How to Choose the Best Group To Ride With in a Gran Fondo
Few things in cycling are as exciting as clipping in and starting a gran fondo. A palpable energy courses through the field, and those first miles just fly by. However, if you let yourself get caught up in the adrenaline rush your careful plan to rock the course could blowup on the first timed-segment. The key is to remember to ride your own ride, not someone else's.
You're feeling strong coming to the top of the first climb. You're in a large group of riders, and you decide to ride with them to the next climb. Problem is, they're not slowing down; they continue to hammer all the way to the next climb. You stick with them, believing that hanging on in the group's slipstream is going to save you. But it doesn't. While you slow on the climb, they speed away. You've expended a ton of energy, and you still have four 3-4 more hours of riding to go. Even when a slower group catches you, you may not have the energy to join their group!
Fix: If you find it uncomfortably strenuous to sit in the middle of a group where you're getting full advantage of the draft, drop back and wait for the next group to roll up and hop on. With the timed segment format of GFNS events, you want to be with groups that can work together well and share the pacing during flat and rolling terrain.
Being cognizant of the need NOT to end up in too strong a gruppo, you play it safe in the beginning, letting the hammerheads speed off the front. You get tot he first timed-segment, rip up it, and find you're almost alone. So you ease off, wait for a critical mass of riders to join you to share the load and keep going. Problem is your group is leaving you chomping at the bit.
Fix: Go ahead and start the ride going fast and join a faster group as the riders start to split up. If you're riding with a power meter or heart-rate monitor, use them to tell you if you can push the pace harder. If you need to drop back to find a more compatible group of riders, go ahead. It's always easier to drop back than time-trial your way up the course to latch onto a faster group.
Regardless of the group you join, it's important to be a good member of the pack. If you have the strength to share in the work of pacemaking, take some pulls at the front of the group. Talk to the riders around you. Warn the others about pot holes or other items in the road by pointing at them and speaking up. And most of all, remember to stay safe by keeping your head up and staying aware of the riders and environment around you.