Dutch and I led the group out, and after a 5 minute pull, we rotated to the rear. We had some strong riders, including a local competitive mountain biker out for some training and some strong Team McAllen roadies, but we also had a lot of newer riders and intermediates trying to bridge up to the next group. As I moved back, I noticed a lot of gaps building within the paceline. I knew that if we had gaps at that point in the ride, then it was soon to get a lot worse.
Like many group rides, the ride doesn't really start until the group is warmed up and ready. When we reached that point about 20-30 minutes into the ride, the hammering began, accompanied by some dangerous riding. I saw:
- Surging and half-wheeling at the front of the group, creating confusion and forcing the drafting team (and the teams behind them) to close the open gap, only to slow again to keep from overlapping wheels.
- Standing up and getting out of the saddle for tiny, short "climbs". We don't have elevation change here, so I'm referring to overpasses and levees.
- Very short pulls, which induced lots of yo-yoing in the paceline.
- Weaker riders not taking pulls at all.
- Weaving, braking, and quick movement that required quick reaction from other riders.
I rewrote that list several times, as I don't want it to be hypercritical or negative. In a group ride, you have to be ready to ride with lots of different types of riders, and to handle the unexpected. And I know - all of that stuff happens in racing. But this wasn't a race, it was the Sunday group ride. I've been the rider that does all of those things in the list, so I know it's a function of skill, conditioning, and experience, and not something that typically happens maliciously.
On this ride, Dutch and I decided it was a bit too dangerous. Instead of trying to change the behavior of a large group, we simply took a detour. We turned off and rode alone for 20 miles or so, meeting the group again at the rest stop. It took the worry out of the ride, we still hammered, and when we reached the rest stop we learned we avoided a couple of near misses in the group.
If you read this and think I'm complaining, then I haven't properly made my point. Group rides like this aren't perfect, and some days are good, with other days not quite so good. Since it seemed to me that this ride was shaded towards the inconsitent and dangerous side of the group rides, I'm glad we made the decision to split from the group on this ride. The last thing I need right now is to be out of work, injured, and needing to spend money making expensive repairs to my bike.
Distance: 44.5 miles
Avg Speed: 19.5 mph (includes solo to ride start and some SLOW laps around BK)
Calories: Unknown (thanks, Mr. Malfunctioning Garmin 305)
Elevation: +752 / -771 ft (yeah, really!)
Here's a link to the ride data, and a screenshot.