This article is from the Bicycles
FAQ, by Mike Iglesias with numerous contributions by
9.32 Riding in echelon
From: Kevin metcalfe <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Fri, 13 Sep 1996 16:47:03 -0700 (PDT)
The "fan" you guys are talking about is called an echelon. It is
something that even a lot of good cat 1 and 2 riders can't do properly.
It looks something like this: (Each "|" is a rider.)
Wind from the left Wind from the right
The single file guys at the bottom of the picture are "in the gutter".
Though they may be behind another rider they are getting almost no draft
and their days are numbered unless they can get into the echelon proper.
The riders in the echelon will rotate through from the sheltered side to
the front and then back in the windward side. i.e. With wind from the
left you rotate counter clockwise and you rotate clockwise when the wind
is from the right. If you are riding in a echelon and you want to keep
things smooth and together you will NEVER take a big long pull on the
front. You will always just rotate through. If you take a big pull at
the front, the previously pulling riders will continue to drift back.
Especially since the last guy to pull is still in the wind waiting for
you to swing over and give him a draft! What you'll end up with is a
single file echelon. This is bad because the number of riders that can
fit into an echelon is determined by the width of the road. If you go
single file, then only half as many can fit into the echelon and you've
got a lot of pissed off riders pushing the wind.
A strong team (like ONCE) can cause a lot of damage in a cross wind. By
putting the whole team on the front and making the echelon just wide
enough for the team, they can drive the pace up front hard enough to
shatter the field. Smart riders will start forming second and third
echelons behind the original. This is the best thing to do.
Unfortunately there are two problems. First, as soon as you get close,
some moron will try and jump across to the first echelon. This is
usually stupid because the reason you are in the second echelon is
because they're no room in the first one. So the offending moron will
often find himself stuck in the gutter unless he can muscle his way into
the echelon. (A lot like trying to knock Abdu off of his leadout man
with 300 meters to go.) The second problem is that most of the stronger
riders are probably already in the first echelon so you're at a
Often, early in a race, the field might encounter a strong cross wind and
break into as many as eight or ten echelons. Each echelon will be within
50 to 100 meters of the next one. They will continue like this until the
course turns either into or with the wind and the group will reform.
Just because you aren't physically connected to the front group in this
situation IS NOT NECESSARILY A REASON TO PANIC. If there are only ten
miles to go however, feel free to panic. :)
There's nothing about an echelon that makes it faster than a regular pace
line. The reason it will break the field up is that only part of the
field will fit in an echelon.