the wheels is much less than on a climb. So gauging our effort to time the catch will also save a lot of our precious pennies.