Should I pull until I’m almost exhausted? Answer: No. Team time trial studies has convincingly shown that a lead rider should ride until an arbitrary 70% of reserve energy is consumed. Then, when safety permits, step out. You’ll recover much faster when you don’t reach the point of exhaustion. Let your teammates share the load. Riding to the point of exhaustion is known as “eating your seed corn,” and actually is counter-productive to the overall safety and efficiency of he group ride.
If I’m becoming exhausted and would like to “take a pass” on taking the lead-dog role, can I? Answer: Absolutely. Every rider with you has had this experience. If an extra few minutes drafting can help keep you in the pace line, not a problem. There’s always another rider who’s feeling extra strong and will gladly do “your” pull. All you have to do is tell everybody else you want to ride off the back for a cycle, or two.
Can the entire group soft-pedal for a few hundred yards, or maybe a mile? Answer: Absolutely, in fact, it should be done by mutual agreement. Professional road races, with numerous climbs, steep descents, and sharp turns, also have “Gentleman Agreement” portions along the way, where personal necessities of various kinds are taken care of. The overall mutual safety of all riders is maximized when riders go into a brief “recovery mode.”