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4 Tips to Becoming an Expert at Drafting

From Trainright.com

Financial advisors will tell you that the way to get (or stay) rich is to not just make more money, but also avoid wasting it. The same is true with how athletes get faster. It’s not just about how much power you can produce or how high you can push your lactate threshold pace. It also pays to be frugal with your energy and economical with your efforts. And just like a great financial plan, it’s best to establish good habits and learn the fundamentals early on so you’re an expert by the time the stakes are much higher.

In cycling, mountain biking, and triathlon the stakes get higher as the speeds increase. That’s why I think it’s crucial for athletes – competitors and non-competitors alike – to focus on skills right from the beginning. A classic example from cycling is the young criterium racer who upgrades through the racing categories as quickly as possible on points, but never learns to win a race in the lower categories. When you get to Category 2 you’re racing Pro-1-2 events, and that’s a hard place to learn how to finish at the front. In contrast, when you learn how to win by winning races as a Cat 4 and Cat 3 you have the fundamentals down and you’ll have a fighting chance when you finally develop the speed to be in contention in the final lap of a Pro-1-2 crit.

A more common example everyone can relate to is following a wheel in a group ride. The time to learn the fundamentals is when the group is going relatively steady at a moderate pace. But instead, that’s often when athletes get complacent. You don’t see the importance of sticking close to the wheel ahead of you or finding the optimal drafting position because the effort required to maintain your position isn’t hard.

If you can position yourself perfectly when the going is easy, then you’ll be able to do it when the group is going flat out in a 30mph crosswind. But if you’re not an expert at finding a draft on a calm day how can you expect to be any good at it when it really matters? Remember, it’s not just about the power you can produce. It’s also about not wasting energy. Poor positioning and inefficient drafting wastes power with every pedal stroke you make, every gasping breath you take.

When you’re working on becoming an expert at drafting I tell athletes to envision a drafting pocket. When you’re in the pocket you’re getting a great draft and saving as much energy as you can. But the pocket is rarely directly behind the wheel in front of you. It moves right and left based on where the wind is coming from, and it gets bigger and smaller based on the speed you’re going, the speed of the wind, and the size of the rider ahead of you. The benefits of being perfectly in the pocket may be smaller when you’re going at a moderate pace, but the consequences of being outside the pocket are dire when the going gets tough.

Here are a few tips for finding and staying in the pocket:

1. GET COMFORTABLE DRAFTING CLOSE BEHIND THE RIDER IN FRONT OF YOU

The benefit of drafting drops off very rapidly as the distance between you and the rider ahead of you increases. Whether it’s behind or beside the rider ahead of you, being closer is better than being farther away. The only way to get comfortable with close quarters riding is to do it over and over again.

2. USE THE DRAFTING POCKET TO ADJUST YOUR SPEED

By moving out of the pocket a bit to catch more wind you can slow down without touching your brakes. This keeps you from running up on the wheel ahead of you and gives you the opportunity to get a better view of what’s up the road.

3. LOOK FOR EXTERNAL CLUES FOR WIND DIRECTION

Sometimes it can be difficult to figure out exactly where the wind is coming from. Look at long grasses, bushes, trees, flags etc. at the side of the road for information. High flagpoles are sometimes the best because they often have unobstructed exposure to the wind.

Get in the drops or drop your elbows so your forearms are nearly horizontal if you’re riding on the hoods. The point is to make yourself smaller in the wind. This will be especially important if the rider you’re drafting on is either small or has a low, aerodynamic riding position. If the only place you’re comfortable and powerful on your bike is upright with your hands on the hoods or tops, there’s a problem with your bike fit. If you want to survive in the wind, you have to be able to ride powerfully with your shoulders relatively low (whether that’s in the drops or with horizontal forearms, which in some cases is an even more aero position than in the drops).

4. LEARN TO LOOK “THROUGH” THE RIDER AHEAD OF YOU

The closer you get to the rider ahead of you the more that person blocks your view of the world ahead of you. You end up zeroed in on their butt, and even if it’s a nice butt it’s not a good idea to stare at it. You need to use glances to the sides and down to the road ahead to build a composite view of what’s ahead. As you move in and out of the pocket to the side you get short glimpses of the terrain and pack ahead, and looking diagonally to the sides you can pick up cues from riders nearby. Basically, your focal point should be in front of the rider ahead of you – and much farther ahead if possible – so that you’re not focused on the stitching on the seams of his or her chamois.

