Monday, September 26, 2016

Training - The Group Ride

One of the things that bugs me about group rides is that inevitably some riders treat the ride as their own personal race. Or they do their own thing during the group ride.

I know that in the old days I either rode with a pretty disciplined group (generally speaking it was with the club I belonged to) or, sometimes, less disciplined ones.

I have to admit that when I was in charge of the school's cycling team I started losing some control over the group rides. It's not as much being weaker, because I was, but it was that some riders would just hammer themselves into oblivion regardless of the goal of the ride. If the ride was supposed to be hard, okay, fine, but if it was supposed to easy, or if we were in the warm up part of the ride, the expectation was that you'd ride the same pace as the leader.

It's tough to slow down, I get it. Think about when you're driving on the highway, whatever speed feels about right, maybe 63 in a 55. Then you get behind someone that's going, say, 61. Or 59. Most people will pass when they can, not slow down to the slower driver's speed.

Unlike driving though with bikes I'm the engine, and with group rides I'm already pretty challenged to maintain pace. My FTP is definitely on the low side, 200w on a year like this one, maybe 220w on a spectacular year, like in 2010 when I upgraded to Cat 2. In races I can work with those numbers because I "snipe", meaning I target specific races. I select those that are flat or, even better, have a short hill at some point. The short hill courses, like Bethel or New Britain, work best for me because I can always punch up a short hill and there's got to be some descending elsewhere and I recover on that bit.

At any rate I avoid races with hills and, given reasonable form, I can hold my own.

Zwift Challenges

On Zwift I'm even more challenged than normal. The main reason is that the drafting engine isn't quite there so the benefits of drafting don't stack up like they do in real life. In addition there's some kind of virtual brake so as soon as you stop pedaling it's like you're braking. In real life I coast a LOT during a race, or soft pedal at zero watts, literally 10 or 20 seconds at a time. I've even seen as much as 3 to 5 seconds of coasting during a sprint where I contested the finish. Coasting is how I survive a race and average 160 or 180 watts. In Zwift if you coast for 20 seconds you'll be off the back of any group out there, of any size. If you soft pedal for maybe 5 seconds you'll realistically be at the very back of a big group, off the back of a smaller group.

To make things worse Zwift shorts me some power, about 35w with the Kurt Kinetic Road Machine, at least compared to my SRM. I believe the SRM before I believe the calculated power from Zwift, else it means I upgraded to Cat 2 with an FTP of 185w, which I highly doubt, or that I averaged 27.5 mph during the 2011 Tour of Someville while doing just 140 watts, which, again, I highly doubt.

Who knows, maybe my SRM is optimistic but I seriously doubt it. For whatever reason Zwift shorts me about 35w with the KK Road Machine.

With Zwift my 160-180w race pace becomes more like 125-145w (because Zwift shorts me 35w). At my current weight that's 1.6-1.8 w/kg. Although I'm barely capable of holding 2.0 w/kg in real life, on Zwift I fall below that cusp. I can't hang with a B ride for sure, nor a C ride, and I struggle with D rides, the 2 w/kg rides.

If I do a group ride on Zwift I look for the Sub2 rides, which over the 2015-2016 winter typically targeted 1.5 w/kg on the flats, 2 w/kg on the hills.

I joined one the other day and we were out of the blocks at well over 2 w/kg, which, if you look at the numbers above, is like me averaging at least 190w in real life. One of the hardest races I ever did was the 2010 Francis J Clarke race and I averaged 187w there. 2011 Cat 2 Tour of Somerville, 175w. So 190w, which is only 2 w/kg on Zwift, annihilates me.

I dropped off that ride pretty quickly.

Fine, I'm Weak

I understand I'm weak on the bike, and I'm okay with it. What gets me is that people are joining a Sub2 ride and then not riding Sub2. If someone joins a group ride then there's this implication that they're going to follow the ride's goals, the ride's stipulations.

For example, if I go do some super hard group ride, I'll go there with the expectation that I'm going to get shelled and it's my responsibility to figure out how to get back to the cars. Generally I'll be okay until the road tilts up, I get shelled, and then I decide do I turn around or should I keep going.

And that's fine.

At the same time if I'm on a easy group ride then I don't expect anyone to do any hard riding, or if they do they'll be waiting, foot on the ground, at the top of the hill or at the next intersection or something like that.

With Zwift it's even more... I don't know, it's more clear cut. You can see riders long after they're out of sight. Not only that, you can see their power, and, if you click on their name, you can actually see their heart rate and cadence.

You get a good idea of what they're doing, if they're struggling or just sightseeing.

Why Join A Too-Slow Group?

So why do these riders insist on joining an easier group and then blowing it apart by riding above its advertised level?

I don't know. Is it ego? Insecurity? Ignorance? Lack of self control?

