In your quest for success in cycling, one of the first things you learn is that bike racing is not easy. There is a large amount of amazing riders out there better than you and in order to win you are going to have to improve your fitness and your race tactics. After a while (sometimes a long while), you learn that each step up in success comes from one improvement at a time, with each small step contributing to a bigger step. Let’s examine this process with a few examples using power files, so that you can see the clear step by step progressive nature of success.
Let’s start with a hard workout and tearing apart a power file. The goal in training is threefold: 1) create training stress for the body to adapt and get stronger. 2) Develop mental toughness. 3) Build self-confidence. Because if you can do it in training, you can certainly do it in racing. I call this the “triangle of success”.
This third reason is very important in your steps to success because if you can’t do it in training, why would you expect to do it in racing? These three goals, when accomplished make a huge difference in the athletes’ success rate because they make up the first component in winning and that is ‘believing you can win’. Once you learn and prove to yourself that you can indeed win, your chances of success become more and more certain with every race.
“Belief” is a fickle thing and the level of belief you have in yourself comes and goes with the confidence you have in your abilities. The only way that I know how to increase your level of belief is through hard training that demands you do more in training than you would do in your race. Most mediocre racers believe that they never have to train harder or longer than their longest race, but this way of thinking is why they are mediocre. If you want to succeed, then you need to push harder and longer then the rest of the riders and certainly be able to go “deeper” into your “well of courage”. If, after going to a race, racing well and surprising yourself with a top result, you think to yourself, “Wow, that was easier than many of my training rides”, then you are ready to win. When this awareness takes place , you really bolster your confidence in your current fitness and that is critical to you believing that you can do it. In figure 1, we see a very difficult workout designed to enhance the “Triangle of Success”.
“Do the Work” Workout:
6 hours- Go. “Do the Work”. Use Wattages as guidelines, but do not stop or cut any intervals short. DO all the intervals no matter if the wattages are at 70% of FTP watts. “Do the work”.
Warm-up for 30 minutes, then do 10 x 1 minute fast pedals- 1 minute at 120rpm, LOW watts. 1 minute easy at 80rpm, low watts.
2nd hour- Do 2 x 20 minutes at 100% of FTP watts. REST for 5 minutes between. Can be done on a climb or on the flats. You Choose.
3rd hour- Just ride and enjoy the sun. Nothing Special. Keep watts under 85% of FTP.
4th hour- Ride at 88-93% of FTP watts and do (10) attacks(one every 6th minute). Each attack is a SPRINT out of the saddle for 15 seconds, then back in the saddle and DRILL it for 3 minutes. Go into TT mode and just drill it. Do your best here. Don’t worry about watts, but just do your best. REST for 5minutes between each.
5th hour- Just ride and enjoy the sun. Nothing Special. Keep watts under 85% of FTP. AFTER, STOP at a café, drink a TRIPLE expresso and have some food- get some sweet thing, but also get something with protein.
6th hour- After digesting your food, I want you to ride at 85-95% of FTP watts in the last 45minutes. I want you to dig deep and push here. If your watts are at 80%, I don’t care, just push hard in these last 45minutes. You better be tired by here, so I am not expecting you to have crazy watts. The goal is to “Do the work”.
2nd component: Smart racing.
Even though you feel stronger and faster than before doesn’t mean you are going to win, you still have to pedal your bike, make the winning breakaway and then figure out how to win from the breakaway. In my world, the perfect race contains two attacks. One attack to make the winning breakaway and one attack to drop them and solo to the finish line, getting the win. While ideal, this certainly isn’t the norm, so your training and preparation has to be adequate (see previous component above). There are many tactics that you can employ in your race, and I have discussed them at length in previous articles, so I won’t delve into them here, but in reviewing Figure 2, we see some fairly common ones that are used almost universally. First off, the goal of conserving energy is important especially early in the race. Why? Well, the finish line isn’t until the end and no one cares who was the strongest in the first half of the race, so while your ego might feel better after you make the peloton suffer in the first half of the race, it’s all about who finishes first at the end of the race. In figure 2, it’s easy to see that this rider spent most of the time not pedaling in the first half of the race.
