GFNY Cozumel is unique in that it’s the flattest event on the GFNY calendar. Despite that, it’s one of our most interesting courses, with miles and miles of fast racing, endless views of beautiful sandy beaches, and strong Mayan winds to conquer. This GFNY event isn’t for the flyweight climber, it’s for the powerful crosswind crusher. But no matter how much power you put down or how much experience you have with windy racing, our course guide is going to help you prepare to be a King or Queen of the Wind. You’re doing the training, your equipment will be ready, now let’s make sure you’re familiar with the course and the techniques you need to know for conquering the wind.
First, we’re going to start with an explanation of wind racing and the drafting formations you can use. Then, we’ll analyze the course, keeping in mind the direction of prevailing winds and the impact they will have on the race.
Headwinds may be the bane of many cyclists when they’re riding solo, but in windy races, they’re actually the easiest part of the race. Headwinds mean that the riders sitting on the wheels get a huge benefit from drafting, and therefore they have the effect of canceling out attacks. If you’re in the group in a headwind, it’s not wise to attack or to try to split the group.
The best drafting formation to use in headwinds is a rotating paceline. This is because the riders in front are doing much more work than the riders resting on the wheel. Therefore, the best use of your energy is very short, fast pulls at the front before pulling off to let the next rider through. The constantly rotating nature of the double paceline means that the only time you’re in the wind is during the 10 or so seconds you’re on the front. This lets your group conserve energy and maximize speed.
In a rotating paceline, each rider only touches the front of the group for a few seconds before peeling off to one side. This creates a constant flow, with one line being the advancing line and the other the retreating line. Every rider contributes to the pace, but only has to be in the wind for a short time before an extended period of recovery.
In this picture, the left side is the advancing line, while the riders on the right are going backwards before rejoining the advancing line when they arrive to the back.
Tailwinds speed the group up, but they also cancel out some of the effect of the draft. This means tailwinds in a race situation are actually harder than headwinds. They can be a good place to attack and split the group, but it’s still fairly difficult to do so.
In a single paceline, one rider spends an extended period of time on the front before pulling off and retreating to the back. The principal advantage of a single paceline over a double is that riders can adjust the speed and length of their pulls, letting the stronger riders contribute more.
In a tailwind you can use either a single paceline or a rotating paceline. Since the difference in effort between those pulling and those sitting on is less than in a headwind, a single paceline can be a viable strategy. This lets stronger riders take longer pulls and keep the speed high. However, in the case of an evenly-matched group or a large one, a rotating paceline can still be an excellent strategy.
Ah, crosswinds! Crosswinds are to flat races what climbs are to mountainous races: the decisive points that will split the group and let the strongest show their legs. They also require a lot of technique, and if you haven’t mastered riding in echelons, you will struggle.
An echelon is a paceline, typically a double paceline, angled to one side to provide riders shelter from crosswinds. The sheltered riders ride both slightly behind and to the side of the rider in front, instead of directly behind him.
An echelon always points the direction of the wind, so in this case the echelon aims to the right to manage a crosswind coming from the right side.
In a normal drafting situation, you’re trying to hide from the wind created by the speed of the group. When the wind comes from the side, the ideal place to sit in the draft actually moves to the side of the rider in front of you, where you have some shelter from the crosswind and some shelter from the wind speed generated by your riding speed.
As you see in the picture above, the echelon is a rotating paceline which is running at an angle. The goal is to shelter from the wind, so if the wind is coming from the right, the leading portion of the echelon should be on the right, and vice versa.
An echelon should almost always be a double, rotating paceline. Without that, the retreating riders waste too much energy. The only exception is if you’re in a very small group, or if not many riders are working. In that case, the echelon can be set up as a single paceline.
Within the category of crosswinds, we have different levels. Cross-headwinds will allow riders who echelon correctly to drop riders not in the echelon, but in the echelon itself riders will be well sheltered. In strong direct crosswinds or cross-tailwinds, things become very difficult, and even using a correct echelon formation, your legs will feel it.
