I do all my training on the hoods, but when I get in races, I'm often in breakaways and doing leadouts where I'm in my drops. Is there any benefit to training in the drops?
Thanks for your question, Maude.
My first thought is that this is a really douchy, petty kind of concern, especially in relation to truly important question such as "Is there a God?" and "Which is better: Philly cheese steaks or Italian beefs?"
But we spend way too much money on aero "weaponry" and time in basements on trainers watching "Hong Kong kung fu movies" (as the Dutchman recently confessed to me) to ignore body position on a bike. So I guess, relative to the severity of our other doucheyness, it's actually a reasonable question.
The way to improve your aerodynamics on a road bike, it turns out, is fairly simple: train in an aerodynamic position.
This is what a 2004 study concluded. The study compared the power outpute of triathletes who train in the aero position (AT, shown in blue below) and regular road cyclists (CT, shown in red below). The study tested peak power and mean power in two positions for both groups.
Check out the red CT group--the guys who ride (and walk) upright, like you and I. Peak power is around 750watts in the upright position, but falls off to less than 700 watts in the aero position. Mean power shows the same effect: lots of power in the upright position and a big drop going to the drops.
Now look at the aero-trainers (AT), the guys who train in the aero position. You'd think that everyone, even triathletes, put out more power in the upright position, but this turns out not to be true. For those who train in the aero position, they can actually put out more power in the aero tuck than they can in the upright position.
You'll also notice, however, that roadies crush triathletes when in the upright position.
The authors conclude: "it is recommended that athletes train in the position in which they race."
This is, I think, a vast oversimplification. It completely ignores other physiological factors at play--for example, maybe triathletes are simply perverted freaks of nature who should not be encouraged to train their perverse way. There are a lot of problems with how this study is organized (among them, the problem of comparing two groups as different as they two are).
On the other hand, I think the study does affirm what Joel Friel calls the principle of specificity--"Basically, the specificity principle says that if you want to become good at something you need to do that thing."
If you're a breakaway specialist, Maude, practice riding in the drops. That's my advice.