Group Ride Pro Tips – Pacing

This post is an effort to build smoother, safer, and more enjoyable group rides.

Pacing is fundamental to great group rides and racing. Being smart about your power output keeps group rides intact, helps to manage your effort over a ride or race, and builds better group ride technique. If you are new to group riding, it’s encouraged to worry less about hammering hard and instead focus on being smooth, managing your pace, and feeling confident with the group.

The Group Ride as an Elastic

Yes it can be hard on those days you are feeling strong to resist hammering the front of a ride, while leaving the riders behind you scrambling to close gaps. Or maybe you have experienced the other end, gasping at the back of a ride, while a rider on the front unexpectedly surges up a hill.

Consider a group ride like an elastic where the goal is to keep everyone tight and together. When the elastic has nice constant pressure applied through the ups and downs of the route all riders in the group can more easily match the effort. Stretch the elastic hard at the front and those riders at the back will quickly feel the pressure and have to close gaps. Or worse the elastic snaps leaving a trail of solo riders wondering what happened to the ‘group’.

Managing and restraining your effort in a group is also a key tactic if you want to finish a ride strong or make a race winning move. Just as important as doing strong pulls is knowing when to do short pulls, sit on the back of a group pace line, and time your efforts when they matter most.

Technique 1: Master Your Output

Regardless of climbs, descents, wind, etc, riders in a group should maintain a consistent output when at the front (not necessarily a constant speed). You are working to keep the elastic nice and tight. This measured output allows riders in a group to find a smoothness and rhythm with each other. Power meters, HR monitors, and even better just listening to your level of breathing are all excellent tools to measure ‘how hard am I going on the front’ relative to the rest of the group.

If you jump out of the saddle on climbs, create gaps between the riders behind you, or coast the downhills while on the front, then no doubt you are yanking everyone else in the group. Keep tabs on your power output and consider how it deviates from the group effort.

Technique 2: Keep It Smooth

When the rider at the front pulls off and you pull through to position 1, it’s key not to surge your output or conversely soft pedal. This is the most common issue with group rides. Aim to match the pace established by the group and if that pace feels too hard by all means there is zero expectation you need to stay on the front for more than a few seconds.

For many riders output is measured as a binary on/off or hard/easy. If you want to turn the pace up, think of doing so in small increments or ‘clicks’ on a dial each equaling ~10 watts. Then see how the group responds. If your pace isn’t matched, gaps open up, or more riders are sitting out of the pace line rotation, it’s time to drop the pace.

Technique 3: Take It Easy

It can be high value to practice doing less work in a group ride, so you can go harder when it counts. Riders often show up to a group ride with the expectation they have to hammer and pull strong on the front, but consider practicing shorter pulls, minimizing your output across a ride, and at times even sitting on the back of a pace line while others rotate through in front of you.

Typically there is no expectation you have to do equal work as other riders in a group ride. For Steamboat Velo group rides we absolutely want everyone to finish the ride together, even if that means some do less work or just hang on the back of the group.

Lastly tempering your pace and knowing how to ‘sit in’ with a group is a fundamental tactic to win races, gravel and road. Just as you would practice blasting off the front it’s equally important to practice managing your matches for the critical moment when the route tips upwards or someone intentionally surges on the front.

Who is doing most of the work and who is doing very little in this group at Steamboat Roubaix?

Why it matters

Good pacing technique is key when you want to ride smoothly in a group and win races. And using the tendency to surge during a group ride as your quasi intervals yields crappy intervals and a crap group ride. While they might feel hard, these efforts often never end up being sufficiently hard or the appropriate duration that you need to get stronger.

*Consider building intervals in before the group ride or even better finish the ride with a planned hard effort for perfect race simulation!

Signs your group ride pacing is off:

  • You are out of the saddle on every hill spiking your power output or your power drops to zero on downhills.
  • If you create gaps between riders or riders consistently get dropped when you pull to the front.
  • If you hear coasting behind you because you are soft pedaling or coasting downhill while at the front.
  • You get dropped at the end of races or ride races mostly alone unable to stay with groups.
  • You find it difficult to match the pace on group rides, frequently off the front or off the back.
  • Your recorded power output or HR from a ride is erratic and unplanned.