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 which in case is too much, experts recommend to use cbd hemp flowers.
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! 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.
Racing Skills Session for 700cc at Hillingdon Cycle Circuit
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.
Women Only Session at Redbridge Cycle Circuit
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!
The Sprint for the Line!
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…….
Now that the Women’s National Road Series is over for another year, many people will be thinking about what team they want to be riding for next season, so given that the better teams tend to be sorted by August, I thought it would be helpful to give those of you who might not have gone through the process before some guidance.
Where do I start?
Firstly, a good starting point is to think about what you actually want to achieve next season and whether you have all the “tools” available to you to be able to do so. For example, it might be something relatively simple like a need to improve on your base fitness over winter to help you be more competitive in the higher level races, or it might be something more difficult, like a lack of time and/or money.
Many people (male and female) make the mistake of applying a scatter gun approach to racing at the start of the season (a large factor being a plethora of races, on the most part circuit races, at the beginning of the season, which peter out later in the year), which doesn’t necessarily help with your fitness or your bank balance!
BC National Road Race Championships 2015 – Image ©www.chrismaher.co.uk / CyclingShorts.cc
So, what do you need to think about?
Time you have available
If you are at school, college, work or have kids, you will have other commitments other than riding your bike. That also means that you are likely to have a finite number of holidays available too – so think about what you intend to do in those holidays, and how many you are prepared to spend at bike races (everybody needs a break from work otherwise you get burn out).
You also need to think about how many hours a week you can dedicate to riding a bike – if you have a training plan that involves 20 hours a week on the bike, is it reasonable to think that you can achieve that? Or is 6 hours a week more likely? You can still achieve results on the latter, you just have to make sure that you are doing quality training.
Matrix Fitness GP 2015 | Motherwell – Round 2 – Image ©www.chrismaher.co.uk / CyclingShorts.cc
Cost of racing
Every time you race, you pay an entry fee. If you are keen to do more road races than anything else, these tend to be more expensive due to the nature of the infrastructure required for the race to go ahead. If you are likely to be tight on cash (which most people are), and you have to cover the costs of your own entry fee, decide in advance which races you intend to target (the cost of races disappears once the event has happened but if you earmark £30 for each National Series event, and £20 – £25 for every other event, you won’t be far off), how much you will need to spend to get there (including travelling, accommodation and food) and make those events your “target events”, you will go some way to making sure you budget for them accordingly.
Once you’ve earmarked how much it is going to cost you to get to the most important events in your calendar, then work backwards based on how much cash you think you are going to have available and look at local events first, then further afield. Remember, you don’t have to enter all women’s races if there isn’t one available. You can enter men’s events, but you have to be pretty quick because they fill up rather fast.
Women’s Tour De Yorkshire 2015 – ©www.chrismaher.co.uk / CyclingShorts.cc
If you live in a region where there isn’t much racing available for women, you have two choices: you either do something about it (by persuading organisers of men’s events to host a women’s race at the same time) or you have to travel. Most people have to travel at some point because races tend to be in the middle of nowhere. If you don’t have access to a car, the likelihood is that you will struggle to get to races unless you team up with someone else to get there or you get there using public transport, which might involve a stay over. If you’re not overly keen on those two options, you will need to look at the racing on offer in your locality and amend your season’s objectives accordingly.
Cheshire Classic 2015 – BC Women’s Road Series Rnd2 – Image ©www.chrismaher.co.uk / CyclingShorts.cc
Do you need to be on a team?
The short answer is “no”. However, some riders prefer to be on a team, so it’s each to their own. But, having said that, if you do want to be on a sponsored team, and you are considering applying to teams, make sure that you are honest with yourself about what you can give. Being on a team is a privileged position to be in, especially those where it includes the provision of clothing and equipment. You need to ensure that you can do justice to yourself and your potential sponsors before applying. You also need to think about the commitment level (see above) as if you’re limited on the number of holidays that you have, only you will know whether riding every Tour Series or driving the length of the country for National Series races is the best use of your time.
Notwithstanding the above, Tanya Griffiths wrote an article for us last year about applying for a team place, which you can access here.
