What are pacelines in cycling? How do they work and how are they formed?
What are pacelines? How do they work and how are they formed? Those who have raced in a competition certainly know what we are talking about, but for many enthusiasts things may not be so clear.
How is it possible that the wind can have such an impact and that some flat stages are more difficult than some mountain stages?
Let’s try to clear all this up.
1. What are pacelines?
The paceline is a group arrangement that is formed in the event of a strong crosswind. In this case, tailgating in the “traditional” way, i.e., behind the wheel of the person in front, does not allow you to be completely sheltered from the wind blowing from the side. You have to proceed in a staggered manner, moving slightly to the side of the person in front, on the side opposite the wind direction: keep in mind that this is a fundamental rule for professionals, but also for us amateurs.
It sounds simple, but you have to take into account the width of the road: as you move away from each other, you move further and further to the side of the road. At this point, when the paceline occupies the entire road, the cyclists at the rear of the group are on the edge and are forced to move forward in single file, being much more exposed to the wind than those inside the paceline.
The high speed does the rest, generating what is known as a “gap”, which can cause those who are not in the paceline to lose several minutes.
2. How they are formed and how they work
The paceline is only used when there is a crosswind, but as long as the rhythm remains regular there are hardly any major selections.
Everything changes when a team takes control of the situation and attacks. When a team decides to “open” a paceline, it does not use all the track, but only the track necessary to keep its team members covered. This way, all the other riders are in the wind and inevitably someone will start to pull away.
Instinct would tell you to stay to the side of the road, but in reality, the best solution is to open a new paceline by moving toward the centre of the road. The cyclists who are most at ease in these situations are the rouleurs and sprinters, as you might imagine, as opposed to the climbers and light cyclists who have to make an effort.
It is not uncommon to see the favourites in grand tours (especially in the Tour de France) fall out of the general classification on flat stages that look easy, but are complicated by strong side winds.
Concentration and being cunning, as well as physical characteristics, make the difference on paceline days. You have to have the instinct to be in the right place at the right time, to know in advance when a team is going to attack and what is the best position to hold in the group.
3. Why is a lot of effort made with crosswind?
The problem with pacelines is that they force everyone to pedal without stopping: the first ones to increase their lead, the others to try to catch up. And when the pacelines form at the beginning of the stage, the risk of having to pull throughout the day is real.
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