How to Throw Down a Fast Century Ride

First, did you guys see the Tyler Hamilton interview on 60 Minutes last night? I have to say I am convinced that Hamilton is telling the truth. The guy came off credible in my book. He did see to be pretty nervous, but not knowing his mannerisms in conversation, I don’t know how much of the eye shifting and pausing was him being thoughtful in his responses. For me the interview was the tipping point — I now think Armstrong was a doper just like everyone else in the peloton. I really don’t care that he did it. He still kicked everyone else’s butt when they were doping at the same time. 60 Minutes presented a pretty solid case and one that demands a thorough examination if you are a fan of the sport of cycling.

But now on to the good stuff…

Salt Lake Century

Saturday a group of nine friends and assorted hanger-oners gathered to complete the 25th Annual Salt Lake Century Ride. It was an interesting group. We had a lot of experienced riders in this group, and some pretty hard core endurance athletes. The good news was that everyone wanted to start this ride out slowly and really chill for the first half of the ride. Can you guess how long that lasted? Yep — about as long as it took for us to ride from the trucks to the start line.

For my equipment, I rode my Cervelo R3SL and threw on my brand spanking new Zipp 101’s with a PowerTap hub. I carried enough mix for four 250 calorie bottles of Infinit and two ProBars. Outside of that, it was a pretty normal gear day. To make this easier, I am going to break this down into 20 mile segments. The ride is actually 106 miles, so the last piece will discuss the last 26 miles…

Miles 0 – 20.0

The plan was to stick together the entire ride. There were three riders that I knew were in pretty much top form and would probably be itching to go as soon as we started, and to their credit, they did stick with the group until about mile 10 when half of us got caught up in a stop light. Because the crowds were fairly thick, we did slow down the pace a little through this section. The first rest stop was at mile 18. which we skipped to avoid the crowds. I like to do that because you really can pass a ton of people…

I did treat this like any other ride and went fairly easy for the first 20 miles. We averaged 19.5 mph and my heart rate was a low 141 bpm. Riding with a group of this size, we did take a while to get organized and to ride hard. Starting at mile 20, the remaining 5 guys I was with decided to organize and we got the engines started at this point.

For your century, you really should try and keep your foot off the gas through the first 20 miles. Find a group that wants to ride at the pace you are comfortable with drafting. When you are in the pace line you should feel very comfortable, almost resting. When you get out in front, you should really be pushing your pace for the two minutes or so.

Miles 20.1 – 40.0

On this ride there is little climbing and what there is on the course is primarily located on overpasses on the freeway. There are lots of turns are you navigate through a couple of neighborhoods, but our group started to get organized and really started to push a little. Again, it is a little early to really push your effort, so we kept the pace within a comfortable range. I did a lot of pulling in this section. Our pace for this section was right at 21.0 mph and my heart rate started to climb and averaged 164 bpm. It was a little high, but that may be to the hard effort we put in on the handful of overpasses we climbed here.

There were some funny groups out on the road. We did see a paceline of about 15 triathletes all on their Cervelo P2 and P3’s all decked out to the nines. They looked a little funny to be honest with you — I think they were all riding the exact same model year of bike. One had his bottles in a behind the seat holder and they were about ready to be launched so I gave him the heads up. After all, I really am a triathlete at heart. I didn’t want to see him lose his nutrition so early in a ride.

Miles 40.1 – 60.0

This section ended up being the meat and potatoes of the ride. It was during this section that we started to push the pace a lot and our power jumped. In this section we started to really work together and spend no more than 2 minutes on the front of our train. We averaged 21.3 mph on this section and my heart rate was a little lower at 159 bpm. We also caught the three guys who went off the front back at mile 10 at a rest area where we stopped to refill bottles. It was good to see them again.

We also picked up probably 20 riders who weren’t willing to work as part of the pace line. In a big ride like this, you are going to get those people who are either just too cooked to help or are just jerks. I try to not judge which I think a person is in and just smile and think about the great workout I am getting and they aren’t. I try to assume the best in people because once everyone gets tired and blood sugar gets low, tempers seem to be real close to the surface.