The second thing that this winning racer did was that he attacked multiple times, even getting in an unsuccessful breakaway at one point, before finally succeeding. Being willing to try again and again, over and over is critical. Not every attack is going to become the winning attack, and this is why you do tons of intervals in your training and if you do 18 intervals in your training, then you’ll easily be able to 6 in a race. The other common mistake that I see many athletes make is that they become “attached” to the breakaway and then put all their effort into a doomed breakaway. Instead, recognizing that a breakaway won’t succeed early on in the formation of the break, will allow you to save precious energy, get caught by the peloton, “re-shuffle the deck” and get in the next move that contains the right ingredients for success. What are the right ingredients for a successful breakaway? 1) There has to be representative riders from the major teams in the area. This will ensure that none of the dominant teams put in a chase and also actively discourage a chase by lesser teams and individual riders. 2) The breakaway has to be comprised of riders in which 75% of the group is of relatively equal strength AND willing to work. You might have plenty of strong riders in the breakaway, but if there aren’t enough riders willing to work to keep it away, that will kill the breakaway soon enough. Or you might have the opposite combination, only a few guys willing to work and those riders are much stronger than the rest of the riders in the breakaway. If that’s the case, then those couple of strong riders will burn themselves out quickly as they just don’t have enough help to keep the breakaway from holding off a big peloton.
Being willing to “give up” on the breakaway and allow you to “re-shuffle the deck” is a useful tactic and the sign of a mature racer that has the confidence to know that instead of working in an obviously failed breakaway, they are willing take a chance on getting in another breakaway or even missing the next one instead of wasting precious energy.
3rd component: The Finish. Now, that you are getting closer and closer to the finish, whether you are in the winning breakaway or a group sprint, you have to have a plan to win. The best riders are always thinking to themselves, “How am I going to win this?” and then creating an A, B and C scenarios in their mind. If you don’t have a plan to win, then you are planning to fail, so it’s critical you know your particular abilities that will best help you to win. If you are not a great sprinter, then by all means, don’t let the breakaway come down to a sprint if you can help it. Attacking solo as many times as possible will be better than just waiting and unleashing your smoking 900 watt max sprint upon the unsuspecting breakaway… Or maybe you are really hurting in the break and aren’t even sure you’ll be able to get to the line without getting dropped out of the breakaway. In this case, you need to stop working in the breakaway and conserve as much energy as possible, but never ever think that you can’t win. There have been many, many cases when the eventual winner has been dropped out of the breakaway multiple times only to come back and win it. This result only occurs with the most mentally strong riders as it requires an absolute dedication to never quitting. Death will come first before you quit racing to the finish line.
This brings about the final point of the finish that is key to success. Who wants it? Who really, really wants to win? Is it you? Because in the end, if you take away all the scientific training, all the super wahzoo aero gadgets, all the secret diet foods, it always comes down to who wants more. The rider that wants it the most is the one that is going to win in 99 out of 100 races. That is the ultimate delineator in the final few miles, who wants it the most and is willing to suffer more than anyone else to get it. This can’t be trained, but it can be focused. Desire to win is something that is internal most of the time, but it originates from two things: 1) A clear understanding of your “Why?” Why are you a bike racer? Why do you want to win? Why are you out every day doing intervals? When you have a very clear and strong “why”, you will have more desire. 2) Goals drive desire, and you need clearly defined goals that you can think about over and over and visualize on a daily basis in order to create more and more desire. 3) Desire can come from that need to prove something to yourself or someone else. Generally, wanting to prove something to yourself is a much healthier form of desire, but sometimes if you want to just kick that m%&*f@# guy’s butt, then that can be a powerful elixir of desire.
Winning is not easy, but if it was, everyone would do it. Learning to win is a lesson that each of us can learn and then take that throughout our life into other area’s and also into the future. Once you learn the ingredients for success, then you will be able to apply them to your work, family, business and in other sports. The principles for success and winning bike races are universal and it’s time to get started. Go do some hill repeats!
Hunter Allen leads Peaks Coaching Group and is a leading edge coach, that has written many books on cycling, including the water-shed book, “Training and Racing with a Power Meter”.You can contact Hunter directly www.PeaksCoachingGroup.com for personal coaching and camps.