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A secret of the pro peloton has always been their ability to ride with a fluid motion at a high intensity, seemingly effortless to the viewer. Watch any of the big races and you will see a grace of effort that is produced by some of the world’s top pro cyclists. This is noticeable not only in the classic style one day races and time trials, but also the long alpine climbs, which the world’s best seem to glide over with a romantic technique, shredding up the road and producing impressive wattage.
One of the components of this graceful effort is motor pacing, used by many of the world’s top cyclists as part of a very structured training plan to help them improve many different areas from climbing, sprinting, threshold, cadence and so on.
Motor pacing is where a motorised vehicle paces the rider. The rider rides closely behind the vehicle to gain a draft, much like they would do in a race situation. Just like racing, the speed needs to be high to gain the maximum benefits of the activity. This can either be with a car or scooter/motor bike; scooter is the regular choice for the pros when possible.
The main reason behind it is to help you develop your ‘race form’ and this can sometimes be the final piece of training when coming into top form or aiming for a big event. The real benefit of motor pacing lies in its ability to simulate the variable nature of racing with fluctuating power outputs i.e. coasting, accelerating and constant power. This improvement in your leg speed is what you are trying to simulate in a race. Developing your muscle fibres and aerobic system to handle this variance using a high cadence and less torque is one of the main aims.
This type of effort is difficult to produce in a solo training session without a motorised aid to help develop the speed. Yes, you can produce the same sort of wattage for a similar duration without being motor paced, but the neuromuscular effort needed for the two sessions can be variant from one to another and this is what makes it different when pacing behind a vehicle.
The ability to simulate group riding on a slightly rolling course and accelerate on the shorter hills at a high pace and high cadence using the scooter as drafting (similar to sitting in a bunch) - exactly how it is done in a race situation - is close to impossible to mimic on a solo training run. Producing this high end wattage effort at a high cadence, low torque, high speed in a fluid motion is exactly the action you all watch in the world's biggest races. This is why motor pacing can be such a great training tool.
This tool is a luxury for most people and care needs to be taken when doing such sessions. Being aware of the road surface (avoid pot holes and uneven roads) is essential and having an experienced pilot in the driving seat is a must. Of course, there are many components to the fluidity of the pro peloton, but motor pacing is certainly one of them.