What's Cool In Road Cycling

Toolbox: Prioritizing Spring Racing

The new racing schedule has just been published and you are riding a wave of excitement at the coming season. A race every weekend and each more intriguing than the previous, but how do you set your goals and expectations accordingly?

By Matt McNamara

OK, it’s not exactly spring in most areas of the world, so the idea of a “Spring Schedule” may be a bit of a stretch, but there is likely a schedule of events set to commence sometime in the near future and you’d like to be ready right?

Winter Preparation Creates Spring Expectations
The first thing to recognize when you start to dream about that perfect season is that it is built on the back of a winter’s worth of work. Time and again racers can be heard talking about “racing their way into fitness.” This is an amusing approach that likely plateaus their development and stagnates their season in one fell swoop. This is because without the requisite aerobic development, but with heavy dosing of intensity early on, they are much more susceptible to burnout, injury, and lackluster motivation as the season starts to get up to speed.

Instead, commit yourself to being really and truly prepared for this season by starting (or hopefully continuing) the foundational work that will allow you to reach a peak of fitness. If you’ve read my other articles, you know that I am not advocating huge amounts of LSD training or weeks on end of small ring riding – instead I tend to focus my athletes on quality workouts that are sub-threshold and highly focused. If you have more than 12 or 14 hours per week to train, then by all means give yourself plenty of long, free form rides…they really do help, but for the 8-12 hour per week athlete a steady diet of tempo and circa-threshold level workouts will more than fit the bill

Those First Races
With a strong fitness foundation you can make race plans with more confidence. Don’t look at every race as being relatively the same, instead get to know the courses and events that suit your early season goals and plan accordingly. Early season races should include a healthy dose of practice. Work on moving around easily, cornering safely and getting back in the flow of the field. If you’ve recently upgraded, don’t be afraid to work your way around the group and get acquainted. Ideally you’ll have a few teammates to help you settle in and work with. If you’ve planned your training well you should be well prepared for any early season race you choose and that is, to my thinking, the larger picture of spring racing. Don’t sign up until you are ready to race and make a difference. Don’t race until you can show some panache!

Race With Panache!
Panache. I love the word. It sounds regal and visceral in the same breath. Panache is that certain way of racing personified by the likes of Jens Voigt and Bernard Hinault. Think Claudio “Il Diablo” Chiappucci’s awesome all-day solo breakaway to Sestriere in the 1992 Tour despite being one of the marked favorites. It is throwing caution to the wind at every opportunity, going for the insanely long breakaway or just hammering away at the front mile after mile because it feels good and delivers some pain to your rivals. Panache is the lost art of racing.

Too often amateur racing is about as thrilling as watching paint dry. The fields roll around and kill any attack, keep the pace modest and arrive at the finish with fresh legs and aggressive hearts – a sure recipe for field sprint disaster. As a coach I watch a lot of races at every level and I want to see riders testing their limits, and those of their competitors. I want to see that fourth and fifth attack by a guy until he gets away – even if he comes back in a lap and it was all for naught. It’s spring racing – be fearless, be the one to sell it all out in the pursuit of something other than a predictable sprint finish. That’s Panache!

The first races of the season are likely right around the corner and you are probably itching to get after it. Before you send in that registration, take a moment to consider just what it is that you are hoping to accomplish. Short of winning there are a number of other important goals that can be had at early season races. From learning the courses and competitors, to testing your fitness and race panache, make this the year that you take your racing to a new level. Challenge yourself to get dropped. Race without fear and see what happens. Be the racer who keeps drilling it. Race with PANACHE!

About Matt McNamara: Matt is a USA Cycling Level 1 coach with over 20 years of racing, coaching and team management experience. For 2011 he has a slew of projects up his sleeve including SuperCamp, a 6-day festival of training that coincides with the Tour Of California, the introduction of his Team Scrimmage Clinics where teams compete against each other in a series of skills drills, tactical situations, and physiological competitions to refine and practice their racing acumen, and working with his development road team. Matt is the founder and president of Sterling Sports Group. Learn more by visiting them online at www.sterlingwins.com.

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