Looking “through” the rider ahead of you also helps with stability. When you’re walking a balance beam it’s best to look farther out ahead of you rather than at the beam at your feet. The same is true on the bike. If you look at the wheel or butt a foot away your handling will be squirrely. If your focus is further ahead of you, “through” the rider directly blocking your view, you’ll ride a straighter line.

Relatively calm days with little to no wind can be the best opportunities to master your drafting techniques. Remember, there’s never any benefit to catching more wind than you have to and the mark of a truly expert cyclist is riding close and comfortable, in the draft, even when the going is easy. When it’s time to ride in the wind at the front, give a good effort. When it’s time to draft, be awesome at it.

Eat Like a Cyclist

Be smart about food to consolidate your gains on the bike. Here's how.

Written by Selene Yeager with Leslie Bonci, MPH, RD, courtesy of Bicycling Magazine

So you want to get fit and fast, and feel great? The riding is the key to reaching that goal, but your eating habits might need to change, too. Accounting for the food you take in is the necessary first step. Too often people want to overhaul their eating but don't have a clue about what they are currently doing. They don't think about how many times a day they eat, or where, or how fast they plow through lunch, and so on. The answer: Write down what you consume.

Now Recording

Several kinds of food journals are available; you can find them online and in the book we're excerpting here. Keep a log daily if possible, to identify patterns then pick the areas you want to work on.

The more detail you provide, the more you'll get out of this. Just writing "sandwich" is not nearly as revealing as "turkey and cheese on whole wheat with lettuce and tomato" or "meatball hero." And that goes for amounts, too. A glass could be a vat, and a handful could be a small jar. Use measuring cups and spoons. Often when people try to lose weight, portion control is the biggest barrier. After three days, use the log to adjust your eating habits going into the following week.

Time of Day

Are your calories spread evenly through the day? If so, good. If not, it's probably true that like many people, you're eating most of your food at night. Think about how you can redistribute those calories for energy all day long, starting with your morning meal.

Where

Location is more of a factor than you might think. If you always eat in front of your computer and find yourself snacking soon after your meal, that's a flag that you're not registering that you just ate because you're distracted. Eating should be an event in and of itself.

Rate

Winning the award for grab, gulp, and go? The "prize" is generally excess pounds. If it takes you less than 20 minutes to finish a meal, work on slowing down to prevent overeating.

How Much

Your plate should be filled with reasonable portions. Three ounces of meat is about the size of a deck of cards. Grains, potatoes, pasta, and rice should be about the size of one tightly balled fist. The correct portions are probably a little smaller than you think they should be because we, as a society, have been supersizing for more than a decade. Start cutting down to the right sizes. You won't miss the excess.

10 Rules to Group Ride Like a Pro

From active.com

There are a basic rules every cyclist should follow in order to ride properly in a group. It will keep you safer and help you to have more fun out on the road. The problem is that few cyclists know and follow these simple rules.

Whether you're new to the sport or a veteran on the bike, these 10 rules and refreshers will help you on your next group ride.

Rule 1: It's Not a Race

A group ride is NOT a race. You are not to "attack" off the front or try to show everyone how strong you are. That's what races are for.

Rule 2: Bar-to-Bar

This is probably the most important rule. Whenever riding in a group, you should be riding two by two, side by side (with only a few centimeters between you, you should not be able to fit a bus between you and rider beside you) and be perfectly handlebar to handlebar.

Do not at any time sprint ahead and disrupt the flow. Even if there is a corner coming up, stay side by side and go through the corner like a well-oiled machine. Riding with your bars ahead of the rider beside you is called "half-wheeling" and is a major faux pas.

It's up to you to keep up with the speed of the slower rider next to you. Try to keep to the side of the road. There is no need to take over the whole lane and annoy car drivers.

As with everything, there is an exception to the rule. If there is an uneven number of riders in the group and you don't have anyone to ride alongside, you should place yourself in between the two riders ahead of you, with your front wheel between their two rear wheels.

