The Crosswind Missile
Club member, Dean Russell has his own blog where he chronicles his recent journey on the bike after a very long lay off. Dean was no doubt a serious talent in his younger days but talent alone won’t get you the results so with hard work, determination and some nous he is back racing Elite A Grade and the State Team Road Series with TLD Racing at the ripe old age of around 40ish.
Fortunately for us Dean is willing to share his experience and knowledge with the members of the club. He is writing a three piece article for those riders attempting the upcoming Charles Coin and Cunningham Classic, often the two big goals for the local riders.
In his first article he is touching on the mistakes many riders, new and experienced make. Its well worth the read and a timely reminder to think about your own training and racing.
I am planning on writing a series of three blog articles specifically for other Bikeline Racing members, who may be about to tackle their first (or second or third?) Charles Coin Memorial or Cunningham Classic, or more experienced riders who might enjoy a little insight into how they could approach the two races. The first article will be a fairly general one, followed by the second which will focus on the Charles Coin and the third will be about the Cunningham.
Why? For those of you who don’t know my cycling background, I spent a LOT of time racing in the 1990s both here and abroad. I had a full twelve years away from the bike before I got back on it two and a half years ago. I guess you could say I have a bit of experience. I have always wanted to get involved at club level with Bikeline Racing, but it is difficult to do that when you live in Dalby and ride for a Toowoomba based club. I am often asked questions by members about racing and I am of course very happy to help out whenever I can. I thought these articles would be a way that I could support newer riders and also open the door to any members who want to pick my brain about this great sport at any time.
So here we go…
I see a lot of mistakes made by new and inexperienced riders (and to be honest, not-so-new and experienced riders). In the end, if you are new to the sport, you should be making mistakes, so don’t stress. The important thing is that you learn from them and improve your craft as a result.
Mistake 1 – Not recognizing bike racing as ‘more than an endurance sport’
Notice how I used the word ‘craft’ just then? That’s exactly what bike racing is. The strongest man on the day doesn’t always win. The first rider across the line wins. People who come across to cycling from other sports often become very frustrated by this fact. What riders need to do is develop an understanding of all the little bits and pieces that go into race craft and develop their tactical awareness, conservation of energy mid-race, toughness and planning, to maximize their chances of being successful (there are many other things to consider as well). To consider bike racing as a straight out endurance sport is a mistake. This is half the reason the sport is so fascinating, frustrating and addictive; all at the same time.
Mistake 2 – Approaching racing with the same mindset as training
This is a huge mistake and I see people doing it all the time. When you are training, you should always be trying to work hard. Long turns on the front, charging up hills, giving it your all and blowing yourself up. The whole intent of a hard training ride is to come home shattered. Racing is a completely different ball game and many riders struggle with the shift in mindset required. In a race, you need to be in conservation mode. This means soft pedaling up hills (when you can), avoiding turns, not chasing breaks down without a reason and doing everything in your power to make life easy for yourself; until it ‘counts’. As I said, people really struggle with this shift, but to approach your racing any other way, is a big mistake. So often I hear people say ‘yeah. yeah, I came 14th today but I did a heap of work so I’m happy’. Really? Did you get a trophy for ‘the rider who did the most turns?’ Oh that’s right; there isn’t one! The trophy went to the rider who was first across the line (funnily enough). Now I know there is a kind of ‘unwritten rule’ about not sitting on all day and being a wheelsucker and I’m not suggesting that this is what you do. What I am saying is that you need to be conservative and careful about it and not waste energy. A good rule to follow is, every time you are doing a turn, ask yourself ‘why am I doing this?’ Is there a good answer? No? Then get on a wheel; now!
Mistake 3 – Approaching racing with the same nutrition plan as training
This happens all the time and is easy to fix. Let’s say you regularly do a 100 km training ride. You do this on a light breakfast with two muesli bars and a gel in your back pocket. You go off to a 100 km race with the same plan and hey presto at 80 km your legs are like lead and you are out the back like a stone wearing an anchor for a backpack. What’s going on? You need a lot more nutrition when you are racing. Your average power output and energy used will be much higher in a race and you need to consume additional food to compensate. You are better off to come home with leftover food in your pocket than to blow up in a heap on the side of the road
Mistake 4 – Poor positioning
You’ve all heard this before. You need to be riding near the front (not actually on the front) so you can avoid crashes, be close to the action and to give yourself an easier ride. The front of the bunch is a lot less ‘surgy’ than the back and over the course of a long race this adds up to some big energy savings. The impact of the positioning does change a little depending on the size of the bunch. In small bunches (like at club racing) it’s not really going to matter too much. When the pack is big though, it makes a huge difference.
Mistake 5 – Not backing yourself for the win
Let’s play out a scenario. You are in a six man breakaway nearing the end of a long road race. You are feeling pretty good, but know that there are two very quick sprinters in the break with you. If you get to the finish with them, you’ll probably come third or even fourth. You could attack and have a go for the win, but if you do that and you fail, you may end up fifth or even sixth at the end. So what do do you do? Time and time again people will ‘play it safe’, ignore their good legs and be happy with their third or fourth. This is a big mistake! If you have got the legs, have a go! Winning is actually fun…
Mistake 6 – An unwillingness to hurt
This game…it hurts. It hurts so, so, so, much. Have you ever been really deep in a bike race with the pain? I mean really deep? Fuzzy vision, dribbling, mucus everywhere, ignoring cramps, lungs on fire? If not, it’s a place you need to visit. Not all the time, but you need to know how to get there. If you can do that…who knows what you might just be capable of.
So there you have it. Some (hopefully useful) introductory advice before we get specific in the next article. Looking at that list above, if I was to pick the one that is the most common and could have the most impact, I would say number 2. Does that surprise you? Maybe. But trust me, being able to flick the RACING / TRAINING switch in your head is a skill well worth mastering.