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  1. #1
    Wheelsuck Fat Boy's Avatar
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    Aerodynamics, position and breakaway power

    OK, my limiter seems to be breakaway efforts. I can sprint well enough and I climb with the best in my club, especially on longer climbs. My big issues seems to be in breakaway or time-trail situations. I just can't maintain the speed that I need to be successful. I don't have the ability to measure power, so I've used some calculators to try to get some sort of numerical analysis of what's going on. The numbers will be wrong, but directionally they should be reasonable.

    Since I do well climbing, my power/weight must be reasonable, but the thing that I run into is that my power/aero drag must be pretty crappy. Recently, I did a comparison of laps around a closed course loop on the hoods and then in the drops. The difference between the two in terms of time was pretty small, a little less than 2% (about 5 seconds over about 5 minutes). This was holding average HR constant (upper-Zone 2) and only allowing +/-2 bpm difference over a lap. I can't measure power, but I was doing everything I could to maintain a consistent power level. The online calculators seem to show that the power difference due to aero drag between me on the hoods and in the drops is 15 watts at about 21.5mph.

    On the physical side, I'm going to really concentrate next season on FTP work and work a little less on anaerobic work. This should allow me to up the breakaway power I'm able to produce and hopefully keep a couple more matches in the book when it is time to sprint.

    I think there must be a bike position component to my problem as well, though. I've got a -6* stem and no spacers. Even at that, my saddle-to-bar drop is relatively small and I can ride in the drops all day. The bike is a Cannondale Six13 with CAAD9 geometry. I've considered a -17* stem. I think I'm going to get that as an experiment, regardless.

    Here are the questions, mostly to people that have the ability to measure power:

    Is my difference in drag from the hoods to the drops reasonable or is it smaller than expected?

    In a general case scenario, would a -17* stem (20mm drop) be a noticeable drag differerence (realizing that everyone is different)?

    I have been professionally fit, and I try to keep my knees and elbows tucked in. Are there other aspects of my position that could be hurting me (i.e. head position)?

    FTP will be up next year, but I want to make sure I'm doing the other stuff to make those gains worthwhile. Thanks for the help.

  2. #2
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    Dunno how tall you are, because that could be significant. A 1 cm additional drop for someone on a 46 cm frame is different than a 1 cm drop for someone who is on a 63. I ride a 50-52 (I use a 52 to get the longer TT) and I can't stand the 80 degree (-10) stems. I use a 73 (-17), and if I had my wish, I'd be riding a bike with a 5 cm longer TT and the same length head tube.

    For drops v hoods, aerodynamically there's very little difference. In fact, early studies showed that the hoods were more aero. Your forearm would be parallel to the road, aerodynamically the most efficient, and your arm would be perpendicular, again, very efficient. In the drops both bits hit the wind at an angle, very inefficient.

    For me the drops let me get much more power because I can pull up harder. This is especially true when sprinting. I can't time trial for anything but when I do big leadouts I use the hoods so I present more of a wind block to the guy I'm leading out. When I'm closing a gap on my own, I use the drops because I keep telling myself it'll help. My leadouts are about the same speed as my gap closing (34-35 mph), so maybe it doesn't make much of a difference.

    Since you lack the ability to measure power, do a TT instead. Your TT speed is very, very indicative of what kind of steady state power you have. When I say "indicative", I mean you'll know if you stink, if you're mediocre, decent, or, if you're lucky, "good".

    I stink at time trialing and I struggle to break 23 mph for an hour. I beat two guys in a time trial in a stage race - one guy got hit by a truck (broken leg), the other guy had a flat. And I was actually trying really, really hard. If you time trial like me, you stink. Therefore you shouldn't be mixing it up in breaks and such, and if you do, skip 9 out of 10 pulls. For me, if I get into a break and I pull, even just for 20 revs, I usually get shelled within 2 pulls, sometimes after the first. So I just don't pull.

    If you do 23-24.9999 mph, then you're mediocre. I can't say much beyond that, but averaging 25 mph is like the 4 minute mile for amateurs. If you're below 25 mph, you're not really a time trialer. I sometimes get into this category, and I get ecstatic when I do.

