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Gourmet farm to table cycling event series featuring aid stations on local farms. Inspired by the Italian gran fondo bicycle ride.

Riding Skills Tips Blog

Getting Into the Zone

Matt Roe

Our friends at Pactimo have a great article up about what it's like to be a professional cyclist and the state of mind it takes. We may not all ride at this level but these are the kind of stories we at Farm to Fork Fondo love to hear about. People pushing their limits for the love of being healthy.

pactimo patricia image.jpg


By: ALP Coach Patricia Schwager
Photo Credit: Craig Huffman

Dreaming of longer, warmer days and the race season yet? Me too. And we haven't even reached the winter solstice! Despite the desire for warmer weather, winter can provide a great opportunity to do some reflection of what went well in 2017 and what you'd like to improve upon.

Lactate Threshold intervals, VO2 work, micro intervals - we all want our performance to increase year after year so we stay glued to our trainers in the colder months. But what about things you can do off the bike? Are you devoting some time to honing your mental game? Whether your season is based around one race or 20, having a solid mental game plan that you can follow year round can set you up for success.

Take any goal you have. Apply good nutrition, intervals, equipment, coaching, etc. But what happens when you show up to the start line and find yourself overwhelmed, unable to focus, and distracted by what your competition is doing?

What if you had a plan for what to do before you rolled up to the starting line?

This past year I had a big goal: a masters world championship title on the track. Thankfully I had a bunch of races throughout the summer to keep me motivated so the interval and intensity part of the performance equation pretty much took care of itself. I knew that to perform my best on a particular day, I would have to turn up my mental game several notches. So I read, a lot. In the month leading up to worlds. I read a chapter out of "Thinking Body, Dancing Mind" by Jerry Lynch, everyday. It provided an amazing foundation of what to think about before, during and after competition. 

The areas I paid particular attention to included narrowing down my pre-game ritual, truly being in the moment (critical for maximum performance during the pursuit, where you can win or loose by the slimmest of margins), and gratitude for the process. 

For my pre-game ritual, I created a Dee-Lite pandora station, complete with Jamarquoi, Bobby Brown, and other funky, upbeat music to listen to while I warmed up on the rollers. (Yes, I admit I just dated myself). I had a lot of practice out of the Boulder Valley Velodrome this summer as we did several time trials so I got to see if that music was going to work. The moment I put my head phones on and started my 38 minute warmup, I allowed myself to get in the right head space. I will say this about track: it is the most painful and yet rewarding experiences I've ever had on two wheels. Tricking your mind into believing everything is going to be alright is how I've learned to cope with the pain of going full gas all the way to the finish line. "Groove Is In the Heart" assured me that everything was going to be okay.

On a race day, I listened to my favorite music and lined up for the individual pursuit on the back straight - smashing my previous personal record in the 2k pursuit by 7 seconds, securing bronze. Just a mere 4 seconds off of the winners pace - I know have a new goal for 2018!

While the pursuit is a calculated effort, the mass start events are much more tactical and require quick wit and punchy accelerations. I studied my competition form the previous year's words (thanks to some video recordings available on YouTube) and knew that the biggest contender had a habit of going 1.5 laps from the finish. I can't stress enough how important it is to know your competition and stack the odds in your favor in order to beat them.

During the scratch race, I positioned myself well - near the front and anticipating "the move." Yet when my competitor went, I was a half pedal stroke behind and though closing in on her at the finish, I wasn't able to catch. Rather than dwell on what could have been different, I came up with a game plan on how to beat her in the points race. 

They say success is 99% failure. I applied the lessons I learned from the scratch race and came to the start line focused on the task at hand. Yes, I listened to my pre-race Dee Lite music and I was in a great mindset going into the points race. I studied my competition and she had competed in the spring trackside, I watched and listened for his cues and also paid attention to my own intuition on when to make the move for the intermediate sprints. I attacked, countered, used bike throws, and timing to perform the best of my ability, clinching a world title in the women's 35-39 points race. 

I attribute this win to a lot of factors: great coaching, an amazing support network, and starting with my original intention of performing my best and honoring my mental game. The velodrome can be a pressure cooker. Having a pre-game ritual can really calm the nerves and get you in tune with the battle you're able to fight. Whether you race on the track, in cyclocross, mountain biking or road - if you don't already have a pre-race routing, now is a great time to think about what you'd like yours to look like. And here's to a great 2018 season!

