Your Questions Answered: “I do some of my bike training with a local triathlon club, and during group rides I sometimes know I am about to be dropped but I don’t know what to do about it.”
We’ve all been there, the wheel in front of you feels like it is slipping farther and farther away and the rider on your wheel is breathing down your neck to bridge up. What are you to do? While most people shift up and mash a harder gear to try to keep up, you may want to try the opposite, especially if you know you only need to hang on for 30-60 seconds before the pace will get easier (like the final minute of a climb or the last 200 meters of a rolling hill). Mashing a harder gear will push your already-fatigued leg muscles past their breaking point, and even if you manage to hold on to the wheel this time, that effort may be the one that causes you to get dropped completely on the next hill. Instead, try shifting into an easier gear and focusing on moving your feet faster. Rev that smaller gear and you’ll stay in contact with the group.
If you have a power meter, you can test the effectiveness of this strategy. Watch what happens to your power output when you’re struggling and shift into a harder gear. Chances are, you bog down in that gear and your power output stays just about the same as it was before, if you’re lucky. Instead, try shifting into an easier gear the next time you find yourself in a similar situation. You’ll likely notice that revving your cadence boosts your power output. It may be difficult to maintain this elevated level for long, but it’s often enough to get you through that rough spot without getting dropped.
Why is this important, you might ask, for triathletes who compete in races where drafting is illegal? First of all, many triathletes train in group rides where you’re drafting and working together as a cohesive unit. And even in races where you’re not drafting, you can use this same technique to maintain your power and speed over the tops of hills or during periods of heavy wind resistance.
In the long run, increasing the range of cadences you can use effectively is a good idea. Here is a workout that will help prevent you get more comfortable with high-cadence pedaling, and improve your maximum sustainable power… so maybe you won’t get into that almost-getting-dropped situation in the first place. This workout will get you accustomed to pedaling faster with some FastPedal drills, and then you will progress into SteadyState intervals that will accumulate time at an intensity just below your lactate threshold power. These intervals will help you ride at a higher sustainable pace for the group rides, so you may not even have to use the cadence trick described above!
Here’s the 60-75 minute workout:
- 10 minute warm up
- 5×3 minute FastPedals (aim for a cadence of 110+ rpm), 2 minute recovery
- FastPedals are exactly what they sound like. Shift into an easy gear so there’s only a little bit of resistance on the pedals. Increase your cadence until you’re bouncing in the saddle and then back off slightly until you’re able to keep your hips from bouncing/rocking in the saddle. Stay at this cadence for the rest of the interval.
- 3×8 minute SteadyState intervals with 6 minutes recovery (advanced riders can make these intervals 10 or even 12 minutes long. Recovery should stay at 6 minutes.)
- SteadyState intervals on the bike should be completed at an intensity right around your lactate threshold power output, which for most people is an RPE of about 8 on a 1-10 scale. If you’re familiar with the CTS Field Test (Two 8-minute time trials separated by 10 minutes of easy spinning recovery. Apply the higher of the two average HR or Power outputs to the following intensity percentages.), SteadyState interval intensity is 92-94% of CTS Field Test HR or 90-95% of CTS Field Test power output.
A more advanced version of this workout is to perform the FastPedal intervals at a higher power output so you are generating your lactate threshold power output at an exaggerated cadence. As written above, the FastPedal intervals are high-cadence, lower-power. High-power, high-cadence FastPedals are the next step to being able to maintain a high cadence at race pace and still have the capacity to surge from there.
Chris Carmichael is the author of “The Time-Crunched Triathlete” and founder and CEO of Carmichael Training Systems, the Official Coaching and Camps Partner of Ironman. For information on Official Ironman coaching packages and camps that include race entries, visit www.trainright.com/ironman or call 866-355-0645.