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At this time of year the roads are spilling over with large groups of riders in their club colours benefiting from increased motivation by riding in a group on cold and damp days. This notoriously signals the traditional start to winter preparation for many athletes, emphasising building ‘base’ or 'endurance', which is perceived by many as the benefits gained from such training rides.
Drafting restricts power output. Everyone is aware of the benefits of drafting. It is one of the first skill individuals learn when new to road cycling. Whilst drafting in groups of 4-20 riders enables individuals to receive shelter it also results in a lower intensity of training. It can be anything from 20-40% reduced power riding within a group rather than taking a turn at the front. These percentages will of course be affected by terrain, wind/weather conditions and technique of individual. When you start to count up the amount of days/hours spent in a group and equate the amount of hours within each ride spent 'drafting' a pattern emerges of large quantities of time at an intensity that does not bring a desired training stimulus to make gains in performance.
The Training Peaks screenshots of a rider powerfile below provides data from the same rider, more or less the same route, two different weekends, one with a group…the other on their own. This clearly illustrates the point on drafting and making training gains.
A simple insight but compelling evidence to the level of training stimulus riding as a group provides. Time spent 'coasting' or inactivity can vary from ride to ride but the example shown is a generalisation of what we see on various group rides over weekends. The time spent to bring around a training stimulus to enhance 'endurance' or 'base' (whichever term you like to use) can be achieved in a shorter space of time by training more productively in smaller groups or solo. The ability to control your pace, constant effort and power is a luxury for those people who are looking to get the most out of their training on limited time which needs to be maximised.
By this point you probably think that we are not in favour of riding in groups, that’s certainly not the case. We realise the local 'club run' is almost equivalent to a meeting or club room that sports like football, rugby or cricket have at the heart and soul of each club and team. Cycling is no different. The club run is the first point of contact for many people new to the club and cycling. These rides are the first place keen individuals look for advice from experienced riders to help them improve fitness and technical skills. Club and group training SHOULD be part of most people’s training regime but with an increased level of understanding what each session brings and adjust mid week training to complement the weekend group rides.
The confidence and motivation gained when riding in a group sometimes adds greater performance gains come race day than adding extra watts, although the ability to get epic '5hr' training rides in a group is a lot easier than solo! All this of course brings confidence, skills, motivation and enhanced ability to maintain a physical effort for prolonged periods of time which will have a positive long term effect – whatever your goal.