The two riders in yellow and black helmets that we can just barely see are doing a good job of drafting in a crosswind, assuming the wind is coming from the rider’s left: behind but slightly to the right of the lead rider.
Even on windy days, certain features like buildings, forests and hills can provide shelter from the wind. These areas eliminate the possibility of crosswinds and even disrupt the force of head or tailwinds. During windy races, it’s key to look for these points. When you’re suffering in the wind, arriving in a sheltered area can provide the chance to move up or recover. And in a sheltered area before a windy section, it’s the literal calm before the storm: one last chance to prepare for what’s coming.
A thickly wooded section at GFNY Cozumel provides a respite from the wind. It’s one of the fastest and most fun sections of GFNY Cozumel.
Positioning is absolutely key during windy racing, especially during crosswind sections. If you get stuck behind an echelon, you’re what we call ‘in the gutter’-riding all the way at the edge of the ride, struggling to find some draft that isn’t there. Usually you’ll be dropped, if the pace stays high, and you’ll be forced to find another group to ride with. So before crosswind sections, it’s key to find a position at the front of the group. Use headwind, crosswind, and sheltered sections to find this position before making a turn or emerging from shelter into a crosswind.
GFNY Cozumel Course
The race course for GFNY Cozumel is an 80 kilometer lap of the island, repeated twice for the 160 km total distance. The race is completely flat, so the principal difficulties are the distance and wind. The prevailing winds are out of the east, so looking at our map, it’s easy to break the course down into sections.
The race heads south for the first 30km of each lap. The prevailing winds mean a crosswind here, but we’re on the sheltered side of the island, so winds are often mild. Thick forest in many sections of this course further deaden the impact of the wind. The fast roads may lead to attacks, but here it’s best to follow and save energy as much as possible, especially on the first lap. Don’t underestimate the distance, and don’t waste energy before the crucial section comes up.
Turning into the Wind
In the last few kilometers of this initial section, you need to start thinking about the turn into the crosswind. It’s key to place yourself to the front of the group if you expect to make the first echelon. If you’re shooting for a more conservative strategy and not expecting to follow the top riders, you can position yourself in the middle of the bunch and avoid the fight for the front. However, you still need to look out, be well positioned, and set up to hit the turn into the wind in the right gear and with a clean line.
The bigger the group, the harder the fight for position is. On the first lap, the peloton will be more tightly bunched up. Also, the riders taking on the shorter distance event are present too. So the first lap it’s critical to seek a good position. On the second lap you may be in a smaller group and can be more relaxed here.
GFNY Cozumel taking the corner onto the start of the windy section. We can see the bunch is stretching out right away, and those who didn’t make this corner in good position will struggle to make the front group.
King and Queen of the Wind
As we turn and start heading northeast, we hit the coast. Here we race right along the beach, the trees and any other form of shelter disappear, and the wind will be whipping in hard from the East. This creates a cross-headwind that will begin to split the group. This 20km section is known as the “King and Queen of the Wind” segment. Like a KOM in a mountainous race, there’s a special prize for the riders who record the fastest times on their two trips through this section. On the first lap, this section is where the initial selections are going to be made. If you want to be in the first group targeting a good result or a finish time under 4.5 hours, you’ll want to get in the first echelon and take your pulls. Remember that in crosswinds it’s actually easier to pull in the echelon than it is to be behind in the gutter.
Crosswind sections tend to start frantic, but remember it’s a full 20 kilometers of hard crosswind racing. Especially on the first lap, it’s key to save energy and just make the selections as they happen.
On the second lap, especially towards the end of this section, this could be a key point in the race, where attacks start to go. However, the headwind means it’s very hard to go it alone. Follow attacks and work in any groups that you go with, but attacking solo will most likely be futile, so don’t’ waste the energy. Instead, use good tactics and work together with other riders in echelons to get away from the peloton.
