IF YOU think you’ve reached your cycling peak, then you should be applauded for training hard and doing all the right things.
But when preparing and taking part in a race, are you really doing everything you should be?
We can always find ways to boost our performance. In fact, the smallest improvements can make a huge difference to serious riders.
If you have a race coming up, take a look at the following skills/tips. Are you applying them all to your training and racing? If not, now is the time for some serious self-analysis…
Before the cycling race
1. Nutrition: Getting this right before a race is crucial. Consuming the correct amount and quality of food is so important for preparation. But be careful not to eat too much. In fact, if your race is shorter than two to three hours, there’s no need to worry too much about carb loading.
2. Hydration: Again, this is vital, especially before a race. Drinking little and often is recommended, especially in the 24 hours before the event. Even if you are not thirsty make sure you drink. Stick to water instead of fizzy or sports drinks, coffee and tea. And avoid alcohol!
3. Tapering: If it is a major competition that you have trained long and hard for, then you will also benefit from two to three weeks of tapering. But many riders still benefit from a short, sharp interval of about five minutes the day before a race. It will keep your enzymes at a competitive level without tiring you out.
4. Snooze control: Sleep is probably the most important part of any training regime. Sleeping well the night before a race is essential if you are to wake up feeling motivated and ready. Many riders struggle to sleep the night before a race. So to make sure you get at least seven hours, make sure you go to bed early, avoid having a TV / computer /smartphone in your bedroom, and avoid caffeine.
5. Preparing your bike for action: Mechanical trouble should never limit your chance to succeed. So decide on the best combination of available equipment. There are so many lovely bike parts out there but focus on what you actually possess to choose from the day before races. Don’t make radical changes to your bike set-up without testing it prior to the event.
6. Getting there on time: It’s mandatory to sign in at most cycling events. So without stating the obvious, it’s crucial to get there on time. Make sure you arrive in plenty of time and avoid delays. Getting held up before the start of an event that you have put so much time into preparing for only causes stress and may affect your performance.
7. Mental preparation: Getting into the right mindset so you are laser-focused on the challenge ahead is crucial. But while psyching yourself up and self-motivation are important, don’t forget to stay relaxed and try to enjoy the moment at the same time.
8. Gearing up: Don’t leave what you are going to wear until race day. Make sure you know in advance what you will wear during the race, and decide early on what tools, energy bars, and energy gels you will carry and how you will store them in your pockets.
9. Warm-up: This sounds like stating the obvious but please make sure you do a proper warm-up. Once you have signed in for the race, have a specific warm-up in mind to preepare your body for the severe test it is about to face.
10. Know the course: Make sure you know where the tough sections are (hills, crosswind areas, any cobble stones, bonus sprints). Do a dry run of the course. A leisurely practice ride will familiarise you with the course so there are no nasty surprises on the big day.
During the cycling race
11. Riding in a large group: Tucking yourself away in a big group could be the difference between being a hero or zero in the final sprint. This is the time to conserve energy for attacks and sprints so maximize the benefits of having others protecting you from the wind.
12. A good position: Maintaining a nice position in the pack is a sensible move. Always try to stay in the leading 20. If you end up in a bad position you’ll have to work harder each time one of the riders in front of you loses a few meters. You will save energy by having fewer riders in front of you and there are fewer people who can delay you.
13. Eating/ drinking in the pack: This is not easy and may require some practice. Eating, drinking and taking gels at high speed while surrounded by dozens of other riders is a bit of an art form. So practice doing this with some friends or club members if possible.
14. Aware of dangers: Be alert to the dangers a race could bring. Falling riders, potholes and traffic can cause frustrating barriers. Some dangers are unavoidable but if you ride nearer the front you are less likely to be brought down by a falling competitor. Doing a practice ride of the circuit will alert you to hazards.
15. Crosswinds and echelons: Crosswinds can devastate your race plan. When you turn into a crosswind there are risks of crosswind attacks. A few riders will create an echelon and will work hard to maintain the pressure, but this can string out a field in single line formation. If you’re not in the echelon you will suffer and the peloton is likely to split.
16. Surviving attacks: Before a breakaway gets established there might be several attacks you must survive. This is another good reason to try to maintain a position in the top 20, so you will be more alive to an attempted breakaway.
17. Pacing during breakaways: Attacking is one of the toughest things to do successfully. If you get it wrong, it could spell disaster and the end of your race. Make sure you get the pacing just right once you decide to go for it.
18. Separate yourself from the bunch: If you attack, then give it 100%. Don’t be looking behind you constantly. Put your heart and soul into it and try to limit your attempted breakaway to one attempt. If somebody breaks with you, then share the pacing workload.
19. Closing gaps: If there is a breakaway then it is important not to panic if you are left in the peloton. Depending at what point of the race the break has occurred, a co-ordinated startegy with your team or fellow riders will normally result in a breakaway rider(s) being reeled in.
20. Eating and drinking during breakaways: You work so much harder during a solo breakaway or in a smaller group. If you are close to the finish then you will also be focusing on tactical moves to beat the other breakaway riders. So it is easy to forget to hydrate and eat enough. Don’t fall into this trap.
Cycling Race Tactics
21. Stick to Plan A: You have probably run through your race plan in your head a hundred times before the event, especially if it’s a race you have prioritized. So stick to it. Don’t be tempted to suddenly deploy different tactics once the race has started. Stick to your guns.