Celebrity Rides

Every now and then I'm fortunate enough to have a celebrity ride with whatever group, sometimes even a race. Marc Wauters, a long time Rabobank pro, showed up for Gimbels one day. Because he wasn't riding hard we got to talk to him, and it was great, to be able to talk to this guy that you realize when you get home that, oh wow, he was in the finale in Paris Roubaix! and he was leading out Tchmil for the finish of Ghent! And he did the Giro. The Worlds. And this and that and the other thing.

At one race way, way back a recently crowned Mike McCarthy showed up at a race in World Champion colors (US Pro Crit champ, world pro pursuit champ, technically not WC on the road but hey, he's a WC at something). The first lap was like a wedding reception paceline thing were there was a line of riders dropping back and saying congrats to Mike, who, to his credit, was politely thanking everyone for their congratulations. Then after everyone got that out of the way Mike just smashed the field to pieces.

It was awesome.

Now those are racer celebrities. There are other celebrities that you get to ride with. Maybe a state representative or a mayor or something. Maybe the President, or Vice President. They're not "cyclists" per se so you ride with them like you're riding with your mother/father (if s/he doesn't ride), or, say, your grandmother/father (if s/he doesn't ride).

You take it easy. You watch them ride. You adjust your pace to theirs. You make them feel welcome to the group. If you wanted to get a workout  you wait until after the ride to go hard, or, even better, you do a bunch of hard efforts before the ride.

Today's Ride

Today (Sept 22) I did a group ride, advertised at 2-2.5 w/kg, an "easy" ride, but with one catch.

A guest rider.

Romain Grosjean.

He's an F1 driver. Admittedly he had a tough start to his F1 career but he's matured and he's one of only 22 full time F1 drivers in the world. Significantly he's one of the drivers that actually gets paid to drive - many are pay-to-drive drivers - and he's held in high enough regard that just his presence helped legitimize Haas Racing's new F1 team.

As an F1 driver he has to be somewhat fit. He said (during the ride, one of the few questions he got to answer in an hour) he rides about 2500 km a year (1500 miles), runs 800 km (500 miles), and works out in the gym and plays tennis. But he's not a world champion cyclist or anything.

So automatically my thought was, "Okay, this is a celebrity, the group should take it easy. If he wants to push a bit then he'll rev up everyone else's competitive spirits and it'll be game on.

Remember the ride with your mother/father or grandmother/grandfather? You watch them, let them set the pace, then adjust to whatever they do.

You don't go and blast up the first hill and shell them.

So what happens at the start of the "Romain Grosjean" ride?

Literally 2/3 of the group goes and shells him, hammering at the front.

I don't have solid data but I saw lots of 2.5-3.0 w/kg up front. With Zwift's limited drafting benefit it is harder than real life to stay together, yet these riders were at the front going well over the advertised ride pace.

For what?

I say again, for what?

To say that they beat Grosjean in a virtual bike ride? To get him pedaling so hard he can't answer questions from fans of F1 who happen to be on Zwift?

It took a lot of CAPS LOCK pleas to get the front group to ease a bit, but as soon as Grosjean was on the hammer went back down.

I was off the back pretty quickly so I eased, letting them lap me. I was only on my second lap, they were on their third, and the third/last lap was an open free for all per the ride description. I had a selfish thought here - with such a big group, and with the group racing, I could try and beat my PR for the green jersey sprint. I usually start the sprint at about 24-25 mph, but if I could jump at a higher speed I could take literally a second or more off my PR.

Per the ride leaders they did keep it together until the start of the sprint, saying that the start line for the sprint was the place to go go go (the "go" words were in caps). Even Romain himself messaged the group to ride as they pleased once the "race" was on. This means the group did 3/4 of the lap under some kind of control.

So I got in the group just before the sprint (i.e. they caught me). I was looking forward to sprinting down into the 21s range, possibly into the 20s, depending on how my legs felt.

I got to the sprint, I jumped really late at the line per the ride rules (not 5-8 seconds before), went a few pedal strokes...

Then I stopped because it looked like no one was sprinting.

I mentioned before you can see other riders' power, specifically their w/kg ratio. If their power goes up a lot the number turns orange. However most of the riders weren't even bright white, they were still regular white.

Well one guy was orange but I didn't want to be one of the two nimrods that sprinted to show Romain just who's boss. So I chilled on the sprint.

Then, about 3 or 4 seconds later, I saw other riders sprinting, so, after a bit of internal debate on if this was a dick move or not, I did another jump.

Ends up that after all the stutter start/stop I posted the third best time of the group. The guy that jumped on his own posted the best time. It was insane, 19.9s or something, I've never broken 20s in this physics model. He jumped early, was in the 13-15 w/kg range, and held it to the line. I think it's justified and probably accurate. With a 30 mph leadout I think low 20s would have been possible, mid 21s would have been pretty slow.

Of course it helps if I had actually sprinted the whole sprint.

In looking back at the data it looks like I sprinted for 2 seconds before shutting it down, then waited about 5 seconds before doing a half hearted sprint to the line, sitting up a bit early because I was disappointed that I didn't jump at my normal mark before the start line and go all the way to the finish.

