Guidelines for Successful Pacelines

As a race breakaway starts to organize, it forms a group working together to succeed in their escape attempt. However, when not all the riders in the group are working smart and cohesively, the group will almost always fail or split. Then the inevitable happens and the peloton absorbs most or all of the riders who had broken away.

Below are a few characteristics of a pacelines that can make them very fast and efficient: 
A large part of successful breakaways is a working paceline.

  • Each rider takes a turn at the front, taking care not to stay at the front so long that when they pull off they don’t have enough energy left to get back on the tail of the paceline.
  • Once a smooth flowing paceline has been established, attempts at quickening the pace can be made. Try increasing the speed by ½ to 1 mph at a time. This increase in speed is done very gradually by the person at the very front of the paceline before pulling off. Jumping the pace up too quickly creates disruption and is counter productive to overall speed. There is an exception to the rule of maintaining a steady speed, which is that if the terrain tips down or up, or the wind increases or decreases, one should strive to maintain effort rather than speed. That means the whole train speeds up tops over the crest of a hill and slows as it starts up a roller, for instance.
  • Riders should hold their lines. Ride in as straight a line as possible. If tempted to pull out of the line to spit or blow the nose, wait until you are at the back of the line, or if it’s that absolutely urgent aim downward between your outstretched arm and leg.
  • As a general rule, don’t use your brakes. If the pace slows, soft pedal and sit up higher to catch more wind. If you have to use your brakes, do so very gently and gradually.
  • Avoid sudden accelerations or changes in pedaling motion. If you need to ease up on your pedal stroke, soft pedal rather than stopping pedaling abruptly. When riders change anything abruptly, it signals the riders behind that something is about to happen. If this occurs repeatedly, it causes disruption and will keep other riders from wanting to ride behind you in the line.
  • When pulling off the front of a rotating paceline, riders should move over gradually, avoiding swinging out abruptly or far to the side. The rider pulling off the front should ease over just in front of the rider who last left the front, leaving a comfortable drafting distance when they arrive and avoiding slowing too much. If the rider leaving the front slows too quickly, gaps will open when the next rider pulls off. If the rider leaving the front doesn’t slow enough, he or she will make it even more difficult for the next rider to pull off the front because of the increased speed.
  • When the paceline approaches a climb or a rise (rollers) in the road, no one should come out of the paceline and surge off the front. This has both negative physical and psychological effects. When a rider does this, they are, in effect, telling the other riders they are stronger than them creating a negative working environment. Additionally, it makes the other riders expend energy they need to conserve to pull the paceline along. Remember that overall speed is important. When riders come to the front after having been taxed, they can’t effectively pull the paceline along and the pace slows.
  • When coming to the front, don’t surge or try to prove how much stronger you are than the rider that just pulled off. This causes the paceline to surge and creates an accordion effect that amplifies the further toward the back it goes. With this amplification, each rider must work harder than they would otherwise need to in order to just stay in the paceline. Then, when these riders come to the front, they don’t have the energy left to effectively pull the paceline along. This is counter productive to a smooth, fast paceline. Maximum group speed is the key to success.
  • There will almost always be sometime in a large rotating paceline when a rider in the overtaking line can’t or won’t pull through and the paceline is disrupted. If it’s in the best interest to keep the paceline going for all, it’s almost always necessary for riders who had previously just pulled off the front, to now move over and lead again momentarily, even if the paceline slows for a bit. If it is in your best interest to keep the paceline going to the finish, it’s nearly always better to make this quick sacrifice than it is to let the paceline stall for too long. One thing to take into consideration at this time is why riders are letting the paceline stall. Are you getting close to the finish and too many are sitting on rather than pulling through? Is someone saving up energy to attack? Is someone blocking? Or too many riders getting tired? Possibly it’s time to consider going it alone.
  • Chat it up thanking everyone for their efforts and letting them know they are doing a good job. Try to keep everyone’s efforts up as close to the finish as possible. This gives the breakaway or chase group the best chances of success.

Think fast, be fast, get a good paceline going and practice. The more you practice these techniques, the less you will have to think about them during a highly charged racing situation. So, when training for next year’s racing season, get team members out for paceline practice. It’ll be loads of fun and prepare you for the coming seasons’ racing situations.