Lots to consider here. I will ask a few questions to shed some more light.
- If you do the Wednesday night ride, weekend rides, and training (workouts), how many hours are you riding a week and how many days, on average?
- You said you are not new to training. Have you done any other training outside of ZA workouts? Those only account for 2 or so months out of 12. In addition, ZA is a talent ID program, not a training program. The workouts are designed to bring out the strengths and weaknesses of participants- you could say they are more like tests, not a training plan with a progression.
- The “ripping your legs off” ride can be fun. Is your objective to be able to hang with the group? If so, yes, showing up to the rides sure help, because you learn the group dynamics (where people accelerate, hammer, slow down, etc), learn about the other riders and which wheels to follow or not follow (who pulls a lot, who pulls a little, who is the strongest, etc.), learn bike handling and positioning. So as you can see, it’s not all about power. There is a lot more to it. Check out this post: Fast Group Rides - how to hang on
- What is the style of the Wednesday ride? Is it race-like or is it “organized” (pacelines, single file, two by two etc.)?
One thing to keep in mind is… our bodies are unique, and things are not always simple. Cycling training is a lot like nutrition, in that everyone reacts differently to different regimes. But most importantly, not everything is what it looks. Once you start digging deeper, you often find that the rides/training/schedule, etc. of what we think people do is not what they actually do. So please do not compare your progression with your friends’.
Having said that, simply “training” isn’t the same as “effective training”. Also, you must consider your objectives. Why do you train? What do you want to accomplish?
Lastly, a word of caution: “all out”, “rip your legs off” rides take a tool, have a physical cost, and doing too many of them will interfere with the quality of training sessions. But again, it depends on what your goals are…
My own experience
I used to love group rides when I first started, then I started hating them. I was strong but couldn’t hang on. I suffered too much with the group surges, with the hill hammering, with the cross winds. So much so that I did not do group rides for a while (over a year, maybe two). During all that time I was doing structured training, by the way.
Then I changed coaches, and changed my training completely. My training became (and still is) so much aligned with real-life scenarios that it sparked my interest to race IRL and do group rides again. I found good groups (safe, strong and experienced riders) to ride with, and now I am able to hang on no problem at speeds as high as 25-30 mph. The difference is night and day and I am so much more confident. So for me, just doing the rides wasn’t enough. I needed the right training.