But one thing I have little tolerance for are people who do not signal hazards, turns, or other riders. Actually, I have no tolerance for them in a paceline. I had a skinny little guy (horrible to draft off of) jump into our line who refused to signal hazards. I was running over potholes and afraid I was going to flat because he wouldn’t signal back. I sprinted up and told him in no uncertain terms that the paceline was full of my people and he either needed to start signaling or he could get out. He started signaling immediately after that. :) I may have been more aggressive than I needed to, but I got my point across.

When you are riding in a paceline — regardless if you know the crew or not — you have to pass signals back. It is a requirement. It is good etiquette and if you don’t do it in our line, we will toss you out. We haven’t ever had to throw someone out of a paceline, so please don’t ask me how we would do it. It may have something to do with grabbing their water bottle and tossing it to the side of the road. That might actually work!

Miles 60.1 – 80.0

We started this section with our full crew — all 9 of us. It was interesting that as soon as we would pass another group I would look back and there they would be hanging on to the back again. We tried a new strategy here — we had the strongest riders pull on the front and really pick up the pace. There were four in our group who really kept the pace up and we averaged 21.7 mph on this section. My heart rate was up a little at 157 bpm in this section.

Sending your stronger guys to the front while allowing your riders who are getting tired or who couldn’t keep a really high pace off the front is a great strategy. As long as your stronger riders can keep the pace up, your group speed will be faster and the rest of your crew will be able to keep up. Thank goodness we had Rick LaBelle, his cousin Wade, Juston Puchar, and Dan Hendrickson to pull. My goodness they were like four titans pulling the rest of us through these 20 miles. I tried to get out front a couple of times and was good for about 60 seconds and then had to drop back. I think our paceline had grown to about 30 people at one point. Every one of them dropped off by the end of the section — they just couldn’t keep up with our guys on the front. The good news is we didn’t lose one rider in our group of nine.

Miles 80.1 – 106.3

Oh my. Oh man. This is where we all started to pay for the miles of cruising. From mils 0 – 80, we had averaged about 21.2 mph, You guys know the month of April and the first two weeks of May I had limited time in the saddle. At about mile 83 I hit a dark spot. I usually am one of the guys off the front, but I wasn’t on this ride. I must have been a little behind on the calories as well because I just lost it. It became a struggle to keep up with my crew. But having hit one of these spots a time or two before, I knew what to do.

I kept up with my crew. I pulled a ProBar out of my jersey pocket and ate it. That thing tasted like heaven would. I had been drinking Infinit all day long and had enough product for about 250 calories per hour, but I figured out after the ride that I was a bottle behind my schedule, which means I had consumed about 750 calories through 4 hours of riding. Of course I was going to bonk.

I threw down a whole bottle of Infinit along with my ProBar and within two miles I felt much better. I have to admit I never felt like I was 100% back, but I had enough to keep up with the group for the most part. We did get separated at another light, but it only impacted our finishing times by about a minute. In endurance sports, nutrition is key to your performance. If you fall behind, it is tough to make it back up, but if you have a plan that you have tried before, you can keep going.

Overall, we finished in 5:03 for an average of 21.0 mph. My average heart rate was 156 bpm. While pulling, my peak 60 second power output was 383 watts, which is pretty consistent with my output when I am riding solo. I thought the ride was a total success. I got to ride with one of my buddies who is doing Triple Bypass with me, which was fantastic. I rode with another friend who wants to do the Gran Fondo of Park City with me and I am going to have to really work hard to just keep up with him.

The big story though, was my pal Curt who is a second year cyclist and who I get to do LOTOJA with this year. That guy was a beast today and I am super excited that his pre ride meal of an Arby’s Beef and Cheddar, Curly Fries, and a Vanilla Shake kept him fueled throughout the day. Literally, that guy rode within himself the entire day and finished super strong. At one point I was praying I could get on his wheel so he could drag me home.

Conclusion

A century ride is like any other — it is all about pacing. I think we could have gone faster and averaged 22.0 mph for the majority of the ride if we were a little more organized. I think one of the keys to a successful century ride is to make sure you have a group of five to ten friends who are of similar ability and fitness levels. It isn’t easy to find a group like that, but you can do it. Everyone should take their turns on the front at the beginning of the ride, and those stronger riders should hold a little something in reserve for the last 20 miles. You should make sure everyone is keeping up on their nutrition and hydration and don’t be afraid to ask everyone if they are.

About the Author

I have been participating in running and triathlons for 10 years and love the feeling that training provides. You may not agree with me, but you know you just can't look away...