Training hard and still sucking at group rides

This is not a pity post, I just don’t know what I’m doing wrong and am looking for direction.

I started cycling in the middle of 2018 with commuting to work, I decided to make cycling my sport in 2019 and have been training hard and consistently since then. I started with Trainerroad and ended up getting a coach in June of last year. I increased my volume to about 12 hours a week and brought my FTP up to about 300 watts in the last 2 years.

A couple months ago group rides started coming back in my area. I’ve never ridden with this group as I always thought they were too fast. To my surprise, I was able to hang on with them and I felt pretty good about it. 2 months later, I can’t hang on to them anymore and I’ve gotten dropped on every ride.

I got to know several of the guys and girls on the ride and none of them have ever trained consistently before. In fact they were very surprised that I have 3 interval sessions a week; at most they will do an interval ride once or twice in March before the season, but that’s it. All they need is a few weeks on a fast ride and they start getting fast again. They will be moving to the “A” ride next week while I’m getting dropped.

I know I’m relatively new to cycling (these folks have been at it for decades), but what am I even doing? What’s the point of all this pain when all these guys and girls need is to do a few fast group rides and they’re back at race fitness? It’s not like I’m useless, I do my pulls and work at the front, but everyone just blast by me when we hit the climbs.

1 Like

Are you getting dropped anywhere else besides the climbs? How steep are these climbs?

I’m guessing the other riders stay tighter in the pack for a better draft and probably have higher anaerobic capacity than you do. So when any sort of gap opens they close it immediately.

What’s your NP on these rides?

2 Likes

You forgot to mention your weight. 300watts is not much of you are 90kg

5 Likes

What training are you doing? sweet spot? have you done much VO2 max stuff? I find in a group having a high FTP doesnt help me much, its more my higher VO2 capacity that lets me stay on when its really hard, and push a decent turn. Apart from that im mostly sitting in zone2 anyway

Also, there is a reasonable amount of skill involved in being efficient in a group situation. This will take some time to pick up. Things such as picking the correct side of the wheel to follow based on the wind direction, picking the right wheel (hint: pick the tallest/biggest rider), measuring your turns on the front, so you have the anaerobic capacity still available for those harder kicks on the hills

1 Like

3 days of TR intervals + trying to do a race group ride is too much. Especially if new to it like you. TR has done a great job selling FTP, however, FTP and is just a sliver of riding/racing with fast riders.

Cycling is about moving O2. It can take some time to build pathways/adaptations. Stay at it. Durability is not talked about enough. That takes time.

Group rides/races are a lot about positioning and when and how you put power down. The only way to get better at them consistently.

10 Likes

Stop doing work and taking pulls on the flats and save your energy for hills.

14 Likes

Thanks for the reply.

My NP is around 200 watts for a 2.5 hour ride. Unfortunately I’m a barn door so I know I suffer even in the draft, but I’m nowhere near as surgey as I used to be. When I’m not pulling I’m either in the pack or tail-gunning (a-la Pete Morris); this has done wonders for me as I’m usually able to move through the pack after turns.

As for getting dropped, it’s usually on climbs but more recently it’s in crosswinds. Again, I’m a barn door so I don’t know if there’s anything I can do about that. I get yelled at when I try to hide from the wind, I guess because they figure since I’ve been pulling I can stay in the wind?

Very true. The group ride is basically several 5-10 minute efforts interspersed throughout the ride.

At this point I’m basically at the peak of my training. My coach has me doing super-threshold efforts and anaerobic efforts.

Lastly, about being efficient, if I try to be more efficient I’d be useless. I don’t mean that in a rude way, I would basically be sitting in the pack the whole time hiding from the wind. I want to put my work in, especially when the group is working hard through the wind. As for the right wheel, I’m basically the widest (not tallest) rider in the group so there’s no one else I can really hide behind.

Thanks for the reply.

I should correct what I said, I was doing 3 days of interval training but dropped that down to 2 when I started on the group rides.