    If you go 25-27 mph, then you're decent. That's decent Cat 4-3 territory. I say 4-3 because good 4s will usually place top 10-15 in a big 3 field on the same course, likewise a good 3 could be as fast as the 10-15th place Cat 1-2. 25-27 is not shabby but you're middle of the pack, nothing special. Therefore you're decent. I wish I could be as good as "decent". Since many Cat 3 or 4 races average over 25 but under 28, being able to go 25-27 means you'll be good bait.

    If you average 28 mph or faster, then you're good. That's some serious haulin'. Figure you'd be a top 10 Cat 3 at that speed, maybe top 5, depends on the field. Get some of the Masters in there and you may not have a chance. Some good 3s are actually faster than the fastest domestic pros, at least on certain courses - we have one here on BF. I know that a different Cat 3, a 50+ master, averaged 33 mph (!!!!!!) in a wind assisted 3 mile TT. That's frickin fast. In mass start races you have a chance at winning solo if you enter the last 3-4 miles with a 30 second lead. It would take a committed chase to get you back, and I'd give you 1 in 10 odds of winning, if you could average 28 mph for those last 3-4 miles.

    After you do your TT (at least 30 minutes, so figure at least 12-15 miles), figure out your average speed.

    <23 mph - you know your problem.
    23-24.9999 - you know your problem.
    25-27 - something's happening - you may be burning too many matches before breaks etc. If you go when you're tired, you're not going to be as good as if you go when you're fresh.
    28+ mph - you're definitely not racing smart. Work on it. Actually, if you can do 28 mph, you don't need to race smart at all. You're strong enough to pulverize all up to a vigilant Cat 3 field.

    An illustration of a "good time trialer". He's actually a poor time trialer, since he doesn't practice time trialing on a TT bike with the advantageous gear, but he's a good road time trialer (breaks and such)

    He used to win P12 races regularly solo. He'd relate his thought process during a successful 30 or 40 lap break, solo, after the race.

    "I attacked after blah blah blah (usually a prime, or when another break gets caught). I figured it was early so they'd let me get a gap. I figured out that if I went 28, the gap would stay the same, so once I had 30 seconds, I'd go 28. Then when the gap started to drop, I'd go 31. If I go 31, they have to go like 34 to catch me, and most guys won't do that until the end. Then when the gap got back to 30 or 40 seconds, I'd slow down to 28 again. Sometimes I'd go 31 for a while to get more time."

    Mind you, he was soloing by himself for an hour or so and the whole time he was averaging something like 28 mph. He'd nonchalantly bump it up to 31 mph for a mile or two, then when the P12 field got demoralized, he'd slow down to 28 and rest.

    That guy time trials well.

    Incidentally he bridged a minute gap in 5 miles in the first combined Elite road championships. He caught the break at 3 miles to go. The sole "known pro" in the break (Brice Jones, racing for 7-Up) yelled at him to pull, so he did. He pulled the break for 3 miles to the finish (so now he's done an 8 mile superlative effort at the end of a 120 or something mile race), leads out the sprint, and gets third out of five riders. Brice actually did a diary entry about the race, and talks about the guy above. He had no idea who the CT rider was so he called him "Number 56" in the diary entry. Unfortunately I can't find that entry online anymore.

    cdr

  3. #3
    Making a kilometer blurry waterrockets's Avatar
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    I'm more interested in your breakaway tactics. I suck at time trialing, but I have initiated a break that held off the P12 state TT champ. I had a very aggressive solo attack and got some distance. I went out at my 5' max power. After about three minutes, I saw a pair of bridgers coming. I decided to test them and lit it up some more. They caught me and I could tell that they were for real. We worked together, but we almost got caught, so I attacked them again and got away. They went back to the pack and two fresh bridgers came. Then we stayed away.

    None of that, none, at all -- was a TT effort. It was a bunch of 2-3' efforts at 5' power, and some rotations in the same range.

    I know I've got around a 15W-25W advantage when I'm aggressive in the drops. This is in the drops with forearms parallel and uppers perp, as CDR explains above. My shoulders are a touch below my hips. I'm LOW, and it helps. Combining that with riding way harder than I should were what made the difference.

