Group rides. They are the best of times. You get to hang out with your friends and catch up on life. They pass the time in the saddle and make cycling a social or team sport instead of an individual endeavor.
Race pace group rides are a different animal. While a normal group ride may vary in pace, a race pace group ride pegs the meter from start to finish and can simulate a true racing experience – sans the license, entry fee, and stress of a real race. Colorado has many legendary group rides. Fort Collins says it’s is the toughest. Boulder’s Gateway and Bus Stop rides are stacked with pros. Denver’s FDR ride is quickly developing into a fantastic race pace experience with top riders, but for the time being the Meridian group ride is, in my opinion, the finest race pace group ride to blow the carbon out of your engine.
The ride starts with Daylight savings time every year and goes strong the remainder of the racing season, tapering off sometime in the late summer of fall. It meets at the Meridian office park development at 6pm and races in crazy circles for approximately one hour until 7pm.
The ride is fast and challenging, covering a rolling circuit consisting of 2-3 punchy climbs, some flats, some headwinds, and even a few spots to rest. Fast riders roost at the front and push the pace along with relentless attacks and breakaways. Mid pack, slower, or riders just looking for a tempo pace hang out further back where they enjoy 25-30mph speeds while tucked into the relative safety of the group. This ride gets quite large, ranging from 40 to 100 riders depending on the weather and race schedules. There is no single person that runs the ride or calls the shots. Nobody is truly responsible for the group, but more seasoned attendees watch out for the group and bark orders at riders that get out of line. Any time you get a large number of riders in close proximity at high speeds and you mix in a little oxygen debt, there can be crashes. Meridian is no exception. Wheels get crossed and riders desperate for good lines quickly dart into the paths of others. To mitigate this risk I often ride to the outside left of the pack and ride as far towards the front as I am able. That way if there is a crash I have room to swerve, and practically speaking there are simply fewer riders around me with which to tangle.
Dropped riders often wait at the top of the short stoplight climb and jump back into the group the next time they come around. This tends to work well except for when a very tired rider tries to jump in at the front when they clearly can’t hang. Don’t do that. It isn’t safe, and a position at the front should be earned, not hopped into.
For my own style of training, which is not the most scientific, Meridian represents the perfect opportunity to trick my body into doing intervals. I don’t have the self discipline to go out and suffer hard alone, but in a group setting I love the extra motivation to catch a wheel that is sprinting away or to hold off the chasing peloton for just one more lap.
Here are a few videos of the ride. The first is an hour long and unedited, but gives a good sense of how things tend to play out towards the front of the group. The first lap or two start out very chill, then someone fires off the first attack and the rest is of the ride becomes white hot pain.
This second video is from 2012 and runs about 28 minutes.
Here are a number of pulls I did from the ride on 4-8-14. I tried to pick some frames that show some of the variation and intensity of the peloton and the effort of the ride.
Safe Riding! -SF