If you’ve ridden in a group before, chances are you’ve been dropped at least once. It can happen to the best of us. Every cyclist has their own strengths and weaknesses, and even if you work on them, sometimes, your weaknesses can get the better of you.
If you’re a climber, you may fly up the hills but have a hard time when the crosswinds hit. And inversely, if you can power into a headwind, you may not like it when the road heads upwards.
Staying in the draft means being aware of your surroundings and being ready when things go sideways. If you’re paying attention, you won’t be caught off-guard when things get tough and it will be easier to stay in the pack, whether it’s a race or your local weekend hammer fest.
1. Milk those hills
Climbs are tough, there’s no doubt. If you want to work on a way to survive some of those hills you’ll face in races or group rides, there’s a little life hack for you.
If you’re doing a course that has a climb each lap, then you need to make sure you’re at the front when it hits. When you start riding up the hill, you can spin at a comfortable cadence and save your legs. If you time it properly, you can gradually drift to the back, and hopefully, by the time the hill is done, you’ll still be in the pack, even if it means you’ve gone from the front to the back. It’s called “milking” the hill, or “sagging the climb,” and it’s a technique many pros use in races when they know they aren’t as fast as the top climbers.
By the end of the climb, you might find yourself in last position, but you’ll have used less energy than if you had stayed in the same spot the entire climb.
2. Stay at the front by always being in motion
One of the quickest ways to get dropped is to find yourself at the back of the pack when the pace picks up. Some riders find it hard to maintain a position at the front of the group, and that’s because your position in the peloton should always be changing. If you try to stick at the front in the same spot, you could very well find yourself swarmed, and when things speed up, you could end up at the back behind riders who will gap you. Instead, think of the pack as an ever-moving beast, meaning you should be in constant flow.
Starting at the front, you can move back, and then reposition yourself to the side of the pack, and move up again. It’s a little mini circle to follow so you go from the lead to mid-pack and back to the lead. You don’t necessarily need to be on the front of the pack, putting your face in the wind, but by being in the lead rows of riders, you won’t find yourself in a bad spot when things heat up.
3. Move up at the right time
One of the easiest ways to burn your legs is to try and move up at the wrong time. When the pace is high, and you try to move to the front on the outside of the group, you’ll use way too much energy and will find yourself cooked when you get to the lead. Instead, look for times that make it sense to move up. If there’s a flurry of attacks, there will often be a lull immediately after. During that brief pause, use it to move to the front. Then, when the next barrage of breakaways starts, you’ll be ready.
Another way to move up without using too much energy is to use corners. If there are some wide bends, try to move past riders by coasting on the outside. You can pass dozens of riders this way, with relatively no effort.
4. Pay attention to the wheels you follow
This is easier said than done if you’re riding with people you don’t know. But if you’re doing a race or group ride with people you know, figure out who is strong and a reliable wheel to follow. Then stick to them as much as possible. It’s a smart tactic not only because that rider will most likely not get dropped, but they will also be positioned in the group at the right time if things get quick.