Most riders are obsessed with numbers in this Strava crazy world! We are always checking the data, the power, heart rate, time or speed for a session and obviously physical training is vitally important to becoming a successful road racer, but what about the other elements of racing that are often neglected?
Can you manage your emotions, your thoughts, your pre race nerves, your confidence levels?
Professor Steve Peters rose to fame with his Chimp Paradox Mind Model and is credited with much of the success of British riders in the past few years. Mental skills, like physical skills need time and effort to develop, how much time do you spend on them?
Simple things such as positive self talk to increase confidence and maintain focus, focused breathing techniques to control nerves and using imagery to visualise successful performances can make a significant difference.
Confidence also comes from setting SMARTER goals that include process goals. It is wonderful to have a goal of winning a specific race or completing a certain TT in a set time (an outcome goal), but often other factors outside your control influence these goals i.e. who else turns up for the race, how hard they have trained and the weather. You therefore need to set other goals or milestones that contribute to your overall goals for the season, or year. Ones that you are in control of, that will contribute to your long term goals and that you can be proud of achieving i.e. to have increased average cadence by X amount by X date, to have developed an effective warm up protocol by Spring or to have increased threshold power by X watts by X date, to have learnt to corner effectively in a bunch by Summer or to increase speed over a known course by X%. Achieving these milestones will bring confidence as you see your progress.
Pre race I recommend all my riders follow a set routine that works for them, I even ask them to write it down and plan it out along with a list of kit they need. This ensures there are no last minute panics. Using a set pre race routine and set warm up enables a rider to control their anxiety. Always following the same process allows an athlete to get into the racing mindset. The British Cycling 20 minute warm is perfect for most events.
During a race the mental skill most required is concentration and the ability to remain focussed at all times, a lapse in concentration could result in disaster. Post race it is vital to identify not just the areas for improvement, but all the things that went well. Try identifying 10 things that you did well each race i.e. did you complete a successful warm up, did you start in a good position, did you maintain a good position in the bunch, where you aware of the attacks, did you find a safe wheel to follow, did you hydrate well etc etc. Look for the positives; this is where confidence comes from!
Last year the Surrey League took the decision to make it compulsory for riders to attend two accredited race training sessions if they were planning to race in the league as a novice/Cat 4 racer. This year the South East Road Race League has done the same and it seems likely that other race organisers will follow suit.
These sessions cover a variety of technical skills for racing before progressing to some tactical skills including mock racing which is followed by a classroom session to discuss racing and training.
Having run a few of these sessions now, including some women’s only sessions, I truly believe riders at all levels can benefit from them. In the outside session we build the confidence to ride in close proximity to other riders, leaning on other riders, touching other riders, being in a bunch and moving through a bunch of riders.
Cornering in a bunch is very different to being cornering solo and being able to choose your line. Sessions like this give the opportunity to practise at speed in a safe environment. British Cycling has a great series of videos called Race Smart including one on Cornering in a Bunch which are well worth a look.
Technique for mass starts and sprint finishes are covered and practised; in a race you only get to do each of these once and they are not the sort of things you should be practising with your mates on the open road! Often the main area for improvement on the mass starts is being able to clip your second foot in quickly without looking down, this is simple to practise on every ride and can make a huge difference to both your confidence on the start line and to the start itself.
All riders enjoy working on their strengths, the things they naturally excel at, but identifying and dedicating time to our weaknesses will pay dividends come race day!
Knowledge really is power; do you know the demands of the races you are targeting? What is the circuit like? Is it a narrow circuit with tight corners, a wide circuit, an open road, is it hilly, where is the start/finish. If you are unable to ride the course or circuit pre race can you look at You Tube footage from previous races, look at Google Earth to get an idea of the layout, ask team mates or club mates what the circuit is like or even ask on social media. This will help you decide what skills you need to focus on most i.e. cornering or starts for town centre crits!
The excellent Race Smart videos cover everything from packing your bag to racing in high winds, but of course there is no substitute for getting out and practising so riders of all levels can benefit from this type of session.
Tactical skills are developed with experience, in your first few races really focus on observing the race, who did what, when and why? Where were the attacks? Was this a good place to attack? Did it work? Why? What happened in the race? How did you respond? How did others respond?
Watch other races live or on TV and see if you can work out what riders are doing and why? Observe how different tactics are used by individuals versus teams?
Then try some out! It is difficult to plan precisely, but have a strategy for the race or the course. Will you sit in the bunch and conserve energy as you know your strength is sprinting? Will you attack over the crest of a hill when other riders are easing off? Which attacks will you respond too? Where do attacks commonly happen on this circuit or course?
Early season races that are not your top priority for the year are good place to be brave and try out some tactics and see what might just work for you or your team.
So in 2016 will you develop your mental skills, your technical skills and your tactical skills alongside your physical training? You can bet the winners will be…….