This allows the riders behind you to remain bar to bar and to keep the group tightly together. The riders behind you should ride with their front wheels on either side of your rear wheel. It's not acceptable to sit directly behind the rider ahead of you and leave a gap to your side.

It might seem that riding between the wheels of the riders preceding you is unsafe, but if everyone is riding bar to bar as they should be, you are guaranteed the space of a handlebar's width within which to move, which should be ample. So even if the two riders ahead of you knock into each other, you should have plenty of space. This is a pretty safe place to be.

Rule 3: Peeling Off

When you're tired of riding at the front and you feel it is time for you to go to the back, make sure the rider beside you knows you are tired and want to go back. Once you have both established that you are going back, check briefly that there isn't someone overlapping your back wheel, then both riders slowly and gradually move to the outside and let the group come through the middle. Do not suddenly veer off to the side; peel off in a steady and controlled manner.

Rule 4: Pulling Through

When the two riders ahead of you peel off, it's your job to come through to the front and pull the group along. If you do not want to ride at the front because you are tired or less fit than the rest of the group, it's too late to avoid it now. Once you are in second wheel, you must come through to the front.

Don't speed up or get out of the bar-to-bar formation. Maintain a steady speed, squeeze through the gap and go to the front (see below). When the two riders ahead of you peel off, don't slow down and look around. Maintain your speed and go straight through without hesitation.

Rule 5: Too Tired to Go to the Front

If you don't want to go to the front, sit at the back and let the riders coming back from the front of the group slot in ahead of you. It isn't acceptable to work your way up to the front of the group and then slow down because you don't feel strong enough to be at the front.

If for whatever reason you do find yourself at the front, go through and take what is known as a token pull. You go to the front for a couple seconds, agree with the rider beside you that you are both peeling off, and go to the back.

Rule 6: Gaps

There should be no gaps in a group ride. As soon as you see a gap, fill it by riding into the space in a steady and controlled manner. There is no need to sprint into the space and then slam on the brakes, just gradually fill in any gaps as soon as you see them.

Rule 7: Moving About in a Group

If you need to go to the back of the group, or need to move away from the side of road because the road is damaged or obstructed, just steadily move in whatever direction you want to go in. The key to all group riding is to do things gradually and steadily.

Even if there is a rider right next to you as you pull out to the side of the road, if you do it gradually, the other rider will naturally have time to move over with you. If you do anything sudden you will likely cause a crash. This is also very important when peeling off and filling a gap.

Rule 8: Obstacles and Hand Signals

All obstacles should be warned of by a simple hand signal. When you see an obstacle in the road ahead of you, put your hand down and give a signal that lets the riders behind you know in which direction they should go to avoid it. Traditionally a quick wave of the hand will suffice. Most of your riding partners won't hear you anyway, and if they are close enough to, you don't want to startle anyone taking a drink from their bottle and cause a crash.

If you only see the obstacle at the last minute, ride through it! Better to get a flat than to take down the whole group. On the subject of obstacles, please only point out those that are worth pointing out.

"What obstacles are worth pointing out?" That's simple. An obstacle worth pointing out is one that will damage a bike or person behind you. Don't point out manhole covers unless they are deeply set in the road, leaves, small cracks in the road surface, or other objects that aren't truly hazards.

Rule 9: Yelling

As I said above, yelling is a big no-no. You don't see the pros riding around Europe on their preseason training camps yelling at each other when they come upon a car, hole, gravel, or red light.

The problem is this: When you're more than two riders behind the person yelling, all you can actually hear is a general sound being yelled. So while everyone should be keeping their eyes peeled for general speed changes and obstacles, suddenly the majority of riders are looking around wondering what the obstacle is that has just been yelled out.

No one actually knows if you have just yelled hole and have not pointed it out. This may cause some riders to scan to the left, other to the right and center. Other riders might think you yelled car. It is a confusion that should be avoided.

Rule 10: Slowing and Adjusting Speed

This is probably the biggest crash causer on group rides. For some reason, when someone slows down ahead of them, a lot of riders jump for their brakes and yank the heck out of them, almost skidding and taking everyone down with them.