    My FTP at the time was ~350W, and I went out at 1200W, came down to 425 and held that for about 3'. When I tested the bridgers, I jumped up closer to 500W. I was killing myself.

  4. #4
    Banned. El Diablo Rojo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by waterrockets View Post
    I'm more interested in your breakaway tactics. I suck at time trialing, but I have initiated a break that held off the P12 state TT champ. I had a very aggressive solo attack and got some distance. I went out at my 5' max power. After about three minutes, I saw a pair of bridgers coming. I decided to test them and lit it up some more. They caught me and I could tell that they were for real. We worked together, but we almost got caught, so I attacked them again and got away. They went back to the pack and two fresh bridgers came. Then we stayed away.

    None of that, none, at all -- was a TT effort. It was a bunch of 2-3' efforts at 5' power, and some rotations in the same range.

    I know I've got around a 15W-25W advantage when I'm aggressive in the drops. This is in the drops with forearms parallel and uppers perp, as CDR explains above. My shoulders are a touch below my hips. I'm LOW, and it helps. Combining that with riding way harder than I should were what made the difference.

    My FTP at the time was ~350W, and I went out at 1200W, came down to 425 and held that for about 3'. When I tested the bridgers, I jumped up closer to 500W. I was killing myself.

    Fat Boy, I'll vouch for Rockets position he is really low...very much in the style of a Euro pro. While our teammate Racer Ex isn't nearly as low as Rockets both of these guys can really put the hurt on when initiating and holding a break. Ex is a TT specialist while I feel that WR has a huge jump that gets him separation and he can hold it. Their styles are much different but the result are very similar.

    Ex and I have had some conversations about climbing. He and I are both good climbers (he's better) and we kind of agree that one of the attributes that makes a good climber is enjoying it. Some people don't like the feeling some do, I know that I do and I've hurt guys who normally hurt me on flatter courses.

  5. #5
    Wheelsuck Fat Boy's Avatar
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    Sam: What are you up to, Norm?
    Norm: My ideal weight if I were eleven feet tall.

    This is how I feel when looking at the E-Wang chart. I'm at a really strong FTP, if I weighed 50kg.

    ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------


    Let me stick some numbers on this. I ride a 54cm bike and the saddle/bar drop is 7.5cm. The 17* stem would put me at 9.5cm of drop. The drop I have right now doesn't bug me at all. In fact, I feel a little high when in the drops. I've seen WR's pictures. I'm nothing like that.

    Similar to what CDR was saying, as a Cat4, I could win/podium. As a Cat3 I'm more of a P10-20 finisher. When doing LT work, I can break 23mph, barely. 23.5 mph is about my max for a LT interval (pretty much puts me in the 'you suck' category). There are two components of this, the first is power, which I will do everything I can to address, but aero drag is also a consideration. I have read what Racer Ex says about this adventures in Time Trialing, and his positioning is a huge consideration. From calculations (and I hate to even throw these numbers out) I've figured out that my FTP is about 245-250 watts. At 67 Kg's, that puts me at 3.65-3.75 W/Kg, which isn't an absurd number. It's validity is a GIGO, thing, but, hey, I'm simply using the info I have.

    As I've said, I don't have the ability to measure power. When I can get a PT I will. What EDR says about liking to climb has some validity. I like to do it for some reason, and most of the guys I ride with just kind of suffer through it. Having said that, in climbing races and climbing group rides, I'm consistently at the front of the pack when the road tilts up and there has to be other guys in those races that like to climb. If my power calculations are correct it may be less of me being strong and more of an issue of other riding below their capacity.

    My break-away work is nothing spectacular in terms of tactics. I can generally only stay away for a lap or two, nothing like the amount of time it takes to really make a break happen. Knowing this, I generally talk with a rival team (not the one we want to make chase) and get someone that I know to go with me. I did some races last year which I was the designated rabbit and my job was to make the guys from the other teams work. I'd take off and work like hell. I have no way to estimate power, but in terms of HR, zone 5b. The other teams would chase me down. After a short recovery hiding in the pack (I tend to recover reasonably fast), I'd take off, again. Of course, I wasn't trying to place well for these races. When it came sprint time in those races, I just got out of the way.

