Burning matches, but not all of them

In my upcoming 2.5 hour gravel race, I know I am going to have to burn matches to stay with the lead group and get the drafting advantage. Last year in this race, I let the lead group drop me because I thought they were going too hard during the first half hour, and I regret that. This year, I am way more fit, have a much bigger base, and have a couple of top ten finishes at similar distances/competition levels. If I just try to cover any attacks or group breaks during the first 0.5 hour, is there any kind of rough zone metric for what I can reasonably tolerate for the first 30 minutes and still have some teeth for the next 2 hours? I feel like I could do a 5 minute VO2 max effort or a 15 minute threshold interval and then drop into tempo pace for a while and then oscillate between endurance and tempo with some more intense spikes for the next two hours. Is that reasonable, overshooting, or undershooting for race day? Or should I just ignore power data and suffer as early and as much as possible? I think something in between, like “don’t go over this line” but I am not sure what that red flag is. Physiologically, it should be something like “don’t go over threshold for longer than x minutes” but is that a universal thing or a personal thing?

I don’t really think there is a simple universal answer. Everyone is different and understanding your strengths and weaknesses should guide your strategy.

In a race you want to suffer as little as possible for as long as possible. Getting to the last half hour fresher than everyone else is going to give you the best chance. Having said that, you also want to stay in contention for as long as you can so trying to expend the minimum energy necessary to do so is what you want. Sometimes a few extra hard pedal turns when your legs want to give up is all it takes to stay with a group, get a chance to recover, and save energy in the long run.

What you are capable of doing in terms of repeated efforts is going to be very individual. Trial and error and learning to get a feel for what is sustainable for you is key.

Personally, I would try to ignore power data and ride on feel as much as possible. When you review the data after the race you can find out what you were capable of. You don’t want the numbers to hold you back and you might just surprise yourself…


Thanks I will do that!

You have to “learn by doing.”
But one thing for sure, you can go deeper and harder for longer than you think you can.
Start with the positive attitude it is going to hurt but that is just fine. Pain is just an interesting sensation.
Keep thinking positive thoughts, dig deep and see what happens after 2.5 hours.