Although I managed over 5,000 on two wheels last year, most that distance was spent on my own (I have got mates honest, they’re just, er, busy). Whilst I don’t mind having my nose into the wind for 30 or 40 miles or so, I’m well aware that cycling in a group can reduce the effort required by a considerable amount as whilst everyone takes it turn to spend some time on the front, they also benefit from ‘hiding’ from the wind in the peloton. Sounds perfect for a long slog up to Scotland with 749 other people. I therefore thought it would be a good idea if I did a few of the Velo Club’s sportives this winter to get a bit more experience.
The thing that I immediately noticed in my first sportive was just how close everyone was to each other. Uncomfortably close for sweaty men in lycra. We’re talking inches here. Near enough to smell people. Now it strikes me there’s two things you really don’t want to be doing in a situation like this (other than breathing in): 1. jabbing hard on the brakes, and 2. wandering all over the road. Spacial awareness is everything. In the five sportives I’ve now done, every crash I’ve seen has always involved the bunch slowing suddenly and people further back in the group smacking into the backs of others. Hold your line, follow the wheel in front, but look beyond the front of the group for potential hazards (which hopefully others are pointing out too) seems to be the order of the day.
It’s also nice to be able to have a chat with someone for once. Nothing philosophical, just a few words here and there to keep you’re spirits up when you think you’re legs are about to fall off. Not sure Chris Froome tells jokes as the Tour de France reaches the bottom of Alpe d’Huez though, but I suppose everything is relative. Furthermore, I find it quite an interesting gauge of how tough everyone is finding the going, as it tends to go a bit quiet when you’re concentrating hard on breathing and staying upright at the same time. Kind of reassuring when you realise you’re not the only one about to sick up a lung.
I don’t think I can quantify how much harder, faster, longer you can go in a bunch, but I know for certain that I wouldn’t have got round that 84 mile course on Sunday in a faster average speed than I’ve ever managed for my 10 mile commute. And I know for certain that heading North from Lands’ End is going to be a lot easier (and fun) sticking together in a bunch.