Alexandra Women’s Tour Of The Reservoir 2015 – Image ©www.ChrisMaher.co.uk / CyclingShorts.cc
Perspective is important
Ultimately, the majority of racing cyclists in this country participate because it’s their hobby. That means it’s supposed to be fun and enjoyable (although it is hard work too). Focus on what you want to achieve, make sure your objectives or goals are SMART goals (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely) and just enjoy riding your bike.
If you do decide to go ahead with applying to sponsored teams next season, we wish you the very best of luck and hope that everything works out for you.
Check out Heathers previous guides:
Race Tactics – It’s More Than Just A Lead Out
Click below to read:
Part One – Where Do I Start?
Part Two – What Do I Enter?
Part Three – What training should I do?
Part Four – Practice! Practice! Practice!
Part Five – Are You Ready To Race?
Part Six – Race Day
Part Seven – Circuit Racing
I’ve been listening to a lot of chatter on the internet lately about the do’s and don’t’s of Track Sprinting training and racing, so here is my advice as a coach.
1. Just because someone faster than you is doing something doesn’t mean it’s the right thing for you (or even them!). Some riders are just plain more talented than others and can still be quicker than you even training badly. At the Olympics, World champs, World Cups etc that I’ve been at I’ve seen riders with frankly ridiculous warm up protocols, poor technique in starts and horrible bike set ups, and every one of them is faster than me…. but they could be so much quicker if they were doing it better.
This goes for coaches too, it’s irrelevant how quick your coach is as a rider if they can’t understand how to relate that training to you and your needs. Often the riders that aren’t as naturally gifted make better coaches because they have had to analyze themselves more carefully to compete with their more naturally gifted counterparts.
2. Gearing is the biggest misnomer right now, firstly cadence is where you should be focussing, the gear choice being a byproduct of that. Emulate the elite guys cadences not gearing. For a variety or reasons gearing in training is different from gearing in races, and is usually a fair bit smaller (except over geared training efforts), think about this when designing your training program, again go back to cadences, you will find 94″ on a cold windy outdoor track is a very different gear to 94″ on double discs and tires at 220psi on a wooden indoor track, train at the cadence you want to race at not the gear you want to use.
3. The current trend for super big gears is a little misleading for most non elite riders (by elite I am talking 10.5 and under) for the less well trained and efficient athletes whacking the gear up can have a short term speed gain, it doesn’t mean it’s helping your long term development, and then we come to racing itself……
4. I know its fun to brag sometimes about things like peak power/max squats/chainring sizes etc, however it often becomes a focus and leads you away from the real aim which should be to win races! Too many people focus too narrowly on small areas and not seeing the whole picture. The 200m is just the entry ticket to the races, if your training is constantly about the “right” gear/cadence to do a good 200m there is a good chance you won’t be able to race as well as you could.
The Elite riders I know can do the same 200m time on gearing between 102 and 120 but you won’t catch them racing on 120! most will race on between 4-8″ less than they qualify and are pedalling at way higher rpms in a race than almost everyone who hopes to emulate this success.
The gear you choose to race in needs to be able to cope with a variety of tactics and scenarios, having an “overspeed” buffer where you can still be effective over a wide range of cadences is a big advantage, especially when rushing the slipstream on an opponent. Bear in mind the steeper the banking and the tighter the radius of the turn the more your rpms will go up in the bends, it can make quite a few rpms difference between the outdoor track/road you train on and the indoor one for your major comp.
5. There is no magic formula, no silver bullet, no perfect answer. Real progress is made by a combination of lots of factors, with the gear you use for your flying 200m just being one small part. Do you get enough quality rest? Is your diet conducive to excellent recovery? Are you working on all the aspects of your sprint? Starts, accelerations, top end speed, speed endurance, form, aerodynamics, recovery between efforts, tapering, roadblocks, rest breaks, mental prep, practicing tactics-observation, injury prevention, supplementation?
Some of these things are quite personal too, what works for Bob might not always work for John and vice versa. Although there are a lot of things that will work for the majority of people if applied at the right level for them and not just copied ad hoc from the elites.
6. Gym work.
In my experience with the athletes I have worked with and the ones I see racing and hear about, gym work is a vital part of MOST sprinters training. It’s the most effective way to build muscle mass (if you need more which isn’t always the case..) and can also be very effective at teaching better fibre/neural requirement.
