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Draft racing: should you practise cycle drafting?

Nik Cook and Mark Buckingham answers a reader's question about the importance of mastering group riding skills and whether being a confident lone rider is enough for draft-legal triathlons

I’ve entered some draft-legal races, but how important is it to master group riding skills? Is being a confident lone rider enough, or should I prioritise cycling in a pack?

 Nik Cook

Nik is an experienced cyclist and our resident bike coach

Being a confident loan rider certainly isn’t enough! So no amount of winging it, so to speak, will help you here. In any sport you’ve a responsibility to yourself and others to possess the skills to safely take part. Along with the skills, there’s also etiquette and ways of communication within the bunch. So if you’re not confident riding in a bunch you’ll be a danger to yourself and others.

Safety issues aside, unless you’re an immensely strong cyclist and can solo off the front, without good group riding skills you’ll be putting yourself at a huge disadvantage. The energy savings of being able to ride well and
 work in a bunch are massive. 

Skilled pro peloton riders can sit in the wheels for a 200km flat race, barely average above 150 watts but still ride at 40kph+. Your savings won’t quite be that big, but the more time you can avoid in the wind, the stronger your run will be. 

If you’re not confident in a bunch, it’s almost guaranteed you’ll end up at the back and, in terms of an easy ride, this is the worst place to be. Any changes in pace, such as braking and accelerating out of a corner, are greater the further back you are. If you’re ‘tail-gunning’, you can find yourself almost coming to a stop and then having to sprint just to stay on – hardly conducive to a good run off the bike. Even if you get in a break with a smaller group, you should still know the drills for riding through and off the pack, and how to position yourself relative to wind direction.

The best way to experience this type of riding is to find your nearest closed cycle circuit and enter some races. Either look on the British Cycling website or contact a cycling club. British Cycling also have a series of videos demonstrating bunch skills and etiquette at www.britishcycling.org

The athlete Mark Buckingham

Mark is a British Triathlon Performance Squad athlete and Level 2 coach

Before you embark on an exciting journey into the world of draft-legal racing, my strong advice is to first get some group riding experience.

Although your bike handling skills might be good, others around you might not be as handy, and that uncertainty is what you need to experience before taking you and your beloved two-wheeled friend on its next adventure! 

You can improve your group riding skills with simple sessions riding shoulder-to-shoulder and wheel-to-wheel. Two important areas of draft-legal racing are:

Where to position yourself in a group to stay safe. It’s important to learn where your ‘exit’ route is if the person in front suddenly brakes or changes direction.

 Where to position yourself in a group to save energy. Draft-legal racing still shares the same concept as non-drafting in that you want to get from T1 to T2 in the quickest time possible. However, as you can now work together in a group to achieve this goal, you can take turns at the front of the group to keep the speed high, before returning to the back of the group to shelter/recover. Also, a group knowing how to position itself correctly in windy conditions can save minutes during the cycle leg of a triathlon.

I actively encourage athletes to attend British Cycling coached session on closed circuits, which take you from an easy spin in a small group to bunch riding at race pace in a handful of sessions. 

I also believe there’s a lot to be said for riding in a group frequently with club mates, again it’s the nature of what to look out for and your position which is important.

I look forward to seeing thousands of athletes taking up draft-legal racing this year, I promise it will be one of the most exhilarating things you’ll ever do!

Related

Group bike riding etiquette, explained for triathletes


 
 

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