Fast Group Rides - How to hang on

@Coach_Theia and I did the obligatory “Mafia Ride” today. This is a 50ish mile group ride that happens on holidays only. Many of the fastest riders around show up. Speeds on the flats get up to 35mph. The ride can be pretty hairy… especially in the cross winds and transitions (cross to tail wind especially). The point of the ride is for the fast guys to try and drop everyone. It’s not the written rule, but that is basically the goal.

This was Theia’s first Mafia Ride. It takes a few attempts before you can really get comfortable. My goal was to keep her connected and avoid crashing. Here is how we did it.

The night before we looked at the course. We reviewed the sections where separations occur. She tried to memorize the mile markers and I tried to tell her before they happened (while riding). We also took note of the wind. Going from cross to tail wind is where the strongest surges happen, so you need to be ready for them. I’m always prepared to do a 15 second max effort at most turns. We also discussed the few small hills where guys drill it. They are only 30 to 60 second efforts but they are hard. Under normal circumstances, we would move up before the surges, but Theia hung in the back just to get the lay of the land. And “back there” is where carnage happens as people blow out the back.

About 20 miles in these maniacs fully blew a 4-lane red light going 30 mph with traffic coming from the green light. I was mid group and had to roll it and bridge. Theia did the smart thing and stopped at the light. Shortly after I stopped to wait. We took a shortcut and rejoined the group after a TT effort.

This time Theia moved up in the group and rode mid-pack. Riding mid-pack in a fast group ride is so much easier than the back. In the back you sometimes ride as hard as the people in the front as the surges and mini gaps gets exacerbated through the accordion in the peloton.

So here are the take aways:

  • Study the course. Take note of the fast sections and the hills
  • Move up well before the hard sections. That way you have a buffer to fall back.
  • Don’t ride in the back. You will get dropped, not because you are slow, but because you are working as hard as the people in front
  • Try to follow people that look strong and stable. You can tell this by looking at their hip movement when the pace accelerates. Don’t follow people whose hips swing from side to side. You can also note how they stand and accelerate. People who either don’t stand and accelerate or people who look unstable while standing are not good wheels to follow.
  • prepare to drill it on all the turns. Move up before them.
  • prepare to drill it on transitions (hill to downhill, cross to tailwind, cross to headwind)
  • prepare to drill it on tailwind in general. There is less draft so the people up front want everyone to feel the pain.

Also just know that people cannot go insanely hard for ever. The pace will slow down. If you are suffering others are too. Just hang in there. The pace will slow.


Here is the link of my ride on Strava:

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Check this out. We were riding west (into a cross head wind). We turned North (into a cross tail wind) and bam, massive surge. In order to do these fast rides you need to anticipate these changes and position for them. Theia snagged the QOM. I’m impressed!


More about the Mafia Ride, including a video of the Easter Mafia:

These are good tips, thanks. I seem to be forever riding last and then getting dropped off of the back even though I can hang on if I’m in the middle of the group. Sometimes even when I’m midpack people will pass me although I’m holding the pace. Then I end up at the back and get dropped. I’ve noticed that in faster groups people are more likely to claim and defend a spot in the line.
I HATE it when groups blow lights! Major pet peeve of mine. It’s dangerous, not a good representation of the sport, and annoys motorists who don’t need any more reasons to dislike cyclists.

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@stacypro in rides/races where riders are constantly fighting for position or trying to be at the front, if you are not also doing the same, you are going back (even if you are maintaining the pace), and will end up off the back. This is referred to as the “washing machine” effect, where riders move around like clothes in a washing machine, so you also need to be constantly positioning yourself to the front.

Our coach tells us “if you are not moving forward, you are moving back”. When I’m in a fast ride, I’m looking for people who are letting gaps open. If a rider is in the middle of a group and the smallest gap opens, I will go around them immediately. A one bike length gap can turn into three and closing those down when you are going fast accumulates over time.

Try to pay attention to the gap in front if you. If there is no gap, it’s hard for people to ride into it.

Some time ago I asked one of the most winning Cat 1 / Pros in our area… How do you continue to stay towards the front of a group? He said it’s all confidence. If you believe you belong in the front of a group, others will see your confidence and let you ride up there. And it’s so true.

One more thing to think about. I’m always looking at how someone rides a bike. If they are rocking back and forth when an effort gets hard, that generally means trouble. If you can control your body on the bike, people will think you are under control and won’t start planning for ways to get around you.

Totally agree on the blown lights. My #1 goal when I go out on the bike is to come home on the bike. Why run lights? There is no need.