Q & A: Some guidelines and some lessons I’ve learned

What should I do to get faster?

Well, faster how? What do you do now? What are your weak areas? Do you want to have a better top-end speed sprinting against your buddies or at the finish of races? Do you want to be able to hammer short 2m rollers better? What about finishing a long ride with a quicker average pace? There’s a lot of ways to get faster, but of course this question is probably the most frequently asked in one form or another. But of course, it’s a very open ended question, ultimately raising the issue of specificity.

Training is all about getting better at the kind of activity that you practice, or becoming more resistant to specific types of fatigue. Whatever you want to get better at is what you should be doing in training, and you should also include any similar intensities or activities so that your strength is more well-rounded. If you want to sprint better, then you need to practice sprinting. If you want to do long climbs better, then you need to ride long climbs. You will want to train at the goal intensity as well as above and below that intensity by 10 to 20%. If your goal is to do a 30m hill climb at, say, 300w because that’s about what your previous peak 30m power is or perhaps it’s slightly more, then you should do some 30-60m threshold efforts at 90-95% of your goal power. You should also do 3-5m intervals at 110-120% of your goal power. By doing this, you can increase your aerobic efficiency and muscular endurance by doing longer efforts than your goal, and you can get more comfortable at or near your VO2-max so that when you’re doing your goal effort it’s well below that upper limit. You’ll be more comfortable when you need to go a little extra hard to get up some steep pitches or get out of the saddle for brief periods. If you’re trying to become a better sprinter, for example, then you need to increase your leg-speed, power, and efficiency. You need to practice sprinting, but also sprinting with high leg-speed as well as with high-torque (i.e. lower leg speed).

 

How much should I ride?

In short, as much as you can while still enjoying or improving your riding. That benefit may be fitness related, or it may have to do with personal satisfaction. Your main constraint may be time availability and scheduling, in which case you want to build up your volume as much as you reasonably can fit into your week. Or if you have a lot of flexibility, then you may want to train as much as you will enjoy or will help enable you to reach your goals. If it’s the latter, remember that more riding is not better, rather more riding may be good as long as you can recover effectively from it.

Training is ultimately always a matter of stress and recovery. The best training has these in balance, hopefully stressing your body at higher and higher levels as you adapt and continue to recover from the stress you expose your body to. You can enhance this recovery by having good diet and good sleep, but also to a lesser extent by other things like self massage, light stretching, swimming, etc. If you can’t recover and get stronger from your training, then you should look at ways to increase or enhance your recovery (eat better post-ride meals, sleep more, get more massage, etc.), but if you are doing what you can and cannot bring your recovery to a level that allows you to progress in your fitness level, then you should consider reducing your overall training load. Sometimes you may be able to maintain the intensity of your hard workouts, but just reduce your total training volume just a bit. Sometimes just that extra hour or two of riding each week means that your body can’t recover as well as it could. Just reducing your calorie expenditure by that last 300 or 500 or 1000 calories each week may be the difference of progress and stagnation.

Once you’ve built up your volume as much as you are going to, then it’s a matter of increasing the difficulty of your training within that time by slowly increasing the average intensity of your training, by increasing the maximal intensity of your hard efforts, or by making training more challenging by doubling up on workouts or modifying your diet. This can become more challenging and complex, how you balance workouts, training volume, recovery between workouts, and diet as you strive for ever increasing performance or satisfaction in your riding. It’s probably worth it’s own article.:)

 

How often should I ride hard?

Again, this comes down to what your training routine is like and how well you can recover from harder training sessions. For many people, just two hard workouts each week is plenty of stress for them, and it may take 2 or 3 days to recover from the hard workouts, leaving the rest of the week to be taken as off or easy days. For many people, they may manage well with a couple of hard workouts each week, one or two moderate workouts, and a couple of easy or off days. For high level athletes training to peak or getting prepared for multi-day events, they may occasionally do multiple hard workouts in a week or in a row as a hard training block. This is usually the exception to the rule, and wouldn’t be done too regularly. If it was the rule, then probably the workouts aren’t actually hard enough to make them totally worth while. As a rule, riding somewhat hard all of the time isn’t the best way to progress.