As for the workouts, I think my coach’s workouts are significantly more difficult than the TR workouts; I know the workout levels don’t scale between TR and custom workouts, but my last anaerobic workout was a level 16.9 :grimacing:. That being said, I’ve talked to my coach about it and I’m thinking of dialing things back, I’m 43 years old and I don’t think I’m as resilient as his other athletes.

1 Like

I don’t mean this in a rude way, but wouldn’t that just make me useless? Can’t I have it both ways, useful and not get dropped? :stuck_out_tongue:

Group rides are dynamic…but your first goal should be to make it to the end. Once you can do that regularly, then start to add in some work. If you start getting dropped again, do less work and go again.

As you get stronger (and more confident from finishing the ride), you can do more work.

You are better off getting stretched to your limits, not working and finishing than if you do work and get dropped and then just riding back at your pace.

4 Likes

Its about being efficient when you are NOT on the front, doesnt mean you need to skip turns or anything, but you should be conserving all your effort for when you do take a turn. As i said measuring those efforts is also part of it. When i started doing faster group rides i would gas myself pulling turns, then get dropped on the climbs, or even just after pulling too many turns too hard. You need to leave some in the tank each time, even just getting back onto the train can be tough when its going really quick

Unless the group are all jerks, pulling shorter turns and hanging on longer will be appreciated, not the opposite. Id much rather have the extra rider pulling through towards the end of the ride than not

4 Likes

Good post from @jezza323 right there…a lot of people think taking a turn means they need to bury themselves. You don’t…hit the wind, take your turn, pull off and let the next guy through.

Also, don’t take pulls leading up to the hills or crosswind sections of you know that is where you struggle.

3 Likes

Why do you have to take a turn? Is there some weird rule?

I run a large cycling club and would NEVER expect EVERYONE to take a turn. That’s straight up wrong. That would require having a group of riders of equal strength, which is basically, impossible.

IMHO, a good group ride caters for all riders, not just the strongest. If these hero’s are so strong, why can’t they just lead the ride and take longer turns themselves?

How do they go about including smaller woman (I’m not saying that smaller woman are not incredibly strong etc) and young riders? Are they not allowed to join? Do they force them to take turns into head winds on the flat?

If you’re struggling on a group ride and your supposed ‘friends’ have a problem with you sitting in, I’d find a different group. One that is more inclusive.

Oh, and what is your coach training you for… some sort of national crit race?

Your riding friends have it nailed. Ride a lot, do as much Zone 2 (5 zone model) as you can possibly do. Do it regularly and all year round. This should be a majority of all cyclists riding. At least it should for the cyclists that want to reach their absolute peak in the long term.

Ditch all the interval BS for a while. You likely haven’t built a deep and wide aerobic base. Like most new cyclists, it sounds like you’ve started training the turbo, but maybe you haven’t built an engine.

Lots of icing, where’s the cake?

Basically, just do Z2 for days. Add in one intensity day a week. Do whatever you like, intervals, a Zwift race, a few KOM attempts, just a hard ride. Make your group ride your 2nd hard day. That’s plenty of intensity for anyone over forty per week.

It takes many years to build a powerful aerobic engine. Start now and you’ll be rewarded in the long term.

As noted above, you said 300w FTP, this is a nice number, but means absolutely nothing without the weight component. To better assist you’ll need to add weight, height, strengths, weaknesses and anything else you can think of that’s relevant.

Your FTP is much higher than mine for example, however I rarely get dropped on shorter climbs as my low FTP of 260w is coupled with a low weight of 60kg. So, if you’re being dropped on climbs with a 300w FTP, it’s likely weight is the issue.

Or your friends are monsters…

Finally, I’d also add the wrinkle that if your FTP is based on a ramp test, it could be significantly inflated. What’s your best ever 40-60min power?

21 Likes

This is an extremely well written reply @TheBandit. Well done.