Nonetheless I did a 22.97 second sprint. This is the same time as a pretty poor solo attempt a bit earlier this week but one that ended up my 30 day best until today (22.99).

I didn't take a shot of the leaderboard but I was third after the sprint.
The list of riders to the right are all part of the group ride.
I'm slowing hard (4 mph) so they're passing me en masse.

After The Sprint

After the sprint I recovered at my normal 0-1 mph, 5-20 watt pace. The group quickly disappeared, literally in fact. Once a rider gets to the end of the ride they revert to a normal rider, not a group rider, and dropped off the visible riders in the "group ride list". Ends up me and a guy named Mike were the only two that decided to do the third lap solo, and he was a few minutes ahead of me, looks like about 12 minutes by the time I finished the final lap.

Typical road race result for me. Dead last, 35 minutes down from the leader.
This would have been a short road race, like 30-40 miles.
Note that all the other riders have zero heart rates. They're already logged off the ride.

In group ride mode you can't see non-group ride members except when they pass you. Can't message others. Can't search for them. Etc. So although there were about 500 riders on the course I was really alone.

I started thinking of stuff on this final lap.

I understand that I'm weak on the bike, weaker still on Zwift. But the 2-2.5 w/kg ride pace should have been possible for me, at least for a lap. I got about 8 minutes in before I had to pull the plug.

I understand riders want to go hard, go fast, go at whatever pace they want. I get that.

What I don't get is when a rider joins a group and blatantly, obviously, rides above the pace and shreds the front of the group. The ride leader has a couple options. One is to ignore the offender. Another is to call them back. A third is to chase down the offenders.

Unfortunately the third option will push people over the edge. I've seen this happen where the ride leader says, "Okay, follow me, I'll pull you up" and half the riders basically explode. They were already redlined and the pace increase killed them. Limited draft, redlined riders... not a good combination.

The first option, ignoring the offender, works sometimes, but if people start bridging it gets tough. There's a critical mass point where if, say, 2/3 of the riders ends up in the front group, well, that's 2/3 of the group.

The second option, calling them back, sometimes works, sometimes doesn't.

I don't understand the mentality of "winning" a group ride.


One big difference, I think, is that I actually race sanctioned races. We race for a known goal, typically the finish line after a number of laps, and with a controlled environment you usually get a good idea of where you stand. Sometimes I do okay, often I don't.

I'm good with that.

When I'm not racing I don't need to "beat" other riders. You want to pass me while I'm climbing this hill? Go ahead. Want to sprint past me to make the light? Be my guest. In Florida in 2009 my 7 year old niece wanted to race me, her on her scooter and me on my bike.

She won every time.

In fact with Zwift I toodle along at ridiculously low wattages, 60 or 80 watts or some absurdly low power like that. I like doing sprints at designated points because, frankly, I want to see if I can get the green jersey, but it's a 100% effort that makes it even harder for me to hold even minimal power levels after the sprint.

Going for lowest average power possible.

If you look at the above screenshot you'll see that I averaged 51w, 87w, 65w, 145w, and 93w. What's kind of ironic is that the hardest ride, the 145w one, I quit after 26 minutes because it was a Sub2 group sustaining well over a 2 w/kg pace.

I also skipped mentioning the 33w partial ride since it was me briefly contemplating riding on my own and deciding I'd much rather read to Junior.

Put me in a group ride (not a race) and it's all about the group. I don't sprint unless the ride leader says we're sprinting. I don't attack the group, I don't push harder just because I can. Admittedly I'm rarely in that situation but it's happened.

It's disappointing to go through everything I need to do to join a group ride and then have it ruined because the ride doesn't follow the advertised pace. I've gotten my dad settled, or, worse, asked the Missus to handle some of my responsibilities. Left Junior for bed without reading him a few books or even checking up on him as he's drifting off into la la land. But I do that now and then because I'd like to get in a group ride that has a pace I can handle.

Then the group hammers, redlines me, and eventually sheds me.

And to join this ride I made the choice to sacrifice a bit of family time. I could easily ride later, on my own, but then I wouldn't have the group to ride with, the conversation, the feeling of solidarity, etc.

However this is what I miss when I'm joining a Sub2 ride at 8 PM:

Reading to Junior.
Bella is the feline sitting on the edge of the bed rail.

I make the call to ride instead of read to Junior, I acknowledge that. However I make the call with a certain expectation of the ride.

On the Romain ride I elected to stay on, mainly because it was a weird time ride (2:30 PM) and we'd all have time after the ride. However on that 145w ride a few days prior?

I climbed off the bike, went upstairs, let Junior know that I'd read after I showered, and then I got to read some books with him.

1 comment:

fastk9dad said...

I've experienced much of the same with group rides on Zwift - total hammer fests much of the time. I did a TGIF ride last week and that went really well. 2.0w/kg was the advertised pace and the leader stuck to that. Yes there was a group that went off the front but we had a big group that stayed with the ride leader and we had some fun, probably one of the best group rides yet.