Crossing the Island
50 kilometers into each lap, we turn left and head Northwest back towards the western side of the island. Here the course becomes sheltered by trees, eliminating the chance of crosswind. Instead you should have a healthy tailwind pushing you along. On the first lap, this is a good section to recover a bit after the crosswind, although you’ll still be working some if the pace is high. On the final lap, this section could begin to see some serious attacks, especially from our front pack, as we enter the final 30 km of the race.
Heading Through Town
The last 15 km is the most technical section of the course, with numerous turns through San Miguel de Cozumel. First we go through town, then head up the coast for a brief period before making a turnaround and coming back through town.
This section will be a bit chaotic if you’re in a big group, and on the first lap especially, you should be careful to find a clean line through corners and ride safely. The best way to avoid crashes is to ride at the front of the pack.
On the second lap, this section will be the finale of the race. One of the things that makes GFNY Cozumel exciting is that the nature of the course means groups will be coming into the finish together, meaning riders will have to be prepared to sprint for the line, or to plan last-ditch attacks if they feel sprinting isn’t their strength. If you want to attack, pick your moment, preferably using a section with several turns to get out of sight of the group faster. If you are waiting for the sprint, begin to position yourself towards the front of the group in the final few kilometers.
The Final Kilometer
Planning for the last kilometer is crucial if you’re going to have a good sprint out of your group.
There are two turns in the last 1 km: a right hander at a kilometer to go, leading into a long straightaway. The final turn is a fast left-hander onto the finish straight, just 100 meters out of the final corner.
With the final corner being so close to the finish, the sprint is truly a two-part effort: one, sprinting for position into the final corner, then again after making it through the final turn. It’s most likely the winner of any pack sprint will be the first rider through the final corner, and it’s absolutely crucial to be at the very least in the top three riders through that corner. Any further back than that, and you won’t be able to win.
As always during a race of this length, nutrition is key. Be sure to stay hydrated and take in plenty of carbohydrate, preferably somewhere between 60-100 grams per hour. For more on performance nutrition, check out our in-competition nutrition guide here.
If you are aiming to break 4.5 hours or finish in the front group, you need to be prepared with enough nutrition to skip most or all of the rest stops. Stopping when the rest of the group doesn’t will guarantee you get left behind. Carry enough food for the race, and be prepared to take bottle hand ups quickly or to get fluid at rest stops quickly when the group stops.
If you’re aiming for a slightly slower finish time, you can afford to relax more and stop at the rest stops to replenish. Try to leave the rest stop with the group you came in with though, you don’t want to end up by yourself chasing in the wind because you took too long to get food and water.
Pacing in a race like this is unique, because the benefits of being in a peloton vastly outweigh the benefits of riding a steady pace. Instead of riding to an average speed or a pacing plan, you have to find a group that matches your level. And it may be worth a fast start at a pace you know you can’t sustain, just to fight your way into the right group. This is an event where pacing strategy will be done by feel, not by plan.
Stronger riders need to do their best to get up front and work their way into groups that match their abilities. Weaker riders need to not start too hard, and not be afraid to sit up from a group that’s too fast for them, and wait a bit until a group they can keep up with catches them.
Remember, you never want to be alone or in a group of only a few riders on this course, at least not for long stretches.
Training: Position and Cadence
A dead-flat, fast race brings unique challenges. For one thing, on this course you’ll be riding in your drops for much of the race. You’ll need to remain aerodynamic and in a position that offers safety and control to ride safely in a large peloton. It’s important to spend time in this position in training to build tolerance in your lower back, hip flexors, and other muscles.
Along with this, we suggest training to be comfortable at a higher cadence. Sustaining a high cadence is key for saving energy in pacelines and echelons. Make sure you’re comfortable sustaining a cadence of 95-100 rpm for extended periods.
Remember, GFNY Coaching is your guide to performing at your best on race day. If we’ve touched on something in the article that you’re looking for more information about, we’ve probably written about it. Check out these links:
- Read our Nutrition Guide to understand what correct fueling looks like.
- Read our guide to Pacelines, Echelons and Wind
- Read this article about how cadence and position should be incorporated into your training.