For most people, the best strategy is to do a hard workout followed by 1-3 days off or easy. This strategy is effective and easy to implement. It allows you to be pretty sure that you will be fresh and ready for a hard workout when you plan to do one. Or if your schedule is highly variable, you may just plan 2 or 3 workouts each week, and you can work them in on the days that you have time, and all of the other days can be taken as they come with off or easy workouts, or maybe some cross-training. Depending again on your goals, you may want to do some workouts back to back either to enhance your ability to deal with intensity day after day (e.g. if you are planning on doing multi-day events), or to increase your endurance by doing a long or hard ride followed by another endurance session. Doing endurance training in a pre-fatigued state can be very effective for building endurance, but it is also challenging, so you want to be sure to recover well after double sessions like that, and plan accordingly. It’s not usually something to be done very frequently.

Just as this question will  have different answers for different people, then This question is likely to have different answers at different times of the season. If you are trying to build up volume and focusing more on strength and endurance, and less on high-aerobic or anaerobic fitness, then you may only do 1 or 2 moderately hard workouts each week, but may include more mileage in your overall routine and maybe a few drills in most of your rides. Or if you are getting ready for a peak in the middle of the season because you have some target event(s) to prepare for, then you may do 3 or 4 hard workouts in a week, before taking a several day long taper, while still maintaining some level of intensity.

What do I do with my power meter?

The most basic thing you can do is to use it as a measure of intensity on your rides or during intervals or hard efforts. Usually for longer efforts, I would use it early to make sure you don’t overdo it. Late in efforts, it can be good to keep you on task and help prevent you from letting your power drop too much when you’re tired. For shorter efforts, it can be good to gauge your intensity from start to finish, again, but the more intense any given effort is, the harder it is for you to always achieve your best power. So, you can have a target power in mind for short intervals, but you may want to adjust accordingly depending on your fatigue or other circumstances. Ideally, you will always use the power meter to maximize the overall quality of your training. Usually this would consist of trying to do all of your intervals at about the same power, and for anything longer than a minute or so, would probably include keeping a fairly steady power throughout each interval.

You can use power to see peak performances, and then to estimate sub-maximal performances. Each season or over all of your data, you can see what your personal best power is for every duration and then see how your current performances stack up against them. You can see how your power compares to other athletes. You can see how good your workouts are from week to week, month to month, and season to season. Often, if you know what your recent peak power is for various durations, you can use that data to help set guidelines for workouts. For example, if you know your peak 60m power, then you may try to do 95-100% of that power for a 3x15m threshold workout. Or you may use your 10-12m peak power as a goal for a 4x4m VO2-max workout.

Over time, you can gauge the overall difficulty and quality of your training. You can see how much work you do each week. And maybe you’d even track how much power you do over time relative to your HR, as a means of tracking aerobic fitness.

There’s a lot you can do with power, but those are some of the basics and some of the more important ones.

What do I do with my HR monitor?

Like power, HR is a very helpful tool to use to gauge intensity, but it’s even a little more helpful with respect to aerobic intensity and current fatigue levels. For shorter efforts, a small to large portion of your power may be derived from anaerobic energy sources, and power can be good for measuring those kinds of efforts, but for longer efforts, power and HR are both very useful metrics to pay attention to. Often, it’s good to use HR as a goal and as an upper limit for your training intensities, and maybe sometimes, but rarely as a lower limit. E.g. you may do VO2-max intervals with the intention of reaching a HR of 170 or close to it, but over your 4 minute intervals, your HR will likely climb for the first 2-3 minutes and only peak a bit in the last 1-2 minutes, so you’d only be interested in seeing your peak HR numbers in that last portion of each interval.  HR is most effective for measuring efforts lasting longer than 4 or 5 minutes. It can also be good to keep you focused on longer rides, where you want your HR elevated so that you’re getting a workout, but not so high that you can’t sustain the intensity or so high that your long ride becomes so stressful that it takes days to recover from it. Often longer rides are best done with a mix of comfortable endurance riding and some shorter moderate to intense efforts, so maybe 90% of your weekend long ride is done at, say, <140 HR, and maybe for one or two 10-20 minute climbs in the middle, maybe you ride at >160 HR to get a good tempo or threshold workout in, for example.

Should I make a training plan?

