Chris Carmichael Blog: Tips for Windy Rides

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There’s nothing like a good training week to get my spirits up. Plus, the applications for the CTS Trans Andes Challenge are starting to pile up and I’m starting to get excited about the prospect of another major endurance challenge. For those of you who don’t know, I’m going to follow up my 2010 experience at La Ruta de los Conquistadores with another major mountain bike stage race. I’m going to race the 6-day Trans Andes Challenge in January 2012 with 3-time World Champion Rebecca Rusch. There’s still time to apply for one of 16 spots to train and race with me; just go to for details. But back to my training week, and some tips you can use in your training.

Staff Meeting March 22, 2011

The best ride of the week was on Tuesday. I scheduled a coaches’ “Staff Meeting”, which was a 70-mile loop to the south and east of Colorado Springs. The wind has been ripping up and down the Front Range recently, and Tuesday was no exception. The winds were 30+mph coming out of the northwest (but mostly west). We had a blast going southeast and then covered 12 miles straight east in about 22 minutes. At the halfway point of the ride, at the farthest corner of this big square route, we were well ahead of record time for the route. But we all knew what lay ahead: 35 miles of cross and headwinds. It was hard going, and each rider had to make some very honest decisions about how much work he could do and how much wind he could handle.

In big winds, your ego can be your biggest enemy. If you stick your nose in the wind longer than you should, you may very well get jettisoned right out the back of the group after your big pull. We were riding in a 2×2 paceline, and in the beginning of the head and crosswind sections some riders stayed up front longer than they should have because they were paired with a stronger rider. If you’re the weaker rider in that situation, you have to call the shots and pull off when it’s the right time for you. If you sit up there and try to match someone who is more powerful, you’ll burn through matches you’re going to need later on. After a few pulls like that, you’ll be off the back.

Recognizing the problem within our group, we shuffled the order and paired up by relative strength. The stronger riders pulled longer because they could, the weaker riders took shorter pulls. I’d rather see riders who aren’t as strong pull through and peel off immediately if necessary, because that allows the group to continue at a constant speed. If you’re not strong enough to maintain that speed for a 1-, 2-, or 5-minute pull that’s okay, but it’s imperative that you pull through fast enough to maintain the group’s speed.

The alternative – pulling through and then staying at the front going a lower speed – is bad for everyone. The riders on the front are going slow compared to the group, but it’s a hard and tiring effort for them, which increases the likelihood they’ll get dropped later in the ride and cause the rest of us to wait up. The stronger riders who are now in the draft suffer, too, because the whole group accordions as we all hit the brakes. When the front pair pulls off, we’ll all have to accelerate again.

I was feeling good, having rested well after two high-volume weeks at our recent Buellton Spring Training Camps. But even though I was strong, I knew I wasn’t stronger than a 30mph headwind. When I wasn’t pulling hard on the front I was tucked as far into the draft as I could get. One of the things I learned as a pro racing the Classics in Belgium and northern France was that being vaguely on the wheel isn’t enough; in big winds it pays to be precise. Draft off the biggest guy you can find, stick your wheel between the wheels in front of you, stay in the drops – it all adds up. When you’re racing or you want to be one of the people driving the pace, getting the most out of the draft adds up to stronger pulls when it’s your turn to be on the front.

In the end, we didn’t set a new record for that 70-mile route. We returned to the office after 3 hours and 14 minutes on the road and missed the record by four minutes, but I was very proud of the group because everyone made the right decisions about their individual strengths. No one got dropped and we didn’t have to wait up at all. So when the March winds blow this weekend, or you’re out in the April showers, ride first with your head so you have the legs to make it to the end.

Chris Carmichael
Carmichael Training Systems

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