What's Cool In Road Cycling

ToolBox: Fight Your Stereotype

Too often in cycling, riders are constantly convincing themselves they are not a certain type of rider. Conversely, riders will often desire to excel in a specialty they may not be suited for. Let’s look at some of the myths and truths associated with stereotyping bike racers and see how it applies to you and your program.

“I’m definitely not a climber!”, “I can’t sprint my way out of a paper bag”, “I’m just not a good time trialist.” How often have you heard riders throwing out these old adages after a race, often to justify their poor performance? That’s bad enough, but unfortunately we ingrain those statements into our psyches throughout the day, such that they’re in our heads before we even hit the start line.

As any sport psychologist knows, there is an immensely strong connection between our thoughts and ultimate action: mind over matter. This is classically defined by a quote attributed to automaker Henry Ford: “Whether you think you can or can’t, you are right!”

It is true that cycling has become more specialized in the past couple of decades, but we are talking only at the rarefied upper strata of the top professionals. In general, road cycling can be classified into four basic specialties or strengths: climber, all-arounder, time trialist, and sprinter.

Running Example
To understand these specialties, we can use the sport of running as an example. Looking at a runner’s body will be a good indication of what type of event they might excel at. For example, a marathoner like Paul Tergat (Kenyan) looks completely different than a 100m sprinter like Maurice Green (USA). One way to classify them is to use Body Mass Index (BMI), which is a measurement of body composition determined by dividing weight (kilos) by height (meters). Elite runners with higher BMIs generally have more fast twitch muscle fibers (Type 2B) and excel in sprinting events. On the flip side, runners with lower BMIs usually have predominantly slow twitch fibers (Type 1) and excel in endurance events like the marathon. Maurice Green’s BMI is 25.9, while Paul Tergat’s BMI is 18.2. You can be quite sure that you will NEVER see these two athletes line up at the same start line.

In road bike racing of course, all different types of riders DO line up together and that is one reason why the sport is so unique.

Assessing Your Style
So how do you determine what type of rider you are and does it matter?

Essential Components – First and foremost, remember that road cycling is an endurance sport and no matter what your “specialty”, you require the components of endurance and strength to be successful. For example, if you are a sprinter like Robbie McEwen you still have to make it to the finish line to be able to unleash your powerful sprint. And if you are a climber in a stage race, you still have to finish the “field sprint” events with the lead group (or close) to stay in contention.

What you enjoy – Just as important as what your physiology dictates your strength may be, is what aspect of bike racing you truly enjoy. Over the years, I have seen skinny climber types that thrive on sprinting and bigger, more muscular riders who love what it takes to climb and do it well. Mind over matter so to speak.

Time will tell – Over time, the most important thing you can do as a rider is recognize through experience what type of events best suit you. Most races have some form of climbing in them; do you excel in the shorter, steeper or longer, sustained climbs? By simply paying attention to yourself during both training and racing and discussing your strengths and weaknesses with a good coach, you will learn over time what you are good at.

Tactics – The key aspect of cycling that makes it so different from other sports is pack dynamics and the use of tactics. You may not be the best climber in the race, but by using tactics, you may be able to overcome that weakness. For example, starting climbs at the front of the field and letting yourself drift back ever so slightly may allow you to stay with the lead group versus starting in the middle or back and being constantly gapped and eventually dropped. Given the right tactics, physical limitations can be overcome.

Training – Too often we get stuck in a rut of doing rides or workouts that we love. Surprise surprise, but riders who think they’re climbers love to climb, and people who think they’re sprinters love to and avoid climbs and do sprint workouts. Train your limiters, and you will find your opportunities for success expand greatly because you’ll end up with more chances to employ your strengths.

Take home message

If you are new to racing and still developing (Junior or Master), it is essential to experience all different types of races (e.g. road, crit, time trials) and conditions within those races (e.g. hills, flats, stage races.). Don’t stereotype yourself too early in your cycling career. Approach your racing and training with an open mind. Embrace all types of races.

As you reach your plateau of fitness and become more experienced, which is usually determined by how much time there is available in your life to race and train, focus on certain types of events and plan your training and season around them. Do not neglect any race because they are not your type. Doing all types of races will make you a more well-rounded bike racer and will only benefit your specialty when it comes time for that particular race.

Ride safe! Ride strong!


About Bruce
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

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