How to ride smart and not get dropped by your friends

By Kyle Wolfe
During the off season training periods or the actual racing season, most of the amateur bike racers around the country set up their weekend group and club training rides to help refine their fitness.  However, what typically comes out of harsh winters or busy summers is a disparity of fitness between training friends and teammates.  This can lead to some embarrassing rides when some guys get dropped and can lead to the frustration of the stronger riders.
A good way to avoid that is to use the tools available with Training Peaks or WKO+ software.  Since the price and availability of power meters has changed over the years, it seems like most riders own one, and even if they only have a heart rate monitor, the recent software changes to Training Peaks allow most riders to see the Training Stress Score and Intensity Factors from each of their rides and workouts.
Hopefully over the winter everyone has burned up their wind trainers and tested a bit to get a good handle on their Functional Threshold Power.  We also know that during the ride, Normalized Power can most simply be defined as the impact that the body feels from the ride.  With those two numbers, we can determine the Intensity Factor of the ride, basically the decimal ratio of those values.
Without sparking too much debate, a solid weekend group endurance ride should have an Intensity Factor of about .56 to.75.  However, if a rider is hurting himself to keep up and take turns, then he is going to be working too hard and his IF might be much higher.  This is not great as it can lead to fatigue and possibly under-performance as the season progresses.   
The ideal training ride would end with everyone having the same IF.  The best way for this to happen is to very simply to make sure that everyone is riding inside those levels.  Go into the ride knowing your FTP and then monitor your power meter’s normalized value to make sure it stays at 75%.  If you are over that value, then you know you have to skip turns or sit on the back.  If you are one of the strong ones, then you might have to take longer pulls or double shifts at the front. 
In the end, everyone benefits the same.  The strong riders are not held back by the weaker, and the weaker riders benefit from the long steady ride and build themselves up at a safe rate.  Besides, it is more fun that way.  At basic training, the TIs used to tell us that marching around in straight lines built “esprit de corpse”; the same is true on those long rides, it is cool to have a group riding 2x2 along the side of the road all together and having fun.
Another way to apply IF in the field is in a practical race scenario like a team time trial.  We all remember Garmin a few years back killing the Giro’s TTT.  With four of the world’s strongest time trialists setting pace, it was up to Ryder Hesdejal to hang on for dear life to make that crucial fifth place for time.  Had he tried to be a hero and pull through he would only slowed them down and put himself in the hurt and affected the team.  Instead, he sat on even at a higher level while the rest of the squad finishes.  They shared the Intensity Factor and won the day.
Another practical scenario is if you are in a breakaway at a race.  If you work evenly, then everyone is tired and the finish line is a crap shoot.  However, if you are careful to only work as little as necessary to stay away, and thus keep your IF low, then you will have more reserve at the finish to take the score.
That little plastic box on your handlebars is more than just a fancy speedometer, it is a valuable tool that can help you have a better weekend ride or even win a race.  Using that and the tools and data available from Training Peaks allows us to all enjoy our bikes more. 
 Kyle Wolfe is a USA Cycling Level 2D coach and Power Based Training Certified based in CT and loves those long training rides.