What's Cool In Road Cycling

Toolbox: Increasing Your Racing IQ

Bike racing is different than most sports in that training is merely a prerequisite for getting results. We always start our race school and clinics with the statement, “Just because you train hard doesn’t give you the right to win bike races.” Learning how to compete and what it takes to be successful is a whole different animal than the physical training required to potentially do well in the sport.

As we enter the 2011 racing season, here are five important tips to help improve your racing IQ and achieve better results for you and your team.

Take a lesson from the big three sports in the US and watch “film”
We rarely if ever have an opportunity to watch our local races on video or DVD, especially the key moments of those races. If someone takes a video of most local races, it’s the last sprint taken from well beyond the finish line. It really doesn’t do much good as a learning tool. So what can you do? Simply go online or buy DVDs of the professionals and get your team together and pick apart the tactics. Single day races offer hours of good video, taken from a variety of locations like motorbikes and helicopters. Grand Tour videos offer great views of the final sprints from above. It’s a good opportunity to watch the tactics that take place by the best riders in the world. And it sure is motivating to watch!

Take a racing clinic by a qualified coach.
Race skills and tactics clinics are everywhere these days. It seems like most districts have plenty of opportunities to enroll and take these clinics. Here in Northern California, as an added bonus, upgrade points are offered for taking part in one of these clinics. And if your district doesn’t offer them, there are plenty of coaches (including this one) that are more than willing to fly to you and give a great weekend clinic that can really help your riders learn how to be more competitive in their races. Basic skills, race strategies, and mock racing can all be utilized over a weekend that can carry momentum and motivation into the race season.

The red carpet and aggressiveness
A couple weeks ago our free education series featured the topic, Athlete versus Competitor. We were fortunate to have as a guest, Mike Sayers, long time US professional and current BMC assistant director. If one (of many) things came out about how to become a better bike racer and competitor, it’s that you have to be aggressive. You have to realize that, to be successful, you have to make it happen, as the red carpet to victory doesn’t just roll out for you. It’s a fight and a struggle.

Good things come to those who are aggressive. Aggressiveness (versus just sitting there in the group) accomplishes two positive things. 1) It makes you fitter. Training hard can only get you so fit. Nothing seems to substitute for good racing. 2) It gets you into the race and puts you in situations that teach you what it takes to win. I would rather have an athlete that is overly aggressive versus super passive in races. It can be easier to tone down that enthusiasm versus the opposite. Bottom line, being “smart” aggressive can have many benefits, especially early in the season.

Compile as much info as possible; it’s out there these days
We live in a technically connected world. Now, more than ever, there is so much information available on the internet to help you get a head start on the racing before you even leave the house:

• Previous race reports – Take a few minutes to find and read race reports from previous seasons. They are out there. You can pick up some good information from other racers and how they dealt with certain situations during the race

• Maps – With mapping and training software like Garmin Connect, you can look at courses in detail. It of course doesn’t substitute for the real thing, but it will still give you an idea of what you are up against.

• Past results – Do a little research and see how previous editions of certain races finished in the past and what type of weather conditions existed. Again, with bike racing, you never can really predict, but you can also use this information to play the percentages and perhaps get an idea as to how the race will play out.

Have a plan as to how you want to race and stick to that plan
I know that this is something that seems obvious. You see a lot of teams gathered and talking before races, thinking they are most likely reviewing their plan for the race. What I think is missing is that most of these conversations are not specific enough and roles and responsibilities are not well defined. To be successful, you have to be specific and everyone has to commit to the plan and know what they are suppose to be doing. Let’s review some basics with a simple example:

Goal: Win the race – This may seem obvious, but it needs to be out there and not only does it need to be specifically stated, it needs to have a specific person associated with this outcome. At the professional level it can seem obvious who that person is, but at the amateur level it’s a bit more difficult, as a lot of teams want to give everyone the opportunity to win. It’s only natural. It just takes a team to talk this type of situation out and make some difficult decisions. And it probably best to NOT do this the morning of the race.

Strategy: For this example, let’s assume there is a final climb up to the finish. You’ve identified a rider (and a backup) for whom the race is dedicated. A simple strategy to accomplish the above goal is for the rest of the team to have that rider at the front of the race in good position, minimizing the work that he/she needs to have done to get to this point. They are a good climber and represent the best chance for the team to win the race. So, the strategy is to try to keep the group together and deliver that person to the right place.

Tactics: This is the tricky part as there are so many different situations that can arise during a race. The most important thing to keep in mind when making tactical decisions is the above strategy. What you decide to do ultimately needs to contribute to making the strategy happen: Get my rider to the base of the final climb in the front group and in good position. Let’s say a break goes off in the first third of the race. Keeping in line with the strategy, what should the team do? Should they just let it go? Should they put someone in the break? Should they put some of the team up front and keep a steady tempo, not allowing the break to get too far up the road? This is where good communication and complete buy-in to the strategy is essential. And of course, all three answers may be correct, depending on the many possible variables like when the break went, who is in it and weather conditions. Not all of the team may even have known that a break got away, let alone who is in it, so communication and the team staying near the front (nothing happens at the back) is key. It’s very easy to stray from the strategy at this point, especially in the heat of battle.

Can the strategy change? Of course it can. Can tactics vary? Every minute! The important take home message here is that if you and your team can begin with a plan and develop a good communication process, over time, you will begin to show progress in race results.

Bike racing is unique and very dynamic. That is what makes it so much fun and such a challenge. Every race is different and offers opportunities to develop race skills. Hopefully, these five simple tips will point you in the right direction and over time, you will see benefits from all the hard work and sacrifice you as a rider put into the sport!

Ride safe, ride strong,

About Bruce
Bruce Hendler is a USA Cycling Coach and owner of AthletiCamps in Northern California. For the past 10 years, he and his experienced team have helped athletes of all levels achieve their goals in the great sport of bike racing thru cycling training camps, cycling coaching and performance testing. To contact AthletiCamps, visit their website at www.athleticamps.com or follow them on Twitter.

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