I second this. We run a Saturday group ride and there is really only a few of us that roll turns at the front and moderate pace. Our goal is a no drop ride that is social, however, designed to push you above conversation pace. Obviously that is a hard goal to manage every Saturday as we welcome juniors along to learn road craft and signaling techniques, as well as riders who may be “building” and far from their prime. Generally what we do is we tuck the less powerful riders into the group and myself and three to four others will push a particular wattage at the front depending on who has rocked up and who we know is in the group. The guys in the middle let us know to pull back or push a little depending on what they see mid-pack. That’s how we roll. It isn’t the TdF. We want riders to enjoy themselves, learn how to ride in a bunch, but also push the pace a little so that it isn’t a walk in the park.

On the days where we have a clear delineation in power between riders, we split it between two rides and we have Group A do a higher wattage and more km’s, and Group B push lower wattage and less km’s. We set a time to meet at a café so that the social aspect is still there. Or on days where the headwind is intense, we stick together and make sure that everyone is covered.

Once again, agree with this. Largely a polarized approach here. This is how I train - 1 hard ride a week with a group ride on Saturday which is generally hard’ish pace for me at the front. I also add in a Block Periodization mesocycle of the ATP. See this YouTube video if you would like to learn more about it.

Correct. If you weigh 90kg and you have an FTP of 300w (3.33w/kg) it is starkly different to a 60kg rider with an FTP of 300w (5w/kg). Unfortunately gravity is a force that us cyclers haven’t managed to tame yet, so pushing an extra 10-15kg uphill is always going to mean you will need to push more watts to keep up. Really is highly dependent on weight.

3 Likes

@CH01 and @TheBandit , thank you both for your replies.

You’re right, my 300 watts are paired with a 93kg frame so no help on climbs with that. This is from a 20-minute FTP test. As for the aerobic engine, I think I made it out to sound like I just do super threshold and VO2 work, that’s just in the last few weeks. Prior to that I was doing sweet-spot to threshold for a couple months.

The group ride is a bit of a mix. It’s race-paced but there are neutralized areas, unfortunately all the neutralized points are the areas where I’d actually be able to pull ahead, e.g. descents and tight corners. So basically attack up the climbs but easy down descents. I think I mentioned this in an older post I made, and come to think of it, I’m basically just screwed on this ride aren’t I?

No, not at all. It is all about having a growth mindset and also a strengths and weaknesses approach. We all can’t be exceptional TT’ers, climbers, crit racers and track cyclists all in one physiological being. I mean I would personally love to be an amalgamation of Cadel Evans, Ganna, Bernal and Geraint Thomas but that is never going to happen.

If this ride is your main priority and you’d like to get better at sticking with the bunch, then perhaps look at the fundamentals of things that you can control and work on to make you a better cyclist on this course. Is the course mainly short punchier climbs? Or long climbs? Distance between climbs? What sort of efforts does the group do between climbs? Knowledge is power here. Then, alter your training to suite - do you need to increase your 5 minute power? Your sprint power? What energy systems are you strong in and which ones do you need to develop more? How can you structure your annual training plan to see rises in the specific fundamentals you want to improve?

Then you have other things as well like weight vs. health. If you are 6ft 4 and weighing in at 93kg then maybe that is a healthy weight range for you? If your diet is great then perhaps nothing to change there. Can you afford to lose 2-4kg and still maintain a healthy lifestyle? If you already are healthy and in a good weight range then perhaps improve the fundamentals is a better approach. However, if there are things in your diet that you can alter and you know that you can afford to lose a few kg’s then perhaps focus on improving the diet and cutting out refined sugars etc. in order to drop a few kg’s. Once again, you’d have to seek medical opinion on that and work out your own BMI and lifestyle habits, choices, workload etc. to ascertain where you are in terms of that metric.

5 Likes

My Club, runs multiple group rides per week, they are no drop, and split by speed (16/18/20/20+) , but they also do drop chain gangs, set route. turn up, last man sanding and the speeds are high, it sounds to me like this is the later, and there is nothing wrong with that if that’s what the ride is advertised as ?

