One of the most common questions people ask me is how they can strengthen their weaknesses. It’s tempting to just serve them some practical training advice to help them improve hopeless climbing skills. It’s tempting to optimize their weak time trials with a specific time trial training plan. And it would be easy for me to show them some highly effective exercises that would improve their poor sprinting performance.
But I won’t do that. I think it is better to re-think why they ask me how to improve skills that will never be their specialty.
Let’s take a look at an example: Mike races in Category B in his national league. Mike is among the best five riders uphill but with mediocre sprinting and time trial skills. Most races, though, finishing with mass sprints and typically he makes a top 15 position, but rarely in the top 10. And that’s why Mike wants to improve his sprinting performance.
It’s a fair question, but let’s face it: Mike will never win that bunch sprint. Never. Even in a lower category, it would be unrealistic to see him as the fastest guy in a bunch sprint. And that is why I believe, it is important to realize why he wants to sprint faster.
I think Mike’s question is a symptom of wrong focus. He is focusing on fixing his weaknesses instead of fine-tuning his excellent climbing performance. It might be a lack of confidence because he is already among the best climbers in his category. “I’m already a good climber, so there is no need to train that…”
But if he paid more attention to his best weapon, climbing, I think it seems reasonable that he could make it to the top of the podium. Not every week, but maybe a few times during the season.
Now, if Mike had asked me how to win more races, I wouldn’t make his poor sprinting skills a topic. Instead, I would focus on improving his watts to kilogram and carefully select the hilly events where he should peak. In these races, Mike is a potential winner and that’s where I would like him to use his best weapon to the maximum. That’s a winner’s strategy.
If you are a competitive cyclist, you should aim to build a physiological profile that can help you win races. Sometimes it makes sense to focus on improving your best skills and don’t be afraid that you will sacrifice your mediocre skills.
Why? Because it’s funnier to win (or at least have a chance to win) a few races during the season than finishing top 10 – week after week – without ever having a real chance to win.
Remember, it’s far more lucrative and enjoyable to emphasize your strength than fixing weaknesses that will never be highly competitive.
How to Pick the Perfect Cycling Race for Winning
There are different physiological profiles for sprinters, finisseurs, time trialists, climbers, stage race specialists, etc. You might already have an idea of where you fit in. If not, try to think of what kind of races you will have the best chances of winning. It’s worth remembering that if you don’t compete on the international level then most of your competitors are not specialists. And then it’s not impossible to beat them.
Though I advocate specializing, we must keep in mind that most road cycling races fit several kinds of rider styles and after all, that’s great. There are small hills, technical parts, crosswind sections and many of the races end up with a sprint in a smaller or bigger group.
So it is still necessary to train a wide repertoire of physiological skills, but it certainly makes sense to point out where it can be possible for you to make the difference that will make you a winner. Find out where you can make the winning move and train the skills that will help you to succeed.
It’s pretty obvious that if you are a sprinter then you can wait for the last 150 meters before you show your superiority. Often the best sprinters are the most successful riders with the most wins during a season. Maybe that is why so many riders wait for the sprint as their sole tactic.
Typically 5 to 10 riders rely on their sprinting skills as their chance to win the party. At lower category events, even more, riders will wait for the sprint because they are inexperienced and hope they will become the new Marc Cavendish. But most riders are not sprinters. Far from.
That’s why so many different riders dream of winning every time they enter a race.
It’s questionable if it is a reasonable tactic to count yourself as a sprinter with a chance to win a race if you know you are not the fastest sprinter. Instead, why not realize that you have to attack the race differently to have a realistic chance to win?
As I have said before: If you already know that the sprinters are faster than you, then you have 3 options: Attack, attack, attack – Does it sound reasonable?