Having already completed the PA 600k three weeks ago, and having completed a full Super Randonneur series with the NJ 400k two weeks ago, I had little incentive to ride the NJ 600k this weekend. Instead, I wanted to do a long, hilly club ride.
The weather forecast for this morning was not promising, calling for a better than even chance of showers or thundershowers. Indeed, the radar map on weather.com showed some heavy rain to the west, in Eastern Pennsylvania. So I scrapped the idea of riding in the hills with the Western Jersey Wheelmen, to the west of me, and opted for the Princeton Freewheelers, to the south.
Now I do about a ride a month with the PFW. Their terrain in central New Jersey tends to be flat to rolling and so their faster rides tend to very fast, pacelining rides. I’m not much of a sprinter and I tend to ride better on hills, relatively speaking, than on the flats. But I think of the PFW rides as good training for riding in groups and increasing my cruising speed.
My lower power numbers this spring have caused me to struggle to keep up with the PFW B-plus groups that I usually choose. On April 10th I rode with a Sunday afternoon B-plus group and got dropped and ended up doing the last 10 miles alone. Then on May 30th, Memorial Day, I got dropped again three times on a B-plus ride, the third time benefitting from Ron A., an old randonneuring friend, who towed me most of the last 10 miles or so.
This morning I had a choice: I could try a third time to ride with the B-plus group, led by Ed P., and risk getting dropped a third time, or I could simply join the B group, which is about 2 mph slower, averaging 15-16 mph instead of 17-18. Nearly always up for a challenge, I tried the B-plus group, but I vowed to conserve energy to avoid getting dropped.
My weight has hovered at just over 160 pounds for the last month or so, which makes my climbing better. But my overall power is down about 15 percent, which makes me especially susceptible to getting dropped on the flats. I vowed to take it relatively easy on the hills, to catch my breath, so I would be ready for those dreaded power surges on the flats.
I tend to like a smooth, steady pace, but pacelining rides often are anything but. Each person who takes the front seems to have his/her own riding pace, with a relatively relaxed pace followed by a maniacal surge. Fortunately, the surges were more manageable today.
Equally important, I resisted the urge to take any pulls at the front. I feel a moral obligation to take pulls during rides, as I feel like a freeloader otherwise. But this time I knew that taking pulls could cause me to get dropped, as I would be approaching my limits. Again I was fortunate, for of the 10 or so riders, half of them did almost all of the pulling and I was able to discretely drop to the back when the rotation caused me to be two or three riders from the front.
For me, a key part of not getting dropped in a paceline is focus. You have to adjust to nearly constant changes in pacing and road conditions. That means if your attention wanders a gap can form at the most inopportune time. And if the gap is right in front of you, you suddenly are taking a pull, wether you like it or not. As much as possible, I found another wheel to follow.
To my delight, I was able to stay with the group the entire ride, even as we approached a 20 mph average at the end, aided by a tailwind. I had an overall average of 20.4 mph for the first two hours of the 46-mile ride, my second highest ever and highest in nearly five years. That did not, however, mean that it was one of my strongest rides, just one of my smartest.
My regular and normalized power numbers this morning — 170 watts regular and 203 normalized — were typical for a flat PFW B-plus ride for me. Indeed, my numbers for the April ride (173/201) and May (168/199) ride were very similar. But I averaged only 18.6 mph in the April ride and 19.0 in the one in May. The difference was in the pulls I took on those rides and in the additional shelter from the wind I took today.
So I proved to myself that I can still keep up with the PFW B-plus group, if I follow other wheels and stay off the front. But I like to contribute to the pulling. So I think next time I will take a couple of pulls and see what happens. What’s the worst that can happen? Getting dropped again?
I am on the first week of a four-week intensity building phase, what I call the build/intensity period. I was able to ride an hour on the spinner at close to my red zone level on Thursday and ride a fast flat ride this morning. I injured my back in the weight room Monday so I lost my Tuesday intense spinner workout. Normally in the build period I like to get three intense rides a week. Right now my only goal is doing well at the Princeton Freewheelers century ride in early August. I’m trying to build back my power and speed. My two earlier goals, PBP and Hillier Than Thou, are not possible this year.