Intermediate Paceline Etiquette
The pacelines have been relatively safe and smooth so far this year, so it's time to introduce some intermediate paceline techniques. These hold on the road and on the track, so it should be useful for everybody.
Lesson 0: Recap
These are all the things you should already know how to do/be doing:
- Ride a straight line
- Don't accelerate or decelerate (hard) when you get on the front (unless you are trying to attack/drop people)
- Don't stare at the back wheel of the rider ahead of you -- it's much better to look at their front hub
- If a gap opens, close it smoothly and gently, don't just stomp on the pedals to close it then stomp on the brakes to slow down
These are all things that should have been taught already as beginner pacelining. Be sure to master these techniques!
Lesson 1: How to Correctly Slow Down
We've all been in a paceline and either people ahead are slowing or you're going to fast and will run into the back of the person ahead of you. On the road, many riders will simply tap the brakes. They carry this onto the track and do a little leg-lock thing to slow down a little bit. These are bad bad bad practices.
The correct way to slow down in a paceline is to move out of the paceline slightly so that you are now in the wind. On the track, you move up-track gently until you are no longer in the draft and just let the extra drag slow you down, then gently drop back in.
This way, there's no accelerating/decelerating that causes problems for people behind you. It helps eliminate that yo-yo effect that gets worse as you get further back.
Lesson 2: (Almost) Always Follow the Leader
The leader isn't the person on the front of the paceline here, but the person in front of you. I qualify this with always because there are two instances when you shouldn't follow them:
- It's the person on the front of the paceline pulling off and it's your turn to pull
- The person ahead of you is bleeding off speed by going up track slightly
The first one is obvious. The second one, you have some choices. Odds are if the person in front of you is going too fast, then you are going too fast too. If you just followed the person in front of you, then you'll run into the back of them too. You can follow them and then swing a little bit further up track, which is acceptable, or you can stay put and bleed off some speed. You will still be in the draft of the paceline, but not as much because there is a gap from where the rider in front of you pulled up.
Lesson 3: Exiting Gracefully
All of this lesson is based on the idea that you are trying to be cooperative with the others in the paceline and you don't want people to hate you. This happens in warmups, chasing a breakaway, trying to breakaway, team pursuits, record attempts, etc.. In these cases, no matter how tired you are, NEVER LET A GAP OPEN! This is the sure-fire way to upset everybody behind you.
But what do you do? First, recognize when you're getting tired before it's too late. If you can tell you won't be able to hang on in the middle of a paceline at that speed for much longer, exit gracefully (which I'll explain in a second), and go to the back of the line and sit there. When riders come off the front to the back, let them in ahead of you. Do this until you recover or pop off. Never just hop out of the line.
To exit gracefully, just like everything else in a paceline, you want to do it smoothly and without hard accelerations. The best way to do this is to move up-track slightly and gently accelerate until you draw even (or as close to even as you can) with the rider ahead of you. Once there, make it clear you are done. Pro road riders flick their elbow, I think it makes more sense to yell loudly, like "Done!" or "Off!"
Since everybody else behind you should be following Lesson 2, the rest of the paceline should have moved up track with you. When you make it clear you are done, the riders behind you should drop back down onto the wheel you were originally on and the paceline is back together without any gaps. At this point, you're free of any paceline duties and can go where you want to, like the back of the line.
The above three lessons are what I would consider to be intermediate pacelining. For the most part they are lessons in how to not upset everybody else you are riding with. This is important because if you really upset everybody, nobody will be willing to work with you in a race. But, if you can ride a paceline correctly, people will be more willing to work (either to chase or breakaway) and not just sit on your wheel to mark your moves.
Of course, be sure to master the beginner techniques first. It's way more important to maintain a constant pace than it is to exit gracefully. But for those who feel they have the entry-level stuff down fairly well, start thinking about and working in these lessons and your riding will improve.