What’s the average speed of these rides, do you have a link you could post ? Are these advertised as as race paced drop rides ?

We have a no drop chain gang on a thursday which has a average speed of around 23/24mph, missing turns / cutting them short is fine but you are are encouraged to give it a go if you can, the drop chain gang is 25+ and I’ve been dropped leaving the meeting place, but you have to do your turns, if you can’t you shouldn’t be there, it’s race training, it think it’s important to clarify if this is a group ride, a chain gang, or a drop training ride

Your height and weight might be working against you, I’m smaller and lighter and HAVE to make my advantage on the climbs, always play to your strengths

2 Likes

As you say, absolutely nothing wrong with a proper drop ride. I had assumed that is what the described ride was.

Try measuring your efforts, pull off the front before you are really on the limit. Try being efficient, you say you are a barn door, try not to be! (easier said than done I know). Practice practice practice, it took me a good 6 months before I could actually pull turns on the front the whole way on my Friday all in drop rides.

3 Likes

I’m going to be really blunt here, hopefully it doesn’t get taken the wrong way.

At 93 kg, you’re going to be at a big disadvantage when the road goes up with a relatively low FTP of 300W. Emphasis on relatively, because it’s in comparison to the other rides in the group. On a flat or downhill, your weight doesn’t make much difference, but on a climb, 3.22 W/kg will spit you right off the back in a fast group. On the flats, work on being as aero as possible to make the most of your power. Don’t be a hero when you pull, it’s possible you feel like you have something to prove, and are cooking your legs before the fun really starts. Since you’re on the bigger side, if you’re sitting too upright, wearing a loose-fitting jersey, riding on the tops when you’re pulling, etc, you’re going to be wasting most of your power on drag rather than speed, like how an incandescent bulb produces more heat than light, compared to an LED bulb.

There’s a difference between doing 300W for 20min when you’re fresh, and doing the same once you have 50-100km in your legs. Intervals are all well and good, but if that’s all you do, you build a brittle engine that’s only good for short rides, in my opinion. Several 90min Z2 rides during the week, and a good, honest 3-5 hour Z2 ride on the weekend will do wonders. I’ll also add that it’s hard to do a good Z2 ride with a group, at least in my limited experience. Pick a reasonably flat route so you minimize the time you’re not pedaling because of a descent. Holding a constant 180-210W for several hours might sound easy, but you’ll feel it at the end, if you did it right.

You said the people in your group have been riding for years, which means they’ve likely had lots of Z2 time, and have built up strong aerobic engines. That’s also why they’re surprised by your interval intensity compared to what they’re doing. Unless you’re ridiculously genetically gifted, you’re not going to cheat the system, and build up in 2-3 years what they’ve had 5, 10, 20+ years to build. This is what also helps durability/sustainability, or being able to put in a hard effort on a climb, and properly recover for the next effort, over and over.

Just for my N=1 sample set - turning 40 in July, 78-79kg, 177cm, 81cm inseam, 335 FTP. Over the past 1.5 years, I did lots of SS and threshold with TR, but I almost always had a longer Z2 ride on the weekend. For the past 3-4 months, I switched to doing a lot more Z2 instead of SS, since I was averaging 10-12 hours per week, which (I think) is enough for a more polarized approach. So far it’s been terrific. Twice a week I’ll do a harder ride with VO2, threshold, or SS. When I do the latter two though, it’s typically for longer durations. Threshold and over/under intervals are 15-30 minutes, SS (88-92%) 30-120 minutes. When I was doing tons of SS, I usually felt good, only a few weeks here and there where the fatigue started to creep in, and I’d get irritable. That’s improved in the past few months, too.

Anyway, I’m rambling. Be more aero and efficient on the flats. Build a bigger engine with long Z2 rides (at 12 hrs/week, you have the time). Reducing intensity will also leave you fresher for the group ride. Not sure what your body composition looks like, if you have some weight to lose, focus on that, count calories, no late night snacks, just water, i.e. no/minimal calories, for rides under an hour, etc.

13 Likes