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7 strategies to avoid burning matches at the front of the group ride

Excuses you can use to avoid taking a pull

Paceline pull spring peloton group ride


So you didn’t put in the hours training throughout the winter and spring is upon us. You’re feeling your fitness is lacking but there is only one way to right that: ride more.The weekend cruise is the perfect opportunity. But what if you end up at the front? A long pull is sure to fry your legs. What to do?

RELATED: Why it’s OK to ride yourself into form this spring

You could wait to build some fitness before showing up to the ride. But perhaps a better strategy is riding with a fast group but avoiding the front. Sure it’s not a popular strategy if you’re just conserving your energy to win the town-sign sprint or be the first to the top of the hill, but you’re doing it because you have to. So how do you make sure you don’t end up pulling the group around all morning only to be blown out the back mid-way through? Here are some tips:

1) Start at the back and stay there

The back of the pack. Find it and stay there.
The back of the pack. Find it and stay there.

When the group rolls out from the meeting place, start the ride at the back. If the group is big enough, chances are you will hit a light or intersection before needing to pull through to the front. You can also pull out of the paceline to position yourself toward the back and let other riders take your place. Whenever the group needs to stop and then start rolling, strategically work your way to the back of the group again by being slow to clip in, finishing your drink or bar. Let the eager beavers swarm ahead of you. Be warned though, don’t take too long getting going or you might have to chase, defeating the purpose of the whole exercise.

2) Announce loudly your intent to sit in all day

At the start of the ride or once you’ve gotten rolling, announce to as many people who will listen, “I am sitting in all day” or “I am not in riding shape to pull”. Sometimes honesty can be your biggest asset.There is no shame in admitting your lack of fitness. This way everyone is aware of your intent to not pull and will be pleasantly surprised if you do pull through for a couple of turns at the front. You won’t burn your matches early and later on you won’t slow the group down because you’re gassed.

3) I’m waiting for the team car…

Hugo Houle
Photo credit: Ag2r-La Mondiale

“I can’t pull through. I’m waiting for the team car.” This is an actual excuse Hugo Houle (Ag2r-La Mondial) heard in the break at WorldTour race Gent-Wevelgem. Since we like to emulate the pros, you might use this as inspiration. You’ll just need to make it more convincing.

4) Keep your pulls short

Instead of entirely skipping your turns at the front, roll through but only pull for 30 seconds and then peel off. Taking short pulls will allow you to still spend some time at the front, which will give the riders doing most of the work a chance for a bit of rest. Your riding buddies will appreciate your contribution even if it’s short. These shorter efforts are also great to start building that fitness you will be looking for come summer.

5) Don’t let the adrenaline take control

Svein Tuft drops the hammer on the peloton but he didn't get much help chasing the breakaway
Dropping hammers. What you don’t want to be doing every time you hit the front of the group ride.

Taking a pull shouldn’t sap all your energy. Unless you are driving full-gas into a headwind or trying to ride lesser riders off your wheel, make your pull is a steady, brief effort at the front. Often, riders spend minutes at the front digging deep to prove something. Strong riders often take pulls at the front and the rush of adrenalin they get leading the pack keeps them going back. If you get caught up in the competitiveness of the group ride, you to could find yourself burning too many matches. Instead, stay focused on riding at your own pace and chances are you will be able to follow the wheels of more eager riders for most of the ride.

6) Conveniently become directionally challenged

When your rotation starts at the front, take the first (safe!) opportunity to take a wrong turn. Someone will catch the error pretty quickly, the whole group will turn around and suddenly the front will be at the back again. If you do this often enough, your friends will stop asking you to be on the front entirely as you constantly lead the group astray. This works as long as you are comfortable with having a reputation for being directionally challenged.

7) Coach told me to ride Zone 2

Zone 2 means endurance pace. It means base miles and keeping your effort at between 55 to 75 per cent of your FTP or 60 to 70 per cent of your max heart rate for the duration of the ride. Being able to ride long hours at Zone 2 is the best way to start your training early season. It’s the base training that will then allow you to increase the volume and intensity later in the season, so tell your riding buddies you won’t be seeing the front unless it’s a nice steady Zone 2 effort.