Fundamentals of Road Racing: Basics of the Paceline

Feb 27
2014
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The “paceline” is the most prototypical element of competitive road cycling.  After clipping-in and out, the paceline is probably the most intimidating skill for a beginning road racer to learn. There are four basic paceline types: (1) the single paceline; (2) the single rotating paceline; (3) the double paceline; and (4) the echelon.  Each type has is unique elements, but the basics are generally the same.  Here’s an overview of the common single rotating paceline:

  • There are two lines: the Pace Line and the Relief Line.  The Pace Line, sets the steady tempo or pace of the group. The Relief Line is also the “rest line”, but its not passive.  As explained below the Relief Line is the most important aspect of a proper paceline.
  • The paceline is all about efficiency.  Surging is a waste of efficiency.  So when riding the Pace Line keep the tempo steady.  This is particularly important when you hit the lead.  Do Not Accelerate!  “Pull through”, be patient, and you’ll get in front of your Relief Line.  And if the Relief lead is doing his job correctly you won’t have to work to clear.
  • Once you’re clear, rotate to the Relief Line, and decelerate. A little understood dynamic of the paceline is that the Relief Line actually controls the entire paceline’s tempo (as well as the wind break - see below). Your failing to decelerate in the Relief Line wastes your teammates energy and prevents you from conserving your energy.
  • As you assume your position in the Relief Line be aware of your position both relative to the rider in front of you and the Pace Line. The efficiency of the paceline is the collective wind resistance, so you need to be as close to the wheel in front of you and tight to the Pace Line.  If your lead in the Relief Line isn’t falling back he’s not doing his job correctly - let him know!  The Relief Line should be rotating backwards at a pretty good clip - 2-3 mph slower.
  • Once you hit the end of the Relief Line, anticipate your transfer back to the Pace Line. Watch overlapping wheels - meaning don’t overlap.  If done properly you should be able come up to Pace Line speed with minimal effort. 
  • Rinse and repeat

As noted above, properly judging wind direction is critical to the paceline’s efficiency. The Relief Line should always be taking the wind- it both helps deceleration in the Relief Line and protects the Pace Line from the wind.  

Watch the video to help demonstrate some of these concepts.  It may not be perfect but take note of the basic elements.  

[Fundamentals of Road Racing is a CBR open discussion series aimed at sharing the ins and outs of competitive cycling for beginners and experienced racers alike. We encourage your CONSTRUCTIVE comments, thoughts, perspectives, etc. We can all benefit from reinforcing the fundamentals] 

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