What you do in the gym though can make a big difference, the training these days is quite different to the more body building programs of the 80-90’s and early 00’s. Todays sprinters are leaner yet stronger. Numbers are totally personal, just because you can back squat 250 and the other guy can do 400 doesn’t mean he will be quicker (Theo Bos couldn’t back squat more than 150kg apparently, he seemed to do alright…), what is relevant is progression, USUALLY an increase in gym strength for a rider will correlate with faster times on the track although there can be occasional exceptions to this.
Gym is quite rev specific with most of the gym gains relating to roughly 0-75rpms on a bike, anything much over 100rpms is very difficult to train with gym work. Other factors are the age of the athlete and also how their body handles weight training, some athletes can cope with it really well and others get broken by it. Again the guys that make it at elite level are usually the ones that can cope with big workloads and big poundages. They are just more gifted than us at training, but what works for them now might be having some long term negative payoffs for later life. There comes a point where training at elite level goes past what is truly healthy for some people, worth considering when racing a bike is your hobby not your job… find what works for you, if your lower back can’t take squatting/deadlifting at a weight that’s useful try leg press or single leg squats instead. Don’t risk your long term health. Again find out what works for you and be prepared to change it when it stops being effective or causes you problems.
Finally… yes you can become elite/fast without weights, they are just a useful tool if you can handle them. ALWAYS put form 1st, remember you are using weights/resistance training to go faster on a bike, not to be the strongest guy or girl in the gym, little and steady improvements here are the way forward.
The difference between high quality tires and clinchers/training tires is as much if not more of a time benefit than between spokes and aero wheels/discs. Frontal area matters, aerodynamics is a very complicated arena, a simple rule of thumb for most of us though is if you make your frontal area smaller you will go faster for the same given power output, this goes for weight too, with 3-4kg’s being roughly a 10th of a second over a flying 200m, and more like 2-300th’s over a standing lap. Think about that when buying expensive wheels, laying off the cake could have a bigger gain 1st…
I think that’s enough from me for today ;)
Performance Cycle Coaching
Finding Time To Train Image ©Huw Williams
Moving from recreational cyclist to racing cyclist.
Planning time to train.
So, you love riding your bike. You’re definitely getting better at it. You’ve joined a club, you’re enjoying club rides and your fitness is improving. You’ve been chatting to a few Time Triallers and Road racers and think you might like to give it a go. But where do you start?
If you have been looking round on the internet you will have come across reams and reams of conflicting advice and if you have dared to venture onto a cycling forum well you probably ended up with your head spinning from all the differing opinions. People can be very persuasive when they actually believe what they are saying, and, you in turn, believe what they are saying as they are so persuasive. It’s a no win situation, and it will probably have ended up putting you off rather than spurring you on.
The thing is, with training, is what works for one person, won’t necessarily work for another. Some people can happily train for 20 hours a week, work full time, fit in numerous family activities, cook, clean, keep house and still look as fresh as a daisy at the end of it. However, most of us work in some capacity, whether it be at home or at a work place, juggle bike rides, kids, pets and husbands. And spend most of our time looking like death warmed up! (I hope that’s not just me!)
What you need to do is work out exactly how much time you actually have available for training.
It’s no good looking at your schedule and thinking hmm maybe I can get up at 6.30am on a Sunday morning to fit in 2 hours training before the household wakes up. Chances are, if you love your Sunday lie in till 7.30am you just won’t use that time, so you’re automatically down on your training time by 2 hours.
I’m very lucky in that I generally have one day in the week where I can go and do a long ride, while the kids are at school, all other training takes place either when the kids are in bed or on the turbo. So it is doable. Sit down look at your life. Plan the time you realistically have available. If a family member suddenly breaks down in their car and you can’t fit training in, don’t be hard on yourself. Family comes first, it can be disheartening missing training but maybe you can squeeze that training in somewhere else in the week?
You have sat down with pen and paper and worked out that you have 6 hours a week available to train. What you then need to do is factor in an active recovery week. So allow yourself every four weeks a low intensity week, the recovery week can be the most important part of your training and will help keep you motivated.
We then start to formulate a four week plan with week four as recovery. This means that week three will be your 6 hour week. Week two may be slightly less than 6 hours, say 5- 5 ½ hours and then week one will be 4 ½ – 5 hours. So you can see, steadily over the four week period, we are building your training load with your available hours being your maximum available of 6 hours. Active recovery on week four could be anything from 3-4 hours.