You should be riding ever-so-slightly to the side of the rider in front of you, so when they slow down you either stop pedaling and start to slightly overlap your front wheel with their rear wheel, or you touch the brakes gradually and use the "wheel overlap" as a buffer zone to avoid slowly too suddenly for the riders behind you.

These tips come from very simple principles that aim for general safety during a group ride. Try your best to stick to them and spread the good word to your fellow newcomers to the sport. Happy riding!

Don't Be That Guy

From VeloNews

As you're thinking of all the things you'd like to do as a cyclist—train smarter, lose weight, win a race or two—it might be wise to consider a few things you shouldn't do.

Over the years we've seen our fair share of stupid moves. Heck, we've committed more than a few of them at some point ourselves. To help you on your merry racing way, we've compiled a few things to avoid, and added a few suggestions on what to do instead.

Don't Be That Guy...

...who ignores pointing out debris and potholes on the road. There is all manner of danger out there, and those behind you can't necessarily see it.
? Instead, honor the golden rule
Ride like the person you like riding behind. Assume anyone riding on your wheel is blind to anything in front of you, and err on the side of caution when it comes to anything that could cause a crash or puncture.

...who warms up obliviously on a mountain bike or cyclocross course while others are racing. If race officials allow it, warming up on course is fine. But not paying attention will put you in the way of those who are racing.
? Instead, get to the race early
With enough time, you can properly scout out the course and master any specific technical sections by riding and re-riding without screwing up someone else's race.

...who is unnecessarily sketchy in a race.
? Instead, learn how to better pick and hold your line through corners and in the pack
Keep in mind, however, that riders with well-honed skills can find holes and take lines that other less adept riders may find sketchy. If you have the skills, then exploit them. Unnecessary sketchiness happens when you take chances without the proper skills and put yourself and racers around you in danger.

...who highlights every single race on the calendar. Remember, rest is just as important as training and racing, and unless you're paying for "training supplements" from Eufemiano Fuentes, chances are your body can only peak a few times each season.
? Instead, choose three or four races you want to be in peak physical condition for
Use the other events as training. And don't be afraid to take a weekend off now and again.

...who takes a King-Kong pull at the front and then gets dropped. If your aim is to impress your fellow group riders, then not dropping yourself is a better option.
? Instead, take a seamless pull
Gauge your effort on the front and then drop back into the draft while you still have something in the tank.

...who waits until the morning of the race to fill out registration.
? Instead, take care of everything possible prior to race morning
Online registration saves time and eases stress, allowing more time for warming up and porta-potty lines.

...who turns up late for a three-hour training ride sans water, food, spare and money, then tries to dictate the day's labors.
? Instead, be prepared and flexible
Be that guy who's on time, ready for anything and flexible about training. And bring a little something extra just in case that other fellow shows up, too.

...who does the same ride over and over. And over again until you're on a first-name basis with all the potholes and could ride it in your sleep.
? Instead, take that carbon wonderbike down a new road, maybe even a dirt one, now and again. Rekindle the spirit of adventure that got you into this sport in the first place. Besides keeping you mentally fresh, the variation in terrain will be good for your training.

Spring Checklist: Getting back in the saddle

First time riding in a while? Our basic gear list can keep you from forgetting anything important.
Not all cyclists will carry every item on every outing.

The Two Essentials

Bike (mechanically safe and in good working order)
Helmet (ASTM, Snell, ANSI or CPSC approved)

Core Gear

Waterbottle(s)
Snacks/energy food
Eye protection (sunglasses, clear lenses)
LED safety lighting (if you’ll potentially be riding at dusk or dawn)
Personal Identification

Core Bike Repair Items

Spare tube or tubes (and/or patch kit)
Hand pump or other inflationary device
Tire levers
Cycling multi-tool with Allen wrenches

Comfort and Convenience

Padded bib shorts or tights
Cycling jersey
Gloves
Cycling shoes and clip-in pedals
Saddle (underseat) bag
Watch or cycling computer
Cell phone
Cash and/or credit card

Other Personal Extras

Sunscreen
Medical insurance card and emergency contact info

Cycling Pre-ride Inspection

Check tire pressure (between 80-110 PSI) and condition
Brake check
Front/rear wheel quick releases secured
Bolt tightness throughout
Seat and handlebar height
Light battery check (if equipped)
Check chain is properly lubricated