Yes, but make it work for your routine. Some people will benefit from having a set routine that they follow every week and just vary the details slightly from week to week. Some people will benefit from having a progressive training plan with detailed workouts throughout the whole year. Others may benefit from just having a check-list of workouts or types of workouts that they want to include in their training every week or every few weeks, and then just fit them in as they can with a variable schedule. Set yourself up for success and plan according to your personality, training goals, and scheduling opportunities. Don’t set up a highly detailed training plan that is ultimately impossible to follow and sets you up for thinking that you’re failing at your training goals. Likewise, if you will benefit from having specific tasks to accomplish on each ride, it may be in your best interest to have specific workouts or workout guidelines to follow for each ride so that you can head out every day with purpose and come home at the end of each training session thinking that you did a good job and accomplished your goals. Many people will have their needs met somewhere in-between the fully structured and the totally unstructured training plan, but having some sort of gameplan is totally worth while.

The Essentials: My Personal Rules

Over the years, I’ve gone from runner to mixed-sport athlete to cyclist to limited time cyclist. I’ve learned a lot from reading and researching, as well as from personal experience. I’ve done everything from running 5 hours a week, riding 20-plus hours a week, I’ve gone to the gym, and I’ve mixed them all together at the same time. From all of those last 20-years of sports activities, I think there are a few things that I’d say have become pretty core ideas that I follow and routines that I try to do on a regular basis regardless of how much time I spend training. I do these things in order to stay fit and fast, try to maximize health and longevity. They follow in no particular order. And, it’s worth noting that I say in my title that these are “rules,” but I really mean “rules of thumb.” Our bodies react well to a lot of things, and a little bit goes a long way in making ourselves fitter or healthier. Doing everything “right” all of the time will likely get you a little bit better results, but stressing over trivial details is probably not necessary for all of us just trying to stay healthy and fit. If you’re trying to set records and win championships, then you should pay attention to all of the details you can, but for the rest of us, much of that is just noise. If you can get some of the key stuff down 90% of the time, you’ll probably get 99% of the benefits.

Train for endurance by getting glycogen depleted on a regular basis. One of the best things you can do to enhance endurance is to deplete your glycogen stores in training. This shifts your metabolism more and more towards fat-burning and glycogen sparing. It forces your body to cope with the perceived stress of having a lack of glucose available, and it responds by producing more fat-burning enzymes. The more enzymes you have, the more fuel you can burn. If you always consume a lot of carbohydrates in your diet and during training sessions, then your body may be able to avoid ever being really stressed from a fuel-availability standpoint. Some researchers have seen high-level endurance athletes capable of burning 50 or 60 grams of fat per hour, whereas even trained athletes with little fat-burning capacity, may only burn 30-40 grams per hour. This may be half or less of the amount of work you want to do on your bike. Fat takes more oxygen to burn than carbohydrate, but most people could theoretically burn much more fat than they do if they really needed to and their body produced more fat burning enzymes to do so. The best way to do this is to ride to the point of bonking. Or, if you’re like me and you don’t necessarily bonk so much as you just ache more and get slower, then go for that. You can even hasten the process by limiting carbohydrate intake in your diet some or all of the time. You can skip breakfast before your weekend long ride, or you could avoid having carbohydrate for breakfast so that your body has to burn more fat right off the bat. I’ve found that a 5 hour ride with food may leave me even less depleted to a 3 hour ride without. If you’re trying to increase endurance and metabolic efficiency, then it’s worth considering dietary changes, or doing back-to-back medium-to-longer rides. Both techniques will preemptively reduce your glycogen stores and will increase your fat-dependency during and after the training session.

Train for endurance by stressing your strength endurance. The metabolic component of endurance is very important, but it’s only a part of what makes a strong rider. As you get fitter, you can probably maintain a low level of power more or less indefinitely. For a moderately fit rider, the difference between riding 3 hours and 6 hours is more just a difference of how long you’re out there and how much you eat and drink, and a lot less about your average power or your average pace for that ride. But, for anyone that is concerned about racing or finishing a ride strong, it’s not just a matter of how much you can keep moving for your weekend 5 hour ride, road race, or endurance mountain bike event, it’s also a matter of whether or not you can cope with short bursts of speed and power getting over hills or making big changes in pace along the way.