When you look at it like this doesn’t training seem a lot easier to fit in your life? When you start to plan like this, your idea of doing a TT, or road racing, seems so much more achievable doesn’t it!
I thought I’d bring you a little training video, here are some core exercises for cyclists.
Beth does a great demo of the Performance Cycle Coaching core workout while I crack the whip – this circuit is repeated after 2-5mins rest.
Last September I threw myself on a track bike and round (and round) one of the steepest indoor tracks in the Netherlands for the first time. And I loved it! There was no going back. The idea of riding a bike that has no brakes at speed still unsettles me a little today (mainly at a fear of not unclipping as I come to a halt and making a fool of myself!), but the more I do it, the more addicted I get. When I left Amsterdam earlier this year, I was quite gutted to leave behind a fantastic indoor velodrome and a brilliant team of coaches who not only took an interest in me on the track, but on the road and my cycling club too. I had to right a wrong and immediately got in touch with Reading Velodrome.
Don’t be surprised to find me tucked up in bed with this beauty!
Now, Reading is certainly not indoors and it certainly isn’t steep. In fact… it’s concrete, outdoors and really long in comparison! Which of course, if you’re fairly new to cycling or a little nervous about giving it a go – it’s perfect. Unlike an indoor track; outdoor, flatter courses give you the opportunity to really get to know your fixed-speed bike and learn some handling skills, something I’m still not quite as aquatinted with as I would like, especially as I only built my first track bike last week, but it sure is a beauty – do you have bike envy yet?.
Put it this way – there’s a lot less to think about. Getting used to a constant cadence, no brakes, a very steep wooden track, 10 other cyclists around you in the same learning experience and the need to be travelling at 35kmph+ to get round in one piece, all in your first session isn’t the easiest. I’m not saying that indoor track training isn’t a fantastic experience because I loved every moment of it, but it’s definitely more daunting in comparison. And if you’ve ever been to an indoor track event, I’m sure you can understand where I’m coming from.
On arrival to my first session on Thursday, I had already introduced myself to the trainers over email to make sure I’d be welcomed to the sessions (due to an influx of interest post Olympics, their website states they can no longer accept new interest) and that my capabilities were ok. I needn’t have feared. As soon as they knew I’d ridden boards before, they wanted me in with the pro-group. NO WAY! This girl needs to get used to being on the bike again before sitting up on the fence with 15 boys. And I’m not exaggerating. The trainers made it pretty clear from the start that they need more girls (hence there was no problem with me joining an over-subscribed session!).
Of course, training with the boys isn’t an issue, I’ve always been a fan of this in any sport I’ve done; however when it comes to competition…well, basically there isn’t any. Most track races typically have heats… not in the girls track league as there aren’t enough girls. Straight into the finals. And so, besides training with the boys, it turns out that I’ll actually be racing them come the start of the league season in three weeks. The only difference being that I’ll have a ‘pink number’ (yes, my heart sank a little at the sound of those words). So girls, although a little reluctant to do this for obvious reasons (I want to win!) I’m making this a call to give it a go.. at least consider it.
Most UK tracks have hire bikes (but make sure you contact them in advance to reserve one), or if you’re really keen, Dolan frame sets start from £199. And, all tracks run beginner British Cycling accreditation sessions. So why not check out your local track and give it a go?
Reading: Track training sessions run on a Thursday evening, league nights on a Monday.
Hearne Hill: The girls from Mule Bar Girl run a girls’ only session a Sunday afternoon.
Calshot & Newport & Manchester: Indoor tracks – contact them for info on beginner sessions
Forstemann v Skinner – Good Friday Meet @ Hearne Hill Velodrome
And if you’re still a little unsure, get yourself down to a local track meet. The Good Friday Meet at Hearne Hill on Friday was absolutely fantastic. Rubbing shoulders (or thighs) with some of the world’s greatest track cyclists including Cycling Short’s contributor Jody Cundy and thigh-tastic Robert Forstemann was a brilliant experience and has certainly got my motivational juices flowing.
See you on the start line!
Riding since Feb 2011 Hayley is a 30 year old female who loves adventures. If she’s not on one of her many bikes or in the water on a bodyboard/surfboard, then Hayley is probably out looking for something new to keep the adrenaline pumping!