After a year and a half of training without any events to compete in, it is time to review your fondo ride strategy!
Unless you have organized a group to ride with, the riders around you won’t help you – unless you help yourself.
Unlike your commute to work, most riders in a fondo are happy to have you pull them. They will remain glued to your back wheel until you get tired and start to lose speed. Once you begin to show signs of blowing up, they will just as happily leave you behind, looking for someone new to follow.
Your first instinct is to get angry at this mooch who stole your energy. But they aren’t bad people. They are just riding smart. So instead of getting angry – start riding smarter.
So how do you get out of always being at the front?
#1 If you are actually in an organized paceline, which does happen, take your turn at the front. But don’t pull any harder than the average pace/power is and stay for only a few minutes. Stop pulling before you get tired, not after.
#2 When you pull out of the line, pull FAR away from the other riders, so they don’t follow you. Most riders will pretend they didn’t see your signal or don’t understand, which may be true. Either way, get away from them and quickly move further back into the line where you are protected again.
#3 If you are afraid that the faster riders will pull away while you are stuck at the back, then signal after about 5, 6, or 20 riders (depending on how big the pack is) and move back into the line, closer to the front. But remember that means you will be pulling again soon. The more often you pull, the more exhausted you will become.
#4 At some moments, you may be riding three or four people side by side. The group will move more like a school of fish and not an organized line. If you aren’t paying attention, you may quickly find yourself at the front and doing more work than you would like. Try to avoid this by paying attention to the speed and where people are moving. If you stay glued to the wheel in front of you, you should stay protected, i.e., always behind someone else.
As the event progresses, the group will break apart as people drop off and faster riders sprint away. If you are hoping to stay with the faster riders of your group, try to assess who these riders are and keep in close contact with them. Stay close without doing all the work for them. Be ready to make a move when they do.
#6 Fatigue accumulates over time. Even if you feel good at the start, eventually, the effort will build up, and fatigue will set in. Even if you are a faster rider than your group, pulling too much, too hard, or too often will ultimately fatigue you faster than the riders you are pulling. If you are doing all the work, they will continue to ride fresh. As you near the finish line, they will have more energy than you. They will thank you for the pull and leave you to finish in their dust without any of the glory you deserve.
#7 It should feel easier drafting, so don’t get fooled into thinking you can ride faster than the pack. Unless you started in the wrong group or had a flat, it is best to stay with a group than to venture out on your own, at least until the last 10km or so.