I was asked recently how someone should go about getting a result in a normal Sunday race. I put my thinking cap on and this is what I came up with. This will be more applicable to those racing A4 or A3 races but certain points are consistent amongst all levels.
Long term Preparation :
Cycling is the ultimate ‘pay it forward’ sport. Experienced riders are always willing to give help and advice, sometimes when it is asked for and other times without it even being requested. Soak it all up and ask plenty of questions. Almost every club or training group in the country has a few riders who were good in their day, and many who still are. They all have something to offer and whilst some will be more subtle than others in how they impart their knowledge take it all on board in the spirit that it is meant and process it later to see what might be of benefit to you. The long steady group spins during the winter are great for building up a base but are also a fantastic place to ask questions and learn.
Plan for success :
Write down a list of your goals for the season. It might sound a bit airy fairy if you have not done this before but all top riders begin planning for the season ahead by identifying what their goals are and working towards them. This is applicable in everyday life too.
Success leaves clues. This is a shortcut :
Those who have won races before have done so in a particular way. Find out how they did it and you will save a huge amount of time on the learning curve. You could just go up and ask them what training they did and how they approach the races or you could look at their Strava or Garmin connect account. If you are already racing against a rider who has won races or who is consistently getting results watch how they place themselves within the bunch, where and when they attack. How often do they eat and drink and how do they conduct themselves within the bunch.
Short term preparation :
Get your bike in ‘as new’ condition .
50 % of punctures are caused by underinflated tyres that get pinch flats, tyres that have pieces of glass or flint imbedded from a previous days training ride or just plain old worn tyres.
A spotlessly clean bike with a smooth running chain and nice crisp gear changes runs better and is good for morale too.
All your clothing, shoes and helmet should be fresh and clean too.
Pin your numbers on your jersey and pack your bag the night before. All you should have to do on the morning of a race is eat your breakfast and travel to the race. This cuts down on the stress level when you might be feeling a little edgy anyway.
Train to race not to ride a 100k time trial at 30 kph.
In a race you will be sprinting out of corners, sprinting when attacking, sprinting across to breakaway groups and sprinting at the finish. You must do sprint training !
Find a quiet straight stretch of road with a flat section of at least 2oo meters. Warm up for 20 minutes then sprint from a standing start at least 4 or 6 times. If you are fit enough and doing it right you will almost puke at the end and the ride home will only be possible in the lowest gear on your bike.
If at all possible you should also incorporate the finish straight of your Sunday race into a training spin and work out where you can launch your sprint from and be able to maintain your effort all the way to the line.
In a race you will be riding at 8/10 and 9/10 effort for anything from 3 to 20 minute periods of time. Trying to close a 30 second gap to a breakaway group, attacking the bunch or the breakaway group alone in a solo bid for glory or in a small group requires the ability to endure sustained periods of pain and suffering. This has to be trained for. You must do interval training.
It can be very hard mentally to hold a long timed effort alone on flat road training spins. Find a 20 minute climb that you can climb out of the saddle and another not quiet as steep that you can ride in the saddle in a big gear for power training.
Another good one is to find a 1 kilometre straight and ride it flat out as if attacking in the final kilometre of a race. This too should be repeated 4 or 6 times and you should be in a world of pain afterwards.
A top domestic rider once told me that his training sessions were harder than his Sunday races which he won a large amount of.
Train for pain.
When training picture yourself in your mind’s eye experiencing race situations. Sprint for the win with an imaginary bunch hot on your heels rather than just galloping for that lonely yellow signpost. Attack all out and give 100% effort to hold off the chasing bunch as you enter the final 3k of a race. This helps to push yourself that little bit more and also trains your brain too.
It’s all in the mind !
Bike racing is 70% mental and 30% physical. In general the strongest most physically talented rider will not win more than 20 to 30% of the races that they are capable of winning.
If 100 riders line up at noon on any given Sunday, 10 will genuinely believe that they can win the race. They will have the training and preparation done and will be confident in their abilities. Another 20 will believe that they are capable of finishing in the top 6. The rest is made up of those aiming to just finish the race and others who have fingers crossed for some miracle to occur which lands them across the line in the placings.
If you are one of the 30 who are actually racing what can you do to improve your numbers further ?
If it is a very cold or wet day and you have not let the weather have any effect on your training programme you are now in a group of 20 who are there to race. Those who don’t train in the rain will never race to their full potential in the rain, and often it will be the naturally talented riders who avoid training in the rain as they will still be fit enough to actually race. However they will feel uncomfortable and less motivated.
Now you are down to a race against just nineteen or twenty other competitors what can you do to improve these odds even further ?
Start the race at the very front right behind the lead car if possible. Stay in the top 15 to 20 of the bunch at all times. You will see all that is going on and also avoid many of the crashes that can occur in the middle of the bunch.
Eat and drink enough. Don’t arrive at the finish in a great position only to have the first stages of ‘the bonk’ deprive you of a good result.
Don’t waste your efforts. You have only a certain amount of matches in your matchbox. Every time you light one that’s one less for later in the race. The race is won in the last hour not the first. Do your fair share but no more than is necessary.
Ask yourself ‘Who here can beat me?’ and follow their moves. Do not let them get up the road in a breakaway group without you, but take any opportunity that comes along to leave them behind.
Know that if you are suffering so too is everybody else and don’t give up. An extra 20 or 30 seconds of hanging on when others throw the head can be the difference between winning and loosing a race.
Be positive and do not get involved with either negative tactics or criticism of other riders within the race. This will only distract your focus and leave a bad taste when the race is over.
You do not need to be talented to get results in cycling !
I was born with a severe club foot and my parents were told that I would probably never be able to cycle a bike. They ignored the diagnoses and I was operated on when I was 2. My left foot and leg never developed fully and I now basically cycle on one and a half legs. I am also asthmatic. On paper I should not be able to compete but cycling is unlike other sports. Those without natural talent or ability just have to train more and work a little harder but can still set goals in cycling and achieve results. I was able to win a few races underage and as a junior. My friends were much more talented and won a lot more races but by working hard and being inspired by Sean Kelly to suffer like a dog I was able to be competitive. I raced for two months as a first year senior and won a stage of the Blarney 3 day, my last race for a long, long time. 14 years later I decided that I wanted to ride the Ras and set a 15 month goal to be in good enough condition to compete for the senior B category in the 2005 Ras. I won that category and once again put away my racing license.
This year, 8 years later, in my second year as an eligible Veteran having put in a decent winter which was mainly based around cycling to and from work, I decided to ride a few races and see what happened. Having had only a club competition license for a few years I had an A4 license for the past 2 years with a vague notion of riding a few races. I could have availed of an amnesty this year to upgrade to A3 but felt that if I were good enough I would score enough points to upgrade and if not A4 was where I belonged. Looking at A4′s in training groups over the past few years who were very strong I wondered if I would be fit enough to race against them. I wasn’t too serious about racing a full season but still set a few goals and trained purposefully towards them, rode 3 races as an A4 and won 2 of them. There were at least 10 riders who were stronger and fitter than me in each race, but I had a goal and tried to use my head and was willing to suffer. I rode one race as an A3 before concentrating on my next goal for the season. 2 Weeks ago along with 9 others of all abilities I cycled from Malin head to Mizen head in 2 days, a total distance of 595km. If I can win a race or cycle 595k in 2 days pretty much anybody can !
Cycling is a sport for everybody and any result is possible on a bike !