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Fitting Group Rides into a Structured cycling Training Plan


Many of us ride with our mates, either formally in a club or informally. Here in Birmingham, Sette Dodici is the name of the informal local weekend ride. For some of us, training to get around the local group ride is a goal in itself. Others use these rides sparingly as a race simulation or when a relaxed social ride fits into a structured cycling training plan. However, not all group rides are equal. This is my take on some of the different types I’ve seen and ridden in and how different types of group ride fit in to a structured cycling training plan.

Which one is yours? Anything I’ve missed?

The club run. Where it all began for many of us. While some people coming into cycling later in life might miss this completely, it’s still a great way to gain group riding skills and accumulate an endurance base in good company (hopefully!). You’ll normally ride in pairs for a short period, maybe 5-10 minutes before swapping over, either with one of the pair moving forward to allow a new partner to join them on the front or in what I call the ‘danger changer’ move where both the front riders move out the way, one left and one right, to allow the next pair through. I don’t like this as it means you’re 4 abreast for a while and don’t get to swap partners to chat – one to save for wide, smooth and quiet roads with patient drivers rather than the narrow potholed lanes of the UK! There’s always that bloke that been on every club run since 1987 and will tell you if you’re doing anything wrong. And he will tell you...

Advantages:

  • Newer riders get to learn from more experienced riders in a relaxed environment and gain vital group riding skills for Sportives and races.

  • Everyone shares the pace and you get to chat to everyone.

  • These are often ‘no drop’ rides so someone will always look out for the weaker riders.

Disadvantages:

  • You might end up on the front with someone much stronger or weaker than you, meaning that neither of you get an optimal workout.

  • In very large groups you can end up with loads of very easy riding or freewheeling, again not great training!

Where does this group ride fit in to a structured cycling training plan? A great way to get a long endurance ride in a sociable setting. Choose your group wisely though, 6-8 is a great number, and aim to spend the majority of time in zone 2.


The chaingang. The perfect replica of a breakaway working together in a pro race. That’s the theory anyway… Again, two lines; one moving forward with the rider on the front doing a short, hard turn before moving over, always into the wind*, and easing off the pedals to allow the next rider through for their turn. The aim is to keep the group moving together as fast as possible and get a hard workout. However, this isn’t always the case. Round here the local chaingangs are known as ‘The Bash’ presumably as it’s a good opportunity to ‘bash’ your mates into oblivion by riding so hard everyone is on their knees by the end (or maybe halfway)!

*Why always into the wind? To ride in the fastest and easiest way possible. The line that is moving forward should be sheltered from the wind as they’re moving faster. It's easy to fall into the trap of always changing in one direction, but you will go much faster if you can judge which way is the most efficient like a pro!

Advantages:

  • A chaingang is a great way to learn technique of riding fast for racing or Sportives.

  • A well-oiled chaingang should always be much faster than an individual rider would be able to do alone, if you want that KOM you'd better go for it on the chaingang!

  • You develop the skill of riding close on the wheels while on the limit. Zwift races and rides tick the box for many riders looking for a hard ride with a social aspect, but it's easy to neglect the group riding skills needed when riding outdoors again in a race or a Sportive.

Disadvantages:

  • If someone rides through too hard or the group is too mixed in ability a smooth chaingang can rapidly deteriorate and end up slower than you could do solo!

  • You could be more likely to have an accident as everyone is riding on their limit.

  • It's less sociable – if you’ve got the breath to chat you’re not trying hard enough!

Where does this group ride fit in to a structured cycling training plan? The chaingang is great to sharpen up for racing in the Spring and Summer months. Use them sparingly though; I would recommend a maximum of twice a week, to allow for sufficient rest, structured interval training and an endurance ride. Make sure you choose a group that is suitable for your ability. Riding with slightly stronger riders is great, but if you can't do a turn on the front without being dropped then find an easier group and contribute!


The free for all! A bit of a mixture of a club ride and chaingang, or a race for non-racers! This is your opportunity to go out and batter your mates and show who’s the strongest. Sit on the front turning the screw until you can no longer maintain it and hope someone else takes over – but doesn’t ride too hard and then drop you. That's not how you earn bragging rights in the cafe! This is often the same route every week, with riders saving their energy for a big attack on their favoured terrain or that signature hill that everyone wants to be first to the top of. Of course there’s a sprint for the finish!

Advantages:

  • These can be great fun and a kind of race simulation as you never know who’s going to attack next. Do you dare follow them or save your legs for later? A race is never hard and easy in predictable intervals, so this can add an extra dimension to your training.

  • While these are hard, there’s no need to actually do a turn on the front as there’s always someone willing to take it up. If you’re less fit you can keep up, as long as you ride cleverly and stay out the wind – great skills to learn for racing!

  • These are great to chart your progression, move from being dropped, to hanging on, to doing a turn, to being one of the strong riders. It might take months, or even years, but the local guys will know to watch out for you!

Disadvantages:

  • It’s the Wild West (Midlands) out there! You might be lucky and have someone stop to help if you puncture or get dropped, but expect to be on your own and self-sufficient!

  • Some people will be on their limit, making it a bit more dangerous.

  • You might get a chat if you’re lucky, but it’s more likely you’ll be suffering either through your own or someone else’s making!

Where does this group ride fit in to a structured cycling training plan? If you're not racing or training for a specific event this might be the highlight of your week. Be careful though, it's hard to maintain top form year round and all too often the 'winter heroes' kicking heads in during the Winter months struggle on the same ride in the Summer when others are at their peak. If you love the weekly Saturday smashfest make sure you're incorporating sufficient rest and those steady endurance rides as well, and try not to go so deep you're unable to do any meaningful training the rest of the week.

So what’s your favourite? If you love a group ride or two but want to learn how to fit it in to a structured cycling training plan to improve check out our coaching plans or get in touch!

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