Riding away from a group (be they competitors you are looking to ditch or friends you’ll eventually drop back to once you’ve had your fun) is hugely rewarding, and while lighter riders will wait for the hills to make their mark, the more powerful among us can achieve the same effect by upping the pace on exposed flat sections, out of corners or into a headwind.
Recently retired Tom Boonen, a four-time Paris-Roubaix winner, was a master of the art of putting in a sustained effort that could ride an entire peloton off his wheel.
1. Maintenance is key
You won’t make your effort stick if you go too far into the red too early. Maintain your effort through corners and fluctuations in pace, changes in road surface and gradient. You’re looking to keep effort as constant as possible, but it’s important to be able to go above and below threshold as required.
2. Pull through the bar
You are looking to put as much energy as possible into the pedals, and one way to achieve that is by pulling through the bar and transmitting that energy through your body and into the cranks. This happens naturally when climbing, but requires thought on the flat.
3. Still life
If you’re going to deliver that power to your pedals, you need to lock in your core so that it isn’t wasted along the way. A strong core is also vital in giving your legs a solid base to push against. Much of that work is done in training, but keeping your body still is the key technique here.
4. Gear selection
If you are a powerful rider then using a big gear on the flat will help to translate that power into speed. Wind that gear up to create as big a pedalling circle as you can, focusing on driving through the downstroke and pushing and pulling through the deadspot when your feet are at 12 and 6 o’clock.
5. Stroke style
Pulling through the pedal stroke and keeping the circle big are keys to a smooth and powerful pedal stroke. Boonen is renowned for his heel down style through the bottom of the stroke, using his foot to extend the lever.
6. Keep the chain tight
By using a big gear, keeping your body steady and concentrating on pedalling big circles you’ll be taking all the slack out of the chain. Keeping the chain tight is the secret to fast cycling and visible proof that energy isn’t being lost.
The Golden Rule: nail your training zones
Using heart rate or power, and performing a functional threshold test, is an accurate way to calculate zones, but without them you can use perceived effort.
Active recovery: What it feels like — easy, just turning the legs over with no fatigue
Endurance: What it feels like — steady ride all day pace
Tempo: What it feels like — a determined effort you can maintain
Threshold: What it feels like — it is tough to maintain as you’re near your limit, but is sustainable
VO2 max: What it feels like — hard, requiring high levels of effort. Legs will start burning quickly
Anaerobic capacity: What it feels like — 100 percent sprint involving maximal effort