Every spring you may go to the main group ride wondering if you will get dropped – have I done enough homework during the winter? Did everyone get faster than me?
I would usually disappear from October-March, but once the time changed, I would be right back into the mix of a couple group rides… several people have asked me how I was able to suddenly just cruise along at the front of these rides when I hadn’t been doing them all winter. I would just laugh at the question. What they didn’t know was that yes, obviously I was riding. I just wasn’t riding in the same groups through the winter that they were. From their perspective, I wasn’t riding all winter because I wasn’t on the rides that they were doing. Like an iceberg, all they were seeing was where I am today, not what I have been doing all winter.
There are several reasons for this, time change, location of the rides, not being able to ride to a ride, etc. But the number 1 reason they didn’t see me all winter was that they thought they would ‘loose’ fitness if they didn’t ride hard all winter. Some cyclists think that if you are not used to going at the speed of the group year around, then you will get to a point where you will no longer be able to hang on. Although if your goal is to just ride with groups all year, then yes, this maybe true. However, I had races as my goals each year, thus I had different ways of training to attain those goals.
I had learned that it was good to give my body a break after the US 100K race each fall (September). I would actually have to try to take time off the bike and do other things – this was often hard. After awhile I learned to back off and enjoy the changes of the seasons. Not only did I learn that I could do this, but in fact it made me a stronger cyclist – both physically and especially mentally!
I found that I really enjoyed those LSD (Long Slow Distance) rides for aerobic base building. It was a non-competitive rides where you could share some work at the front and chat with friends all while having a relaxed ride. During this time I would either ride alone, or ride with a group that had the same ideas/goals on winter training that I did.
After 2 months of base building, I didn’t just jump back onto a group ride and expect to keep-up with everyone. I worked out in the gym using a structured training plan, then started doing hill repeats and intervals with enough recovery mixed in so that I didn’t over-reach my goals. Another aspect of the training plan, was that I didn’t come into top form in March when the group rides started – they were used for testing, and to add a little speed to my legs. Even though I was out on the group rides, my riding was often reserved. I would stay out of the wind, rarely would I push the pace. Usually the speed of traveling with the group was enough of an adaption to have a successful training day.
When group rides are utilized correctly, they can be great tools for the cyclist training for an event. When they are used as training races, often cyclists will push themselves to the point that they are either A) overtrained. or B) pushing so much that their CNS (Central Nervous System) will suppress their ability and only allow them to ride at a ‘medium’ pace. In order to have great highs, you must also have very Easy days!
However, if a racing cyclist only does group rides, then they are truly missing out on some untapped ability. That is where the over-view of a good training plan can assist the cyclist in specific preparation for the Spring and Summer races.