22. Plan B: However unforeseen events can occur during any race so if something goes wrong make sure you have a back-up Plan B up your sleeve. If you get a puncture or suffer a fall then Plan A will go out of the window. Then be prepared to launch Plan B.
23. Dirty tricks: While we don’t recommend them, you will probably be well aware that some riders employ unscrupulous tactics during a race to give them an advantage. Be prepared for this and act accordingly. Whatever you do, don’t get sucked into copying these pesky rivals.
24. Taking advantage of random opportunities: Sometimes things happen during a race that are unexpected. Maybe several of your rivals will be involved in a fall that you manage to avoid. It is important to make the most of these opportunitiies.
25. Taking advantage of the weather forecast: Be aware of the weather and try to use the elements to your advantage. Make sure you train in all weathers so you are prepared for rain and wind. Bury yourself in the pack if it is very windy to minimize your effort.
26. Positioning before the final sprint: Even if you are the fastest sprinter, if you are not in a good position you have no chance of winning the final dash to the line. Keep at the wheel of a sprinter you know is going to be among the front runners. And if you are lucky you may have team-mates who will help you get in the perfect position.
27. Choosing gears: It is vital to be able to react to your rivals’ attacks so make sure you are in control of your gear changes and that you are always in the optimum gear. This will also allow you to achieve maximum speed in the final sprint. Avoid a gear shift in the last 200m.
28. Choosing tactics: Tactics are crucial, so before the race make sure you have an overall race plan. Visualise yourself riding the race and mentally run through your tactical plan beforehand. Make sure your strategy will help you achieve the best possible result.
29. Attacks and counter-attacks: As you get close to the finishing line there are likely to be several attacks. So make sure you are prepared for these. Be alive to who is attacking: if it is a major rival then the attack should be taken more seriously.
30. Benefiting from other riders’ tactical moves: You can often gain an advantage by capitalising on the tactical moves of others. For example, if a rival makes a break you could latch on to him and go with him. It could boost your chance of a great result.
31. Taking chances: Sometimes a cycling race ends like a bit of a lottery with dozens of riders jockeying for position in the final sprint. But it is possible to gain a better outcome if you are prepared to take a few risks during a race.
32. Physical contact: Be prepared for lots of elbows flying and other physical contact. Nothing beats experience so your race tactics will improve over time and the more you race. But cycling can be a dog-eat-dog sport, especially near the finish of a race.
33. The sprint: Timing is crucial. Don’t go too early but don’t leave it too late. In the sprint to the line you will normally only have one big effort. Make it count. Get into the best possible position and go for it. Try to use wind conditions to your advantage.
34. Braking before cornering: This can be hazardous so make sure you practise breaking at corners during your training regime. Remember that it is not how fast you ride before a corner, it is how you ride out of the corner that is the most important thing.
35. Accelerate after cornering: Following on from the prevous point, once you have negotiated a corner put your pedals to the floor and accelerate to make you hold your position. Also, be mindful of others attacking coming out of corners.
36. Pedalling during cornering: Taking a corner can be tricky and you may not need to pedal. Staying in the saddle is the priority so you should be able to freewheel before speeding up once you’ve taken the corner.
37. Cornering at the right speed: Don’t go too fast into a corner. You may end up flat on your back. Getting to know the course beforehand and even riding around it could be a good idea to get to know any problem corners.
38. Slippery corners (sand, gravel, oil, rain etc.): The weather could make some corners extra slippery. Be aware of this. Again, preparation is key, so a ride round the course could alert you to any slippery areas caused by things like oil or gravel.
39. Cobble stones: Some cycling races include short sections on cobble stones and even though it isn’t Paris-Roubaix, it might influence the race result. Try to practice on cobbles to get used to the uncomfortable and bumpy ride.
40. Descents: Even though uphill riding is much, much more difficult, descents can be places where you can save or lose crucial time. They also increase the risk of a fall so make sure you practise some descents if your race is hilly.
41. Reading the race: The more race experience you get the better you will become at competing. Being able to recognize who the strongest riders are is something that will come in time but it is such an important skill.
42. Knowing your competitors: You may already know your main race rivals. But knowing as much as possible about your competitors and how they will react to different terrain can only help you. For example, who are the strongest sprinters? Hill climbers?
43. The nature of the race: Remember, you are probably just one out of maybe 100 riders. If you’re lucky, you might have a few team-mates, but you will still have to accept that the race is never under control. It’s all about being prepared for unknown events as well as tactical moves from other riders and teams.
44. Strength in numbers: If you are one member of a team then communication is vital. Strength in numbers can only help your individual effort. Use your team-mates to help carry you to a better performance.
45. Being proactive: Inner strength, self determination and the power to choose how you respond to tactical moves, the weather and other circumstances can give you an edge, both mentally and physically. Don’t just wait for something to happen.
46. Relieve yourself: There is nothing worse than wanting to go to the toilet during a race. So give yourself plenty of time to visit the loo before the race. It could prevent hours of discomfort.
47. Sharing good tips with your best friends: Talk to your riding friends and team-mates if you have any. Listen to their experiences and pick their riding brains if they are more experienced than you or have knowledge of a particular race. (hint: please share this link with your cycling buddies: http://www.training4cyclists.com/cycling-race-tips/ )