The single echelon
In a single echelon, the riders ride in a staggered formation. The exact form depends on the direction and the strength of the wind. The more it is a headwind, the more you are going to ride in a straight single file. The more the wind comes from the side, the more you will be riding side by side.
The front rider
As the front rider, you do a lot more work than those who are riding behind you. Once you think you’ve done enough on the front, you give the familiar sign with your elbow, signalling you pass the front position to the next rider. You let your speed drop a little so that the rest can pass you without having to accelerate.
If you ride in a fairly large group, the lead rider needs to ride on the far-most left or right hand side of the road so that there is room for everyone in the echelon.
If the new leader takes the lead, and has passed the previous leader, (s)he moves up diagonally into the wind to the side of the road. Before doing so, (s)he looks down across underneath the arm to make sure the leader has been passed. Looking down underneath your arm without leaving your line has to be learned.
See also: Keeping your Line
It also helps if (s)he hears the old leader call it’s safe to pass, for instance by: “Yes”.
Moving to the rear
If you are moving to the rear of the group, make sure that you ride close to the echelon. This will give you and the group an advantage, and you can join the echelon again without much or any extra effort.
Joining the echelon, be aware!
Joining the echelon again is a critical moment: you are tired from being on the front. In addition, as you’re moving to the rear, your speed is decreasing. You have to speed up in time to hold the rear wheel. So you need to know exactly where to join, and preferably know who is riding in front of the last rider. In this way you do’nt get surprised when you’re about to join the echelon, and leave no gap that you have to close. This saves a lot of energy. You can be helped by the rider after whom you should join the echelon by him calling “After me!”.
Not accelerating means riding faster
The crux of a good echelon is the person who takes the lead. He or she passes the current lead rider, and (s)he should not accelerate. If (s)he does accelerate, the whole echelon needs to accelerate, and everyone expends extra energy. That’s largely wasted energy. That energy is better used at the front. Moreover, accelerating may send the one who needs to join again at the end of the group over the edge.
It’s hard not to accelerate when taking the lead. Because you catch more wind you have to put more pressure on the pedals to not ride slower. But how much more pressure? Look at your speedometer. If you ride in the second position, check your cadence and keep that if you take the lead. Learn also to know by feel and not just by looking on the meter. Let the riders behind you coach you. It is not only technically difficult just to maintain the correct speed, but also psychologically. You do not want to be any less than your buddies, and you might even be tempted to show off. Or if it’s just a temporary collaboration, you want everyone behind you to hurt a little, thereby debilitating them a bit.
See also: Mindset and group dynamics
Sometimes it is agreed that the new rider in front rides a fraction slower until he got a call back that his predecessor has joined again. This costs a bit of time, but this saves the group a lot of (expensive) energy, which can then be spent more effectively. Nothing’s as stupid as someone on the front working hard and someone who is a few meters back working just as hard. That’s one, so 100%, too many. Echeloning is one rider working really hard and the rest ‘resting’.
Check and coaching
Those who ride at the rear of the echelon check if the previous leader can join the echelon. If not, they pass a signal to the front: “Easy” or “Hold”. “Hold” do not mean that others should stop pedaling. It only means there must be less pressure on the pedals. They must not look back. You do not have to look, you just need to listen and trust the signals from behind.
If the rear passes the signal: “Yes”, it means that the rider has joined the echelon, so that the lead rider can increase the pace.
Differences in power
In a single echelon, the strongest riders do the most work. Not by riding faster, but by staying on the front longer. The weakest does not do any work on the front. He or she remains at the rear, and signals to the others they have to join before him or her by shouting: “In between”.
The trick is to pass your turn on the front in time. You’re still strong enough to follow at the rear. That’s a matter of assessing your reserves and above all not having a big ego.
See also: mindset and group dynamics
If the last rider cannot follow the pace anymore, one of the stronger rider may start to ride in the last position and push the weaker. These two remain at the rear and let the others join in before them.
See also: Dealing with power differences
Sometimes someone cannot take the lead easily. There too a helpful push is in place. Number two is pushing the person to the lead, and this person then moves straight to the windward side, leaving number two to take the lead.