On the bike the wind is a problem for everyone, from the toughest veterans to weekend warriors. Consider a cyclist pedalling along at a brisk 20mph pace in calm conditions. If a headwind of only 10mph develops, the rider's pace drops to 16mph for the same effort. Forces of nature may be beyond our control, but there are ways to minimise the power of the breeze. Here are a few pointers for punching through the wind, plus advice from Dominique Rollin, the Cervélo Test Team pro who won an infamously blustery stage of the 2008 Tour of California.
It sounds obvious: if you duck down on the bike, you're less exposed to the wind. But there's more to it than just improved aerodynamics. "By crouching, you're more compact on the bike," says Rollin. "And with your hands on the drops, you also have more control when a gust blows at you." In other words, you have a better chance of keeping your bike out of roadside ditches.
The more formfitting your clothing, the less energy the wind will sap from you, which is why bike-specific clothing - or a tri suit if you're racing - makes more sense than general sporty gear. To prevent your jersey or jacket filling up with air, pull the zips up to your chin.
The stronger the headwind, the more it helps to tuck in behind another rider - although don't try this when you're racing, as you may be disqualified. Sticking as close as possible to the wheel in front of you dramatically cuts the power you need to maintain your speed. Savings of 10-30 per cent are possible, depending on variables such as the size of each rider and the direction and strength of the wind. Of course, you also need to share the work. Try 30 seconds at the front before letting the next rider in the line move through. The quick turnover ensures fresh legs are doing the work.
Flags of convenience
Look for flags and weather vanes - they'll show you what direction the wind is blowing. Often, you're not pedalling straight into a headwind, but encountering a breeze from one side. In a group, use the wind to your advantage: when it's blowing from the right, position yourself a little to the left of the rider in front of you. For maximum shelter, fine-tune your position by feel. Watch the pros in a drafting race and you might see a staggered row of triathletes spread across the road - that's an echelon and it's one of cycling's most beautiful sights.
Just making the effort to suit up and head out into a strong wind takes willpower, so start with something forgiving. "Don't head straight into the wind - you'll just want to go home," says Rollin. "Start on sheltered roads, then return on open roads where you can feel the wind at your back." Rollin also advises being conservative. "Wind is like a climb: you hit the lower slopes and you become excited," he says. "If you suddenly turn into the wind, you may feel faster by pushing a bigger gear, but your muscles will fatigue more quickly and you'll end up going slower. To stay efficient, use a smaller gear." And keep it fun: "Ride with friends. You can echelon and play with the wind."