Pro Shop: Planning & Starting the Season
Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines! As we begin this new season, we asked Bobby Julich, Ivan Dominguez, Dario Cioni and Magnus Backstedt how they motivate themselves through a long season, and their personal fitness preparation as they enter the racing season.
Pez: How do you maintain motivation throughout such a long season, knowing you are a professional and representing your team and sponsors? How do you plan your season to accomplish both personal and team goals?
Bobby J – I think that changes yearly and throughout the year depending on how the season is going. I am older now and know my body very well. I know when I can get away with pushing myself and when it is not worth the effort. I try to start off the season strong, and then take a little break, and then build up for the Tour. Once the Tour is over, if I am feeling strong, (mentally as well as physically) I just ride until the wheels fall off. Normally, that bubble is at the end of August and I call it a year.
Ivan: It doesn’t matter who I race for, whether it’s a “big-time” sponsor or just the corner shop. I, as a cyclist, have to keep the same motivation because this is my profession and my reputation is on the line. I have to be true to myself first in order to respond to sponsors.
How do I keep motivated throughout the year? Competition keeps me motivated. Every cyclist races to win. Also, through the years, I have met great people and some people from the public have gotten to know me by articles, etc. So, they come up to me at races to greet or congratulate me, or get a signature. When I am racing in very small towns, I hear them yell my name and this motivates me. I owe it to my fans to do as well as I can.
How long can I stay peaked? I cannot perform at the same level all year long. I work with my coach, Massimo Testa, to try for my race schedule match the peaks of my performance within my physical abilities. So, there is a particular time when I must be at my peak. I train for a particular race, or series of races.
I have downtime. When the season is over, you can relax. During the season, maybe I stay at home one race instead of traveling; just knowing you don’t have to get on a plane again can be a relief.
Dario. Being focused while racing is extremely important, since to do well you must be able to surpass the pain threshold. Only in this way can I reach a higher level of performance that will enable success. I think to be focused the whole season is impossible, so what I do initially is set my season objectives. As I get close to them, I increase my concentration level with the help of my team staff. I think you can keep top form for a maximum of 30-40 days followed by a down period where I allow myself to switch completely off for a week and then start building up for the next event.
Magnus. It’s more of a question of what you want out of the season as a professional athlete, rather than making sure you please the directors and sponsors. I always want to get the maximum out of the season to ensure I get a new contract for the next year and if possible a bigger one. I also think that it is important to have a small break from racing after the spring classics so you can regroup and focus on riding tours. To stay on top form physically for any longer period of time is quite difficult. We are talking of a couple of weeks on absolute peak form, and then there are the few weeks on near peak form before and after your absolute peak. So I think its very important to have a very high base level so you can perform well even if you are not peaking right then. I also believe that a 90% body with a 110% head always makes for a better result.
Pez: What process do you have to determine when you are ready to begin racing after the off-season? Obviously, going into the season and being not ready can have negative impact; How do you measure your readiness for battle?
Bobby J. It is something that you just have to feel. Of course if you have confidence in the training that you have done over the winter it makes it easier, but it is always a very nervous time. Even though I know my body, I train a lot by myself in the winter and sometimes I am unsure of my real level. Since I have come to CSC, I know that I am ready or not by the end of our training camp. We are the best team in the world because we train hard, so when I can manage a “top 10” in one of our training activities, I know that I will have no problem keeping up with the others in the real races.
Ivan: Knowing when I am ready to race is key. After so many years of racing, I know my body’s performance. I have been racing since 1990; these are 16 years of training and racing. So I use the knowledge of my body from past experience, and now I combine it with computerized training. So, my training plan is adjusted based on my output and also based on how I feel. Being ready for battle doesn’t just happen, it is planned.
Dario. I usually take the month of November completely off. After a week of easy training, I will take my first fitness test at Mapei sport center in Milano to see where I am starting. After two months of training I know I am ready for racing, but usually I take a fitness test every 4-5 weeks during the season, to assess my fitness level and see if my condition is improving.
Magnus. For the professional cyclist, I am not sure there is an off-season. The biggest “test” for me is when you get together with your teammates at the first big camp of the year, and then you can compare yourself as to how you are doing. I always try to start the season with a good base, but not in top form. I have to peak fairly early in the season, but not until about 2 months into it and therefore I try to keep a bit low right at the start and then build as we go along with the racing. I think that racing a fair bit just before your big peak is a good way to measure yourself.
Putting it Together
Let’s summarize some of the many points raised:
1. For most athletes, especially ones working full time, being ‘on’ 100% of the season is practically impossible. You must know when to ‘step on and off the gas’ in your training and racing efforts. This knowledge comes primarily from experience and having a good plan with strong guidance from coaches/teammates/mentors.
2. Learn to distinguish between training and racing for both physical and mental purposes. From a physical perspective, a training program’s primary purpose is to prepare you to race and to withstand the extreme stresses that racing puts on the body. If you do not take the time to properly prepare, putting too much stress on the body can lead to fatigue (or injury) and a frustrating season. Mentally, having too many unstructured efforts (e.g. group rides and training with no structure), does not distinguish harder efforts in races as anything special. It becomes one big blur of going hard. Mentally, prepare to give your all during the events that count.
3. If available, use performance testing to gauge progress as much during the year as possible. By incorporating a season-long testing program, you create a history of data to gauge progress year after year (e.g. like financial records of corporations.) You cannot always use racing as a gauge for progress (physically), as there are too many variables involved like different courses, competition, and tactics. Testing can help determine when you are ready to race and also monitor progress and fatigue during the season. If you are a developing athlete (e.g. Junior), having a testing record can provide valuable information about your development throughout your career.
4. The common thread from all our guests is having specific goals and committing yourself to those goals. Everything they do both in the season and off-season has purpose. Don’t sell yourself short by saying that you just want to ‘do well or just help your team.’ Have specific goals to accomplish and make a plan to do so.
5. Form a reliable, knowledgeable network of resources that includes: coaches, trainers, team managers, doctors, and massage therapists. Take the time needed to form your own team away from your racing team.
6. Every athlete has different motivations. Find yours. I remember reading once where the great tennis star Jimmy Connors said, ‘I am motivated to win by the looks on the faces of those who beat me.’ Whatever it takes!
Bruce Hendler created AthletiCamps to provide cycling specific coaching and training to athletes and cyclists of all levels. Find out more at www.athleticamps.com