I got a good question last week and I thought I would address the various issues it bring up in a detailed post. Here is the question:
For rides like the Gateway Ride or Oval Ride, for the elite categories, are these nothing more than endurance/tempo rides or are they hard for riders in the top level/pro categories as well? If the latter, then why are so many pros out just crushing it each week if the time is better spent building the aerobic engine?
I’ll address the Gateway Ride specifically, since that is what I am most familiar with, but I am sure this likely applies to many other group rides with similar attendance.
First, I will point out that riders at the top levels of the sport (ProTour) are rarely seen at these group rides. Their training is usually so specific and disciplined that they spend almost all their time training alone, or with a few regular partners at their same level. Here in Boulder, Tom Danielson and Rory Sutherland both live in town, but almost never do the group ride.
I’ll point out a minor exception: When Tommy D’s son was born, he came back from Europe in mid-spring. He was seen a few times destroying the group ride while he was back. I’m sure he was trying his best to keep his top end form from fading.
Recently the Gateway Ride has become ‘tame’, compared to its checkered past. Decades ago, when I was a junior desperately trying to hang on to the “Psycho Logic” ride, I would invariably be dropped a few miles from town. The ride intentionally rode fast to get rid of slower riders. These days the ride is a nice double paceline, and the pace is slow for the first half hour to Lyons. Often, the elite riders will take 5+ minute pulls on the way out of town and hop back in near the front, both for safety and to keep the effort higher.
The Gateway Ride also tracks the training progression of many riders. This January it has been a nice steady pace for the three hour ride. Most riders do not ‘race’ up the dam, with many elites riding closer to threshold pace for the five minute climb. As the race season nears, the pace will increase and more riders will be a full effort (or dropped) up the climb.
Which brings me to my final point: Keep in mind that many domestic pro riders have an early start to the season. The local season doesn’t really begin until April, and there aren’t any important races until June. Some elite riders may be starting their racing season as soon as February, as their last race was in September and they started Base in October.
To summarize, the reasons for hitting up the local group ride vary. Also keep in mind, just because a rider is a pro, they may not always do the best thing for their training, and may be hammering the local group ride to boost their own ego when other forms of training may be more beneficial. They may be staying out of the wind and getting base training done, even though other riders are suffering. Finally, they may be ‘racing’ to sharpen their form for early season competition.