The fastest teams on paper usually don’t win team time trials, just like the most talented teams don’t always win the championship in American sports. Rather, it’s the teams that work seamlessly, like a well-conducted orchestra, that prevail.
The lesson that all cyclists can learn, even Cat 1 racers, is that working smoothly together trumps raw power. And yet, nearly every time I ride my bike, I see people mess this up. Let’s look at the three keys of an effective pace line. First, and foremost, is to ride a steady pace. Often the stronger rider(s) will increase the pace as soon as it’s their turn to pull. This is a mistake, and it’s harder on everybody, even the person pulling. The key is to roll through at the same speed or effort level (speed should drop on hills, increase on downhills). If you are that much faster than everyone, take a longer pull. Pull for 2, even 5 minutes, but keep the speed the same.
What’s the correct speed? It’s the speed of the slowest rider. If Bob happens to be the slowest guy, ride at a speed that Bob can maintain. Otherwise the line will get disrupted, you’ll have to regroup, and will actually be slower than if you’d just ridden Bob’s pace. Of course you can go on ahead by yourself, if you want to be that guy.
The final key is to draft effectively. This means angling back and to the right if the wind is from the left. But it also means riding close enough to get the benefit of the draft. If you are 2-3 feet behind the next rider, you are working much too hard.
Learn from the pros, and ride in an effective pace line. I promise your rides will be faster, easier, and more fun.
Steen A. Rose is an elite cycling and triathlon coach. He started coaching in 2003, and has been an Elite Coach with Training Bible Coaching since 2009. Steen is also captain of the Sun & Ski/Subaru Cycling and Triathlon teams. He has been racing since 1997, holds a Category 1 license, and has 13 state championships, 3 national medals, and 4 international podiums to his credit. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org