To put it in perspective, we could do a thought experiment. How long is the longest ride that you think you could do and still finish without feeling totally cracked? Maybe for you that’s going to be a 3 hour ride, maybe 5 hours, or maybe 8 hours. Anyway, just imagine riding for that amount of time at a pretty steady pace on flat to rolling terrain. You would never really let your power or HR drop much, but you’re also never pushing the pace above, say, 3/4 of your threshold power/intensity. At the end of that ride, imagine doing a time-trial as hard as you can go up your favorite 10 minute climb. You’d probably be pretty slow, right? Maybe it will take you 13 minutes instead of 10. Maybe it’ll take you 15 minutes. The more fit you are, the less you will slow down when you’re fatigued.

Now in that scenario, you would probably have a lot of neuromuscular fatigue and you would probably be pretty low on glycogen. Now imagine two other scenarios. Let’s say after doing this long ride that finishes with a time trial, you take a few days to recover and you do the same time trial again. But, instead of riding for 5 hours beforehand, you go warm up for 30 minutes on the bike, and then go to the gym. You spend the next 45 minutes doing as many squats, lunges, leg-presses, dead-lifts, quad extensions, and other leg exercises that you can. During this workout you focus on doing about 75% of your max lift for a few dozen sets of 12-20 reps, and almost every set after the first few is done to failure or one rep short of failure. After 20 minutes, you might only be doing 5 or 6 reps, because you’re getting tired. Now, get on your bike and go do a time trial on that same climb. Imagine your gym is 5 minutes’ ride away from the climb. You aren’t going to be glycogen depleted, and even if you had drink mix or gels during your workout, you’ll still be well off your best time up that climb.

Or, imagine a very different scenario where you eat less than 50 grams of carbohydrate per day for a week straight. You could still be riding and training, but you’d be taking it pretty easy. Then, after a good 45 minute warm-up, you go out and do that same hill-climb time-trial. How fast do you think you’re going to go? Not very fast. But, this is because you’re glycogen depleted from dietary restriction.

In each scenario you’re seeing diminished performance, but for different reasons.You can see your power drop because of a lot of different things. Glycogen depletion and neuromuscular fatigue are the two biggest limiters, and those are two of the main things to focus on in training to improve endurance performance. Just be aware that they are not the same thing and that they are trained differently. Often, good training will train both, but sometimes you may focus on one or the other.

 Train the neuromuscular system to be strong, powerful, and durable. It’s a skill to be able to pedal your bike at high power levels. You need to practice it. Even if you aren’t trying to be in peak shape, and you’re just building strength early in the season, you can still work on improving strength and power. You don’t want to create too much stress by doing multiple sets of all-out intervals lasting 30s to 2m long, but you can still do a lot of time at those high power levels and high levels of torque without creating huge amounts of stress. Include drills in your training to work on peak power and sustained power for short periods of time. E.g. 6-10s sprints, 15-20s big-gear sprints, 30s seated accelerations at about your 2m peak power at 85-90 rpm, long 2-5m intervals at tempo or threshold power but at 75-85 rpm. Over the course of a 2 hour training session, you could do a few dozen 20s seated accelerations at your 1m peak power and it will create a lot of muscular fatigue and will help you improve your efficiency and power, but since the efforts are so short, it won’t create nearly as much metabolic and hormonal stress as it would if you did, say, an 8x1m interval workout as hard as you can.

Train high-end aerobic power every week. It doesn’t take a lot of stress on your body to maintain a lot of your fitness. Every week, after you’re warmed up and feel ready to push the pace a little bit, I would be sure to push the pace up a few climbs or along a stretch of road where you can keep pushing the pace a bit. You don’t need to set any PRs or turn yourself inside out, but if you do a 2 hour easy ride after work and you find that you’re feeling pretty good, then maybe in the second hour you can ease into a pretty stiff pace over a few of the climbs. If you feel really good, then feel free to let it go and do a full-gas effort up a favorite climb. Don’t do that every week, and definitely don’t do that every ride, but once or twice a month is good for you.

