When going through training, triathletes or cyclists in general often ride solo miles which can be great for intervals and building a specific engine. However, they often neglect handling skills which can make a big difference in a race. One of the best ways to work on handling skills is to ride in a group. You must be focused on where you are in the pack, be able to hold a line through a corner, and often ride 1 handed due to pointing out pot holes or giving hand signals. By doing a group ride your handling and awareness on a bike will increase 10x what it would if you just ride alone all the time. Riding in a group makes you a better cyclist overall.
A misconception by many athletes is that doing a group ride means you can’t mix in intervals that are specific to you. This is something that me and my athletes do on a weekly basis with our local Wednesday night ride. I have TT specialists who work to attack the group and stay away for 5-8 minutes along with sprinters/lead out specialists that sprint every city limit sign and work on lead outs. The group dynamic is actually the best training day for these specific sets because it puts the athlete in a race simulation and allows them to work on their tactics and creativity in attacking. Group ride days for my cyclists in Kalamazoo is one of the best days for their actual progression as a racer.
When building my athletes schedules, it is often a mixture of training stress and specifics that yield the progress needed for advancement. If the athlete gives you a weeks notice as to what group rides they want to do, there should be no reason why its harmful to their overall training stress. A group ride can be added into a week and if given specific goals for the ride, can achieve both a high training stress and specific training day all in one. However, if the athlete starts wanting to do 3-4 group rides a week, then this can become problematic as the group dynamic doesn't necessarily allow for 20-30 minute intervals and the athlete may start losing out on some specifics.
Balance is Key
Everyone likes riding a bike and its only better if done with people. I believe the sweetspot for doing group rides is 1-2 a week as it allows for the social aspect of training, high training loads, but also the ability on the other 5 days of the week to mix in a specific training plan that allows for individual progress.
There are some cons associated with group riding, but again… the pro’s far outweigh them. The cons that are associated with the group ride are the opportunity for a crash to happen along with injury (this shouldn’t happen if handling skills and communication are developed and in place). Another con is the athletes extrinsic motivation that makes them want to beat others or “show off” in the group. While there is plenty to gain from going hard in a group ride, you can’t go hard all the time as it may sacrifice a later training day. Your coach should talk to you about the goal of the group ride so you are aware what you should be working on. The final con is when athletes, like noted above, want to do group rides 4 days a week. While this is good for overall training stress, you start to miss out on specifics. Training stress is just one of the ingredients to performance.
The only time that I take all group riding out of the mix is during a taper or final 2 weeks prior to the athletes “A” race. The reason for this is due to it being a large training stress day, the risk of a crash happening, or the athletes inability to soft pedal and instead putting in large attacks. All of these things can derail a peak for race day and the risks far outweigh the pro’s in this case.
Group riding is awesome and its something that every cyclist/triathlete should seek out. The pro’s of group riding will help you become a better overall athlete and possibly even make some friends in the process. By adding in group rides to an athletes training plan, the coach should give some specific ideas for optimal focus/training that day. As always, everything depends on the athletes goals/progress/life/training to that point and everything should be factored in when adding a group ride to the schedule. However, if you’re an athlete reading this, understand that a group ride can be very beneficial to you and you should ask your coach about it ASAP!
For more information, Jeremy Brown of MindRight Multisport and I will be doing a google hangout on Wednesday at 10AM EST.
For questions or concerns, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org