Pace lines are a basic element of bicycle riding and racing. It’s been said that you gain about 30% more efficiency/energy savings (give or take depending on wind conditions) by drafting. With that much energy savings it’s easy to see why riders tend to travel in packs rather than by themselves. Just a few weeks ago (in 2010) at the Giro D’Itialia we were treated with watching one of the most beautiful elements of bicycle racing, the Team Time Trial. We can view the Team Time Trial and a group ride pace line or a break away with many of the same angles.
The goal of an efficient pace line is to ride as “allies” and share the work load at the front (into the wind) of the group. The more people helping, the less energy everybody has to expend. The smoother the group, the easier it is to maintain a higher pace. If a group’s pace is choppy, it’s not likely to hold together for much longer. Sometimes those who are stronger may cause too much of a rapid increase in the pace line’s speed. Or weaker riders may slow the group down causing riders to pull their brakes (which is very dangerous in any pace line). In either scenario, group frustration increases and the likely hood of the groups success diminishes.
A long time ago I was reminded of what rider in a good pace line looks like. They look relaxed, even at high speeds. They are smooth holding a relatively straight line. They are aware that everything they do also affects the riders behind them. They stay off the brakes. They don’t make sudden moves.
Which direction should a rider pull off? To the right or to the left? The rider at the front of the pace line should always pull off into the wind. For example, if the wind is coming from the left, you need to pull off the front of the pace line to the left also. Be aware that if you have a brisk wind coming from the left, riders may be crossing the right side of your rear wheel. Although an acceptable riding position to closely follow along the side the rear wheel in front of you. If the rider in front of you does not know what they are doing nor do they pull off into the wind, you may be in trouble.
Team Time Trials are beautiful to watch. The top Pro teams make it look so easy. They are all riding the best technology and aero equipment available. Their speeds are incredible. However, inside their pace line they must be very attentive to their smooth riding style, wind direction and riders different strengths and/or weaknesses. For example, bigger riders should take a larger load of the pace during the down hills, hill climbing riders should do more work on the front during inclines.
During your next break away, team time trial or group ride pay close attention to the elements around you. Become as smooth of a rider as possible. Help your pace line “allies” maintain a strong smooth pace.
Keep your head up and RACE SMART!
Cameron Hoffman is a former US National Team member, a Category 1 road and track rider. He now rides for Team Livewell PB Bountiful Mazda in Utah. Following his third consecutive victory at the 206-mile LOTOJA road race in 2009 (with Mark riding in support), Cameron boasts a total of over 52 career victories.
Mark Deterline is a Category 2 racer and Pro/1/2 manager for the Wells Fargo Racing Team in Northern California. He works as a marketing and PR consultant in the bicycle industry, as well as a contributing technical writer for Triathlete Magazine, LAVA Magazine, velonews.com and xtri.com.