Train anaerobically at least a little every few weeks. If you want to be faster, want to sprint better, want to be a better racer, or faster on group rides and race rides, then you should practice sprinting and doing anaerobic intervals. Even if you aren’t a sprinter, or a bike racer, or care at all about anything but endurance, then you should do sprints and anaerobic intervals sometime. It boosts your fitness both for sprinting and endurance, it’s good for your hormones, it’s good for your strength and coordination, and will help you be a more complete rider and athlete. You can have fun with it and just sprint over little rollers on your normal routes sometimes. You can do group rides that have sprint points or race rides that involve a lot of hard accelerations way above your threshold power. Or, you can just go out and do short 15s or 30s intervals. If you’re just trying to stay fit, then I would recommend adding short efforts for fun a few times a week at random, or include a couple of simple workouts a month. Just go out and do 2 sets of 5 sprints 10-30s long every 60-90s. Don’t overthink it or worry about doing it right or what power or heart-rate you should shoot for, just have fun and do it. If you’re trying to be a successful racer, then you probably need to be more careful about adding in 1 or 2 workouts each week. You probably need to think about whether you should be doing these intervals climbing or seated, fresh or back-to-back with short recovery. These workouts can be very taxing or only moderately so, so you need to pay attention to what kinds of races you’re going to be doing and how much this kind of fitness is necessary. You should pay attention to what races you’re doing and whether you can reduce your anaerobic training because you’re racing this weekend. Just pay attention and be sure not to overdo it. The more intense the workouts are, the more easily you can get to a point of fatigue and diminishing returns or reduced performance. If you are just trying to be healthy and fit and enjoy riding, then it’s not a big deal to just take an extra few days or weeks off or easy. If you’re gearing up for a big race, then you should be careful and listen to your body. Don’t be afraid to push workouts up when you’re ready for them, or delay or modify them if they are too much at that point in time. Sometimes just pushing back a workout by 1 day, or doing 2 sets of intervals instead of 3 may be the difference between continued progress and a feeling of stalled progress.

Sleep as much as you can get away with. This one is simple. Sleep more than you do right now. I’m actually writing this past the time that I would normally want to be in bed. I fully understand and appreciate the challenges of having a lot of work, family, school, and friend obligations. It’s easy to get carried away and put off sleep until late at night or drop hours of sleep because you’re trying to add hours of other things to your schedule. Sometimes there is more to do than we think we have time for. But, when it comes down to it, sleep is one of the best things we can do for our health and our athletic and mental performance. There are plenty of high level athletes who are known for sleeping upwards of 10 hours a night. We’re evolved to sleep about 1/3 of every day. Try to have good sleep hygiene to ensure sleep quality is at it’s best. Sleep at the same time window every day. Anything that can be done at 11pm, can probably also be done at 8am. Sometimes you just need to call it quits and retire for the evening. It shouldn’t be a luxury to get 7 hours or 8 hours of sleep every night any more than it should be a luxury to eat fresh vegetables. They’re both integral to good health and high performance.

Train your weaknesses, especially if you’re trying to be competitive. Many bike racers don’t actively win races, they just don’t lose them. Or rather, a lot of people have the potential to win races or be on the podium, but they do things in training that don’t give them the fitness they need to get there, or they do things tactically in races that sabotage their chances of success. When it comes to training, just look at the races you want to do well at, and consider what your challenges would be. Does the race have big climbs? Will it finish in a sprint? Do you need to work on your ability to climb for 5 or 10 or 20 minutes at a time? Do you need to work on sprinting at the end of several minutes of hard, race-pace riding while fighting for position? Are there things that can help you win the race? Can you outclimb or outsprint people for the win? You should make sure you don’t have big holes in your fitness that will prevent you from winning and make sure that if you need certain tools to get in the podium, that you have them. Then, in races, you need to make sure you’re not wasting energy when you can save it, and you need to make sure you’re not out of position when you need to be. A lot of the time, people go into a race fully capable of a good result, but they squander their energy following early race moves that are doomed to failure, or they miss out on a split in a crosswind that could have been foreseen. Just think about where the challenges will be and think about how you can get through those. If you can get through the tough parts and spend less energy doing it than other riders, then you’re more likely to be in a position to do well at the finish line.  If you don’t see things coming, and have to ride unnecessarily hard to close a gap, get through a crosswind, or bridge across to another group after splits occur, then you’re missing out on energy savings that could have helped you at the end.

Eat lots of vegetables. Eat as few processed foods as possible. Nuts and fruits are totally fine in moderation. Meat is probably fine in modest quantities. Eat carbs in proportion to your high-intensity exercise. Generally avoid processed carbohydrates unless you’re training hard or racing. Avoid dairy (except for cream in coffee).

