We had a great ride today. But that’s not what this post is about. It’s about Darwinism, sort of. It’s about etiquette, or more appropriately, expectations on a training ride. It’s a good story with a happy, albeit unresolved ending, so I invite you to follow along with a positive appreciation for the age-old question, “Do I stay or do I go?” I am interested in your input and thoughts on the subject. You can post a response below if you want to join in the dialogue.
Cyclists are sometimes known for their egos. I am reminded of this from my family everyday. “Why don’t you do another sport in the winter?” they say. “Because I am a cyclist,” I say, adding imaginary quotations in the air. That’s something that I am proud of. But it sometimes comes with the excess baggage that a lonely, often dark and brooding sport requiring hours of repetitive motion conjures up. I sometimes live in my own competitive world complete with goals only known to me in a kind of mysterious reality that is hard to explain. This animation (not appropriate for all ages) does a pretty good job of it though. http://www.xtranormal.com/watch/12674956/cycling-explained?mid=546.
While the humorous animation was largely about what we ride, my questions are about how we ride. Let me preface the rest of the discussion by saying that, overall, as a collective, I am really pleased with how our high-performance cycling community handles themselves in a group training dynamic. Sure we have moments that are off the charts in one way or another, but on average, we generally look out for the welfare of the group even as we try to stay true to our own inner training barometer.
Today’s ride challenged us with some big swings in levels of fitness and preparation. There were about a fourteen of us on the ride, a large group for this time of year. A few seasoned veterans were on the ride as were some of our elite riders and relative newcomers to the sport. Our first situation arose when a rider flatted on the way out to the flashers, just a few miles out of town on 446. It turns out that he didn’t have a tube. He came with a couple of other riders, teammates I supposed. We all stopped to survey the situation. I suggested that he borrow a tube from one of his mates and asked if a a few of them could stay with him and catch us on the way back. It seemed like a good compromise for a variety of reasons; we were close to home and the rider could turn back, he had support from riders who wished to help, it was frigid out and asking all to wait may have jeopardized the whole group and the ride, it was a posted route (and an out and back) so it should have been familiar to the rider. In my estimation, this sort of contingency plan is a good one as well as one that we should feel good about. The rider in difficulty has a role as well and can also take charge if he/she wishes by sending the group on its way, fixing the flat and chasing, or heading on another route. The rider complicated his plight, and put all of us at a disadvantage, or at least in a quandary by not being prepared with a spare tube. However, that’s an aside, as we decided a smaller group was going to wait anyway. This (a flat) happens to us all at some point. Unless I am in an unfamiliar area, I am generally happy to send the group on its way and I adjust my training to get me home.
In the second instance, as the remainder of the group rode tempo in a two-person paceline towards the flashers, there were some surges on the front that, on the whole, put some of us, present company included, into moderate difficulty. Now, I accept this as part of the training experience, even in January, but some of my colleagues on the bike were of a different mind. In my estimation, if a rider, in an otherwise structured ride chooses to advance, then that’s his or her prerogative. We don’t have to respond. I don’t necessarily agree with this tactic, but that horse has literally, left the stable. As a young cyclist, I would often (and still do) marvel at the fitness of the collective group, and in particular, the prowess of a few elite cyclists seemingly effortlessly pulling away from me. It never occurred to me to ask them to train to my standards, rather, it was up to me to train to theirs. However, I do agree that in a homogeneous group there should be a discipline that transcends half-wheeling and spontaneous attacks, etc. This benefits the group as a whole and the result is generally greater than the sum of its parts. Consider a break in a race that settles into a smooth paceline that continues to pull away from the field. This is what we aspire to. That one moment. That’s the masterpiece of performance cycling and the culmination of all of our training. To this end, cycling is a beautiful sport that’s painted in long brush strokes across these roads. It’s in our nature to race our bicycles as fast as we possibly can during that short Summer that we’re able. After that, we can only watch from the sidewalk as others inevitably come to take our place.
My suggestion, rather than decide not to ride with a group because its above or below your pay grade, embrace the differences. Come out and train with them. Even if you can only stay on for a short while. A mixed group of cyclists training on our hilly roads is likely to split into a couple of segments. This is natural and expected, not something to be scornful of. If a cyclist in the lead group chooses to come back to the chasers and lend a hand, then that’s their choice. Does that make the chase group better racers? Should a rider self-relegated to a chasing group feel put out because he or she was dropped? Should the lead group somehow feel guilty because they are in better fitness than the riders in the second group? These are personal questions, liable to bring out the best and worst in us. I am confident that you’ll take the high road with your recommendations, thoughts and participation.
We are fortunate to have so many high performing racers in the area. Learn from them. But to do this, you have to ride with them. And to the elite riders I say, ride with up and coming racers. Teach them the value of a disciplined ride, but make them earn their place in the group- gently if it’s possible.