Group Riding Skills & Etiquette

Tyler Wren

You don't have to be a competitive cyclist to enjoy the benefits of group rides. Utilized correctly, regular group sessions can motivate you, improve your fitness and make any ride more enjoyable. However, if you lack the technique or the fitness to ride with a group, the experience can be frustrating and leave you riding alone. In a worst case scenario, lack of skills causes you to crash, perhaps taking others down with you.

To help you get started, let's look at a few group ride basics.

Finding the Right Group for You

When you search for a group to ride with, find out their general policies. Some meet for "no-drop" rides. This means that no rider is left behind and you can count on an experienced rider to stay with you. Inquire if someone in the organization teaches group riding etiquette.

Another option is to join a drop-in ride. These often begin in the parking lot of a local bike shop, with the pace of the group determined by the individuals or specific goals of the ride. Often, there are designated A, B and C groups to accommodate differences in riding speed.

The third most common choice is a race thinly disguised as a group ride. These are usually the fastest and most aggressive rides available. These rides are for very experienced cyclists and carry catchy names like, "Everyone Gets Dropped", "Ride Till You Puke" and "Wednesday World Championships." You have been officially forewarned just by reading the title.

Your local bike shop is a good place to start if you're looking for a group ride in your area. Most are associated with a club, bike shop or racing team.

Basic Skills

A few basic skills are needed in order to successfully ride with any group. You must be capable of riding a straight line, controlling your speed, anticipating possible problems and watching the road ahead of you. At the same time, be alert for activity in your peripheral vision.

  1. Hold your line: If you have watched a professional cycling race, you know that every rider needs to "hold a line." This means that cyclists need to be capable of riding a line parallel with the edge of the road.
    Practice this skill by riding 12 to 24 inches to the right of the white shoulder line while trying to keep parallel with that line.
  2. The slipstream: Some group rides practice staying together as one large mass—more or less—with little movement among the group.
    Other group rides incorporate pace lines—or some version thereof—into their sessions. In its most basic form, a pace line occurs when one rider pulls a line of other riders behind them. Each person follows the rider in front of them by staying within a few inches to a few feet of their leader's rear wheel. This area of least wind resistance is known as a slipstream.
    Staying in the lead rider's slipstream is called drafting. Riders that are in the draft position save upwards of 30 percent of energy compared to the lead rider. If you've ever had a chance to draft, you know that riding 20 miles per hour is significantly easier when you're following rather than leading. The difference is even more pronounced in a head wind.
  3. Control your speed: The lead rider in a pace line can stay at the front for just a few seconds or for several minutes. When you join a group that is rotating the lead position and it is time for you to lead, resist pouring on the gas to show everyone how strong you are. A pace line is happiest when the pace is steady. Fast accelerations or jerky braking motions disrupt the line and can cause a crash.
  4. Keep eyes and ears open: The first person in the group can see clear road. Thus, they need to point out road hazards—as do the rest of the people in the line. Pointing out hazards and verbal communication skills are important. For this reason, do not use headphones in a group riding situation.
    When you are following someone, avoid getting a visual fixation on their rear wheel. Look several feet ahead, keeping the distance between your front wheel and the rider ahead of you in your peripheral vision. Watch for road hazards as well as motion to either side of the pace line.
    Listen for cars approaching from the rear. A rear view mirror mounted on your helmet or glasses can be very helpful when watching for cars.
    Maintain the pedaling motion of the other riders in your peripheral vision. Watch for sudden changes in cadence—this usually signals some sort of problem.
  5. Anticipate problems: If you are riding in windy conditions or it is a hilly course, anticipate changes in the group or peloton. When the peloton changes directions, sometimes the weaker riders are no longer sheltered from the wind and they fall off the pace. The same is true for a hilly course. Riders that can usually stay with the group on flat roads can fall off the pace on a hill.
    Get accustomed to watching for signs that a rider is struggling. This includes having difficulty finding the right gear, breathing like a steam engine or constantly looking over their shoulder.
    You don't want to be stuck behind a struggling rider if you are feeling strong. Pay attention to the signals so you can maneuver yourself into a good position.
  6. Practice: This column just scratched the surface of group riding skills. Once you master the basics, you should continue to hone your skills. A good resource on mass riding is Racing Tactics for Cyclists by Thomas Prehn, even if you are not a competitive cyclist. Remember: in group rides smart riders often have the advantage over strong riders.

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