I’m pretty sure that most people want to be healthy, live longer, reduce their chances of having a whole class of lifestyle diseases, etc. If all you ever did was avoid processed foods, eat mostly vegetables, and exercise moderately on a regular basis and intensely some of the time, you’d be doing yourself a bigger favor than any drug or supplement or set of genes could ever do for you. Not everyone has the genes and epigenetics to get them to the Olympics, but almost all of us has a body that will take care of them 99% of the time if we take care of ourselves.

Racing: a few basics

Racing bikes is a very complex, chaotic activity, and for a lot of people getting into it, it’s hard to know what to do and how to do it in order to make the most of their fitness and to try to get the best results. I’ve raced for years, and all along the way I’ve continued to learn things about racing strategy and tactics, and could continue to do so for years to come. Even watching pro races in Europe, where people’s careers are in the balance, you’ll see people riding very smart races, taking risks and coming out with big wins, but you’ll also see people making blunders and losing races even with years of experience under their belt.

Here’s a rundown of things that I think are worth considering for people getting into racing or for people who don’t feel that they have a good handle on racing strategy and tactics. That’s not to say that everything I have here is necessarily right for every circumstance or right for you, but these are just some basic guidelines that I think are right for most people, most of the time. At the very least, this should be a good starting point for a lot of people who are starting out or have room to improve their basic skillset.

