Inside the Peleton – A New Experience.

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about group riding since completing the Mallorca 312 last Saturday. It’s something most of us long distance triathletes never do and the view from inside the peleton was a new experience.

Once out of the mountains when it got on to the flatter stuff past Palma at about 170k it got particularly interesting because it was the first time I had experienced riding in a really big peloton among some fairly well drilled riders. 

The 3 of us from Black Line who were riding the event (Me, Mel Wasley and Al Maher) ended up in a big group being led by a Mallorcan team from Manacor -who were all in smart matching kit and riding very disciplined. You hear about being sucked along by a peloton but in all honesty until Saturday I thought this was a bit of an exaggeration, however sure enough, once we were in this group we were scooting along at over 40k per hour by just soft tapping and freewheeling. It was an amazing experience but also pretty stressful as you have to concentrate 100% on not getting too close to the wheel in front, touching wheels and causing a massive pile up….making you the most unpopular person in Mallorca.

After about 10 minutes of what felt like cheating, I started to think it was way too easy so drifted out and surprisingly quickly found myself at the front with (mercifully) Mel and Al behind me for company. I quickly realised that being at the front wasn’t so easy but the 3 of us took turns and were up there leading this massive group for a respectable amount of time before we were gobbled up by the Manacor express. Sadly there was no photographer on this section to capture our moments of glory.

Riding like this surrounded by so many other bikes with the constant clicking of gears being changed and burring of drive chains was an awesome experience but it was a clear lesson to me that group riding is a skill that I am a bit shit at and it made me want to get better. The indicators of my shitness were numerous, I had to constantly feather the brakes whilst in the big group to prevent half wheeling which I don’t notice the pros doing, or if I was on the outside I would sometimes drift in to the wind to slow myself which is probably a big no no as someone could have been coming through on my left. I also surged and dropped smaller groups we were in a few times when I took turns at the front, even with a power meter it’s harder than you think to gauge effort when you take your turn. 

I did notice that there was not a lot of communication in the peloton. I put this down to lack of familiarity within the groups, and maybe the fact that we were in the last 100km and everyone was too knackered to speak! The Manacor team were communicating among themselves and ensured no gaps were left for interlopers although a shout out to Al, who did try (and failed) I got politely told off a couple of times for surging on the front but other than that I managed not to upset anyone.

Another very noticeable thing is how the vast majority of people on a large sportive ride like this would not even attempt to put their noses in the wind once the groups formed. I would say 95% of the riders we encountered in that last 150k were in this category. You don’t notice it in the hills during the first 100k as every one climbs and descends at different paces and groups aren’t a factor but on the flatter stuff it was very noticeable. Grabbing a free ride is fair enough if you are cooked but I can’t believe that almost everyone was! 

For a spot of further reading, check out these two great articles from Cycling Tips – ‘The Lost Art Of The Group Ride’ and ‘Rolling turns, Pacelining and Echeloning’

Photo: ‘In The Fray’ by Scott Smithson, Flickr.

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