    I'm really working on base and aerobic fitness this off-season. I've only done maybe 2 rides where I had to stand on the gas. Having said that, even with essentially no anaerobic work in the last couple months I'm feeling reasonably strong (better that I would have expected). Hopefully the aerobic work is going to pay off in terms of FTP. When it comes time to ramp up the anaerobic training, I'm going to do my best and let the chips fall.

    I just want to make sure I'm not giving away 20 watts of FTP by my position and wanted to get a reality check from people who would have the ability to measure it what the drag difference was between hoods and drops. Thanks for the responses, all.

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    Maybe you need to stick to your strengths then?

    I'm of similar weight and my FTP is around 270 maybe 280 when I'm flying. I can't TT slash get in breaks for crap, but I can sprint. So, that's what I do...

    I play in breaks every now and then, but I'm not Leo, and I know I can't hold 340W indefinitely...
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  7. #7
    Wheelsuck Fat Boy's Avatar
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    For sure, when it comes to race tactics (when I'm trying to win, as opposed to helping the team), I stick to my strengths, which is my sprint. To be honest, I don't know if the sprint is my strong point, or just being able to grab a good wheel and hold it. Either way, it works out in the end.

    The reason I'm interested in working on the TT / Break end of things is because it is my limiter. It seems like the right time of year to address that end of things, specifically things like position

  8. #8
    Resident Alien Racer Ex's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by El Diablo Rojo View Post
    Ex is a TT specialist
    I hate being typecast. It's not like I don't do well at other stuff

    Fats, you've got a few things going on here and you obviously know that. Quickly addressing power there are two types of breaks: solo and multi rider. Each one requires different capacities, one steady state (no recovery) and one "criss cross" (hammer, then recover). The profile for each is quite different, as is the training. You can be good at both BTW.

    As far as the aerodynamics goes, you should see a wattage reduction riding in the drops. How much is variable depending on the person, the set up, and even the bar. While low is important, narrow doesn't hurt either. I run a 40cm c-c bar with a deeper and longer drop, which most fitters would tell me is wrong. The deep gets me lower on the bike and the narrow also makes me more aerodynamically efficient, and helps me squeeze into some of those tight spots during crits and road races.

    If you're looking to change/lower your position, I'd suggest going slow to make sure your back and body adapts. In addition to deeper bend bars and a stem with more drop, you could also try a longer stem which will stretch you out and lower you in the process.

    I'd also suggest learning to ride with your elbows on the tops:



    It's very efficient for solo breaks and bridging. You'll need to regularly spend time riding in this position so your muscles will adapt; it closes up the hip quite a bit and if you just use it during the races and not in training, it will thrash you pretty good. It's also a good check on the quality of your chamois...

  9. #9
    Senior Member ldesfor1@ithaca's Avatar
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    fully agree with the bike position thing that Ex is speaking of.

    I do lots of "aero" drills. In fact I often do workouts that have a prescribed time in the "invisible aero bar" position. I may do 3' @ LT in the IAB position, folowed by 9' @ LT on the hoods. Pushing LT power in the IAB's is tough, so after 3' the hoods feel GREAT!

    That said, I've really had to practice being this low and still producing power... it's always a tradeoff.

    As with everything, practice produces performance.
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    Senior Member grolby's Avatar
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    Riding in the drops can make a big difference (depending upon a number of factors, like Ex said). I did a number of small-field crits this summer with very low fitness, so aerodynamics were at a serious premium. I rode these races essentially 100% in the drops, because I noticed that, without exception, it got more difficult to hold the wheel in front of me whenever I moved to the hoods.

    It matters more when you're at low fitness and don't have power to spare, but aerodynamics are always really important. Just for giggles, watch the Cat 5 race at your local crit series. You're going to see riders mostly on the hoods, locked elbows, backs at 45-degree angles, that sort of thing (there's a decent minority with good position, but definitely a minority). Then stick around and watch the P/1/2's. You're probably going to see a lot more riders in the drops and flat backs. Even those on the hoods will probably have bent elbows and low positions. It takes adaptation to get that low, but it gives considerable return for the investment.