  • First and foremost, good racing requires good training. Training should be progressive, challenging, and specific. It should be hard enough that you’re fatigued after tough workouts, but manageable on a day-to-day and week-to-week basis so that your body can adapt to the training and get progressively stronger as you rack up more and more workouts. You can’t really do the same workouts at the same intensity week in and week out and expect to get better. Likewise, whatever kind of training you do is the kind of racing that you’ll be good at, so remember what racing you want to do well at, what your strengths are, and consider what you should be working on to maximize your chances of success at those goal events.
  • Before and during your races, consider the course, the conditions, and your competition. You could try to simplify and remember “the three C’s” or something like that. If you think about it, racing comes down almost entirely to these three things. The course determines when and where you’ll have to go hard to get up a climb, where the field will get strung out through a bunch of turns or a fast descent, where the wind may split the field, etc. The weather and other conditions can make a huge impact on a race. Heat, wind, rain, and other conditions can make a world of difference how a race is won or lost. And, of course, your competition’s strengths, strategies, and tactics will have a big impact on how the race unfolds. Ideally, before any race, it’s good if you can take a few minutes to think to yourself or talk with your teammates about the course profile, where the climbs are, what the weather will be like, whether it’s windy or not and if so where the wind will affect the race, and the competition. Be aware of when and where you need to be in position, where you need to be ready to go hard to get through a crosswind section or over a climb, think about when to eat and drink or get water. Also think about who you’re racing and what you think they may do and how you think you should respond. You may not win a race by doing this, but you can often avoid pitfalls that will definitely lose you the race if you’re caught off-guard by a crosswind or drift back to eat right before a decisive climb.
  • Save energy for when it matters. Don’t be afraid to use up your energy when it does matter. The ability to tell the difference between what matters and what doesn’t is the hallmark of a good racer, but you can learn this skill if you just pay attention and reflect on race situations after they’ve happened. In general, whenever you can save energy, you should do it. A lot of people have the ability to sprint well at the end or get up the hill fast on the last lap of a race, but they don’t do it because they spent too much energy getting to the final sprint or the final hill. If you can save energy, you’ll be relatively fresher than your competition and have more of your sprint or hill-climbing power intact when it really matters at the end. As a corollary to that, never be afraid to act and use energy when it matters. If the field is going to split on a climb or through a few miles of crosswind, then you should position yourself and go as hard as you need to go to be in the frontmost group on the road that you can. Don’t hesitate and don’t waste energy doing half-hearted efforts. Do whatever you need to do to make it over the hill or through the crosswind. You may feel like you’re not going to be any good, but you never know how badly everyone else is feeling, and ultimately it doesn’t matter. You just need to do what you need to do to still be in contention for getting the best result that you or your team can achieve. If a split is happening and you don’t think the field will come together again, then it’s better to be blown and struggling momentarily in the front group than to be comfortable in the second group. The front group will likely slow down, or at the very least, you can hold on and try to recover and save energy while staying in the draft of the other riders in that split. If you get dropped, then so be it. If you’re in the second or third group, but you feel comfortable, then what good does it do you to be there, because you have no chance of winning or getting that top 5 or top 10 that maybe you were shooting for, because there’s 10 riders up the road in that front group.
  • Pedal less, brake less. Any time you’re pedaling, you’re using energy. Every time you’re braking, you’re giving up forward momentum. Don’t ride your bike without looking up the road. The more you can read the movements of the field and the course, the more you can save a few pedal strokes here and there and the more you can avoid using your brakes, all the while, you’ll be saving some small amounts of energy that will help you be slightly fresher towards the end of the race than your competition. Of course, sometimes you really need to be pedaling hard and sometimes you need to slam on your brakes, so be ready for that, and more than anything, try to be safe for your own sake and for the sake of everyone around you. Just don’t sprint after everything that moves or brake any time you see a turn up the road or someone slowing down in front of you. If someone attacks and you want to go with them, then maybe you should sprint to get on their wheel, or many times you can just wait for a moment or two and hop on the rider next to you who’s thinking the same thing. When they sprint, you can do just 2/3 the effort and get a draft and essentially a free ride up the road. Or, if someone’s slowing in front of you, look to see if there’s a safe way around them up the road. Sometimes it’s easy to move up if you just anticipate field movements as the road curves or goes uphill.
  • Play off of other people and use their energy to your advantage. Get a draft whenever you can. If you want to move up, look for someone else who’s putting in the effort and see if you can safely get on their wheel to draft your way up to where you want to be. If people are attacking and counter-attacking like crazy, and you know that the speed can’t be maintained, then just sit back and relax, follow wheels and save your energy by not accelerating any more than you need to. Do the least amount of work possible, but also watch and be ready for when people tire and maybe the break actually goes off the front, or watch for when that late race flyer will actually work because people are tired or inattentive.
  • Collectively as a team, use your energy efficiently to improve your chances to perform well as a team. Sometimes that means that some riders cover the early moves in a race, but are likely not going to factor into the late stages of the race. Or, it may be that some riders work to chase back a break, while others save themselves for a sprint or late race attack up the climb. Likewise, look at the other teams and pay attention to the race situation, so that you can take advantage of the energy that they may decide to or be forced to use. If another team has to chase down a break, or close a gap, or they’re riding the front because they have the best sprinter, then don’t waste your energy or the energy of your team when you don’t have to. Let other people do the work. Again, the aim is to do what you need to do, but save as much energy for later in the race as possible. Many races are won or lost because of how much energy people did or didn’t use in the middle of the race.
