Ask Ella: How do I rise above getting dropped from the bunch?

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I saw a woman’s face in a cycling bunch ride two weeks ago that is imprinted on my mind, because it’s a face I know so well. I had never met this woman, but what I recognised was that look. Her face wasn’t necessarily filled with determination, but fear. You could see she was riddled with nerves and as she pushed harder to keep up she didn’t have the pain-face we all know that shows grit and even just a little enjoyment in the challenge of pushing harder. Instead it was just furrowed brows and a grimace.

She ended up falling behind. As another woman and I brought her back up to the bunch, I remembered the second bunch ride I ever went on.

I didn’t get dropped but I played anchor, only because the rear of the bunch was looking out for me making sure I didn’t fall off the back. If it had been a drop ride, I would have been lost in Maroubra, red-faced, exhausted and disheartened.

Riding with others is a great way to get better at cycling and sometimes a great distraction from the efforts you’re putting down but let’s face human nature – it isn’t great to feel not good enough, to not be able to keep up and in some cases get dropped.

The fear of getting dropped has sometimes stopped me wanting to participate entirely, and having spoken to a few club organizers, this feeling is something clubs are particularly concerned about. They want women to be challenged but not discouraged.

How do you stay motivated when you are worried you’ll get dropped?

Find a mate. You’ll find most people are very friendly in cycling bunches and it’s worthwhile approaching a friendly face in the group and introducing yourself. Tell them you’re new, tell them you’re worried about getting dropped and you’ll probably find you have someone that will act in a buddy-like system to encourage you. Everyone started somewhere and most can relate to the initial struggle.

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Join a no-drop ride. There are rides that have a no-drop rule, this means they wait at the top of hills or for anyone who is lagging behind. These are great rides to push yourself on as you know if you push too far and pop they allow you the ability to catch up, or recover if you’re on toasty legs.

Turn not this time into next time. Try to stay positive and challenged (easier said than done but bear with me). Everyone can get dropped regardless of their level. Sometimes it’s your day to shine, sometimes it’s an off day. Even if you do get dropped, ride it again and try to go a little further before you get dropped next time. Each attempt where you give your best will give you gains and train you to be better for next time.

Give it everything, but know your limits. Running group rides I constantly see the mistake of people over exerting at the start and burning all their matches early. It’s important to know what you are capable of and what’s ahead. By all means push yourself but say there was a hill you pushed really hard on to get to the crest, only to discover around the bend is another killer climb and you’ve got nothing left in the tank. You’re going to instantly get dropped or play anchor to the ride. Push when you know you should, challenging yourself is one of the best ways we grow – but don’t write cheques your legs can’t cash.

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Don’t always make it hard. Not every ride needs to be a fast ride, recovery rides are ace too. Sometimes spinning the legs and soaking in the world around you can be a great refresher. Slowing down can be a nice way to remind you of why cycling is such an incredible sport, allowing you to go great distances and see magnificent sights.

Train solo, drafting will feel like a breeze.By no means am I suggesting an alienating solo style of cycling forever, but training without using drafting is definitely strength building. Drafting is an important aerodynamic aspect when it comes to cycling. When you draft, up to 40% less energy can be used. Come back after training on your own for a while and the bunch won’t know what hit them.

 

Find your catch-up skill and work on it. Many riders will have areas of strength that come more naturally to them. I’ve loved descending since I realized my flimsy light road bike could keep traction and handle the speed. Trusting the bike can actually be quite a tough concept to grasp, these machines can handle so much more than we realise. Working on descending and cornering could be an advantage if say you’re not so great with your climbing, they may have crested before you but do they have the confidence and technical skills to keep you at bay?

Long story short …

Every ride is better than staying stationary. When you don’t ride – excluding recovery of course – you don’t get better, it’s that simple. It may be a bummer to be left behind every now and again, but you make every tomorrow faster by acting today. So even if you aren’t at the same level as everyone else, there’s only one way to get there and it’s by staying optimistic and giving it a go.

Got a burning cycling question on another topic you want answered? You can send us an email on ella@cyclingtips.com, or drop us a line on Facebook and you just may find the answer in one of our upcoming Ask Ella columns.

Sheyleigh has a love for adventure on two wheels, cycling with friends and taking on the odd punishing challenge, like Everesting. She is a Specialized Women’s Ambassador and Cycliq brand ambassador, with a passion for helping beginner cyclists find their pedals. You can follow Sheyleigh’s expeditions and more on her website.

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