    FWIW, I ride a 52cm and have essentially the same amount of drop to the bar tops as you. The hoods are a bit down the curve of the bar, so that's probably another ~cm or so, and I use relatively deep drops by modern standards (139mm). I'm not Euro-low on the hoods, but I'm quite low and aero on the drops. It's probably entirely possible for you to get lower (presumably, 7.5cm means that you have less drop, proportionally speaking, than I do), but it's certainly not a magic bullet. After all, I'm still pretty damn slow at the moment, even if I am nice and low on the bike. You can work on both your position and your engine at the same time, and that's the approach I would take. I would also think about what cdr and ridethecliche said, i.e. figure out what your strengths are and race to them. That said, I disagree that 270-280 W is not enough to succeed in TTs or breaks. With a good position, that's enough raw power to work a break, for sure. There's a constellation of other stuff that I haven't figured out yet that really matter, involving tactics, timing, willingness to suffer and so on. That's why you should read what waterrockets has to say about his successful breaks.

  11. #11
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    I will say that 270-280W isn't enough for a break.

    That was almost 4 w/kg for me and I couldn't even keep up with the lead group in the road races that I did.
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  12. #12
    Banned. El Diablo Rojo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ridethecliche View Post
    I will say that 270-280W isn't enough for a break.

    That was almost 4 w/kg for me and I couldn't even keep up with the lead group in the road races that I did.
    I agree. My FTP is basically 4.1w/kg and I can't sustain a solo break. But WR's scenario is more likely to be successful for wattage outputs in this range. Creating a break and getting guys serious about maintaining the break are possible with this kind of wattage. I've witnessed Ex going OTF front from the *** and hold a large advantage for 2/3rds of a race. This is more of TT effort, I've also witnessed him hitting the field until a break of 2-5 guys gets OTF. So yes he has multiple skill sets ...The problem that I see in lower cats is that if someone tries to establish a break he's racing against the entire field. Heck I've seen a guy go off the front in a cat 4 race, a few guys start to chase then even his teammates help bring him back. There are little to no team tactics that would help a rider establish a break. So unless you have an enormous amount of power it's really difficult to get away (cat 3 races are marginally better in this respect). The masters races are far more tactical, the majority of the riders are cat 1/2's and the teams ride to get results not just for individual success.

  13. #13
    Senior Member grolby's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ridethecliche View Post
    I will say that 270-280W isn't enough for a break.

    That was almost 4 w/kg for me and I couldn't even keep up with the lead group in the road races that I did.
    Quote Originally Posted by El Diablo Rojo View Post
    I agree. My FTP is basically 4.1w/kg and I can't sustain a solo break. But WR's scenario is more likely to be successful for wattage outputs in this range. Creating a break and getting guys serious about maintaining the break are possible with this kind of wattage. I've witnessed Ex going OTF front from the *** and hold a large advantage for 2/3rds of a race. This is more of TT effort, I've also witnessed him hitting the field until a break of 2-5 guys gets OTF. So yes he has multiple skill sets ...The problem that I see in lower cats is that if someone tries to establish a break he's racing against the entire field. Heck I've seen a guy go off the front in a cat 4 race, a few guys start to chase then even his teammates help bring him back. There are little to no team tactics that would help a rider establish a break. So unless you have an enormous amount of power it's really difficult to get away (cat 3 races are marginally better in this respect). The masters races are far more tactical, the majority of the riders are cat 1/2's and the teams ride to get results not just for individual success.
    Yeah, I meant that 270-280 ought to be enough to make a multiple-rider break work. Solo, no. But I meant using tactics more like what WR was describing. You can start or bridge to a break pretty effectively without a 5.0 W/kg FTP if you've got some savvy and a decent jump. I have the jump, but I don't have the savvy yet. More importantly, when I was able to actually use that jump to get to a break, I didn't have the fitness to stay with the other guy, i.e. "I was in the lead group for one sweep of the cranks..."

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    Too many hypotheticals on this forum.

    Lets keep the hyperbole to a minimum.
    Truth, like light, blinds. Falsehood, on the contrary, is a beautiful twilight that enhances every object.
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    my hyperbole is the biggest.