  • Try not to lose, instead of trying frantically, and wastefully to win. I definitely don’t mean that you should race negatively, and by all means, I love to race aggressively. But, when you’re racing, just think about things for a second. Ask yourself if what you’re doing will increase or decrease your chances of getting a good result. If you’re decreasing your chances of doing well, then why are you doing it? Or as a team, are you working to increase the team’s chances of doing well or are you just wasting energy? Are you riding the front? Are you attacking to try to initiate a break-away? Are you chasing down a move that your team didn’t make? Are you riding hard to stay on the front going up a climb? This may be worth while, or it may be a total waste of energy and you could be shooting yourself in the foot. Late in the race when things actually matter, you could be too tired to do what you need to do to get the result you’re hoping for.
    • Riding the front is almost never a good idea, unless your team is chasing with good reason. Maybe people are soft-pedaling and you’re literally rolling along without pedaling, but that’ll only last for a moment. Otherwise, you should really only be at the front when you’re chasing for your team, alternating pulls in a break-away, setting up for a crosswind or descent where you think you need to be at the front. The rest of the time, try to stay off the front, or if you’re there, pull off safely and drift backwards.
    • Are you attacking because the early break-away hasn’t formed yet? Are you bored? Well, if you really know that you’re capable of riding away from the field or think that the course is tough enough, the wind isn’t a factor, and your best chance is to be in the break, then maybe it’s fine. In general, the early break usually doesn’t win the race and if you’re in the early break only to be caught later, you’re likely not going to be a factor in the race finale. Just follow wheels when someone else attacks if you want to be in the early break. And, only go into the break if you know it has a good chance of success. Most racing is about probability. If the early break has a 2% chance of success, then do you really want to take your chances there? Or would you rather wait and see what you can do as the field breaks apart later in the race?
    • Climbs are another classic place where people can go too hard. In general, going over most climbs that last more than a few minutes, you do want to make sure you’re in the front third of the field so that any splits that may occur won’t take you out of contenton for a good result. That being said, not every climb is that way, and it will benefit you to discern the difference. Sometimes a climb is just a climb and everyone will get over it easily and the peloton will stay together, in which case, do as little work as possible to get over the climb in a position that will be advantageous after the climb. If you want to be near the front after the climb, then ride near the front. If you don’t need to be at the front after the climb, then don’t worry about it and consider saving some energy by going just 5 or 10% easier up the climb than a lot of other people. This is often how things can work on a course with a lot of small climbs. Every time there’s a little rise, at least a third of the field goes full-gas up it. Why?! There’s no upside (because the field is still together, nobody got dropped) and only downside (lost energy). After a little while of that, people can’t go so hard. But, if you just get up the climbs and down as efficiently and comfortably as possible, making sure not to get dropped, but also making sure to give up a few spots on every climb, just to regain them on the way to the next climb, then you may be way fresher than your competition when it comes to the last ¼ of the race when all it takes is a few riders who aren’t blown-up by then to attack and ride away from the field for the win.
  • Make a plan, but be flexible. If you don’t have a plan at all, then you may make a lot of random efforts that may or may not increase your chances of success, and in all likelihood will just reduce your energy stores for later in the race, and with it your chances of finishing well. So, just think about whether you want to ride waiting for a bunch sprint, a late race flyer (if so, where?), an early break (if so, how many riders are needed?). Have a plan and make choices and commit to them. Don’t waste energy by trying to make half-measures. But, also pay attention to how the course, the conditions, and the competition make the race evolve and consider changing your strategy if it becomes evident that another team is racing with a particular strategy, then you can play off of them and use it to your advantage. Don’t blindly put your head down with total commitment to a strategy if it becomes clear it’s the wrong one for that race. If you know your strategy is pretty sound, then you have to accept the fact that ultimately you’re playing the odds. Most strategies you might employ will mean that you have good chances of doing well under certain circumstances but lesser chances if the situation unfolds differently than you plan or anticipate.
  • Focus ahead of you, not to the sides or behind. For everyone’s safety, move safely and predictably. Hold your line and don’t make sudden lateral movements. Move up when you see you have room. Watch your front wheel and be aware of anyone behind you so that you don’t take out their front wheel. Look up the road so that you can see where people are moving, who’s a good wheel to follow, and what riders are causing chaos and are to be avoided. For everyone’s safety, it’s good to look ahead, and you’re more likely to see how the race unfolds and to learn something.
  • Be patient, but don’t hesitate to act when you need to. A lot of people waste energy and make poor choices because they are impatient. When in doubt, usually it’s better to delay. Doing things at the last moment possible or reasonable is often a good strategy, whatever the tactic is at the moment. If you plan on waiting for a split to happen in the wind, or waiting for someone to attack on the climb, or waiting to try to get into the early break, you really don’t need to initiate it or try to force it to happen that way. Just wait. There’s probably somebody else thinking of doing the same thing and then you can work together. Don’t just attack because nobody else is. Don’t ride the front trying to split the field because it’s windy and nobody else is. It’ll happen soon enough, and you don’t need to waste your energy to get it done. But, if you need to get across a gap in the wind, or over a climb late in the race, don’t hesitate. Assess the situation and make a total commitment to getting the task done. Maybe you’re trying to bridge across on a climb, trying to not get dropped in the crosswind, or maybe you’re trying to lead your sprinter across to the front group in the last few km of the race. If you decide to do something, and you think it needs to happen, then do it, don’t hesitate, and fully commit to it. If you can’t do it, then you can’t do it, but if it’s really crunch time, then you either have to do it or the race is over for you or your team.
  • Feel free to make mistakes. Make a plan and act it out. Maybe it’ll work, or maybe it won’t, but you’ll learn from it either way. You’ll learn something about tactics, and you’ll learn something about your fitness, so even if you lose the race, you win.
  • Don’t forget to evaluate the race afterward. Try to remember moments in the race that were decisive. Consider where you saved energy, where you wated energy. Remember when you weere positioned poorly or well. Think about the energy cost of your actions and strategies. Don’t go through races and fail to learn because you never thought about the race after the fact. Just as a few minutes of planning before the race can help that day, a few minutes of reflection after the race can sometimes matter more for all of the races down the line because of the wisdom you gain from your experience.