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    gmt Grumpy McTrumpy's Avatar
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    I might also point out that some races require W/CdA rather than W/kg.

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    Wheelsuck Fat Boy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ridethecliche View Post
    Too many hypotheticals on this forum.

    Lets keep the hyperbole to a minimum.
    We're still on BikeForums, right?



    Quote Originally Posted by Grumpy McTrumpy View Post
    I might also point out that some races require W/CdA rather than W/kg.
    This was kind of my point. In a climbing situation I do OK, which would lend itself to the notion that my W/kg isn't too bad where as in a W/CdA I'm not very good. The W/CdA is the end of the deal that I'd like to address, hopefully on the 'W' side and the 'CdA' side, both.

  18. #18
    Senior Member slim_77's Avatar
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    good stuff...
    gravity: it's not just a good idea, it's the law.

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    I should rescind my previous statement.

    It is winter, after all.

    Then again, the 60-70 highs we've been having lately beg to differ.

    (and make me hate life even more)
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    Slow'n'Aero DrWJODonnell's Avatar
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    I will second Ex and recommend practicing the "invisible aerobars" (and apparently riding a Ridley Noah). Keeps your CDA down, is arguably more comfortable, and you don't have to pump blood to the triceps to hold up your upper body.

    Having said this, be prepared to fail. You frankly don't have the power to be holding off any field solo for any great period of time. However, repeated attacking will increase your chances that you will be either in the winning break, or have more fun than you ever had before in a race. So practice your "TT starts" either flying (say from 20+mph) or standing. In either case, you want to launch up to speed quickly, and then hold a solid speed for the next two minutes. Slow down, and do it again.

    Now you said that you wanted to address FTP. Fine. Do that. But do it in your breakaway position. In the drops, invisibars, or whatever, but don't do that stuff from the tops or the hoods. you want to simulate the position in which you will be using your power.

    Oh, and yes, head is a HUGE part or your aeroness. Tuck it down just like I did NOT do in this pic.


  21. #21
    Banned. El Diablo Rojo's Avatar
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    Doc I like the attack/back off/attack again strategy. This may be where I've failed as Ive attacked then tried to hold that power. I will try this at the next "Saturday Morning World Championships".

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    Making a kilometer blurry waterrockets's Avatar
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    One thing I've done on my lunch SST group rides is to drop off the back until they are 20 seconds ahead of me. Then I bridge up, recover, repeat. They're moving around 20-21mph the whole time, so it's a quicker bridge than in a race.

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    aka mattio queerpunk's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by DrWJODonnell View Post
    However, repeated attacking will increase your chances that you will be either in the winning break, or have more fun than you ever had before in a race.
    Oh indeed! Well, to the latter, for me. The times I've let myself actually not care about a result and focus on softening up the field for teammates, well those have been the most fun I've had while racing.
    the hipster myth.

    i practice vagabondery.

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    Quote Originally Posted by DrWJODonnell View Post
    Oh, and yes, head is a HUGE part or your aeroness. Tuck it down just like I did NOT do in this pic.
    Great shot BTW. You're rounding a bend so you are excused for wanting to see where you're going.

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    VeloSIRraptor
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    Quote Originally Posted by waterrockets View Post
    One thing I've done on my lunch SST group rides is to drop off the back until they are 20 seconds ahead of me. Then I bridge up, recover, repeat. They're moving around 20-21mph the whole time, so it's a quicker bridge than in a race.
    yep - I don't have the success stories of attacking/bridging like you guys do, but I over last fall/winter I used to practice this in group rides when the group was moving at 20-22. I'd give them between 20" and 40" before hitting it hard as aero of a position as I could manage... it did great things for my legs and I was able to make the group rides a harder workout without annoying people by pulling all the time.

    I wasn't able to translate the bridge/attacks into race form (I didn't get to race at all this last year) but I could feel the difference in my legs and I am sure that it would have made a difference.

    I'll try again this winter for next spring.
    Quote Originally Posted by shovelhd View Post
    If it comes down to a field sprint, you probably won't win, so don't let it.

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