In the course of a race, or races, every time you see something you do not have an answer for you should say to yourself these 3 things:
I can’t do that.
I need to do that.
I am going to learn how to do that.
You are going to mirror your training from your racing.
The race is the mirror.
Just that simple.
It’s just that simple.
So why don’t we all do that?
Because it’s hard.
It’s really hard.
The demands of a race, with so much at stake, will push most riders to heights they just don’t go to during training. At least not long enough, or often enough.
If you don’t hit the high notes in training, how can you possibly expect to succeed in a race?
And you won’t
Unless, you look in the mirror.
The race mirror.
Most riders use group rides to get their high-end training. Which in theory is good, because this is about as close to ‘race level’ intensity that most of us get in training.
Peer pressure is a powerful training partner.
The problem is the sameness of most group rides, in intensity and result.
Lets break down a generic group ride, not unlike so many across the country, as an example:
The group features 10 or so good Cat 2-3 riders, (or 3, 4’s) headed by some Cat 1or 2 (heretofore called ‘Big Dog’) who does pretty much whatever he wants, whenever he wants.
Most team rides always seem to have 1 or 2 guys that fill this bill.
They hit a 5-mile climb, all together.
The top guys set hard, single file tempo.
In the first 2 miles half the group is tailed off. They will ride the remainder of this 20-minute climb solo, or with another rider.
For the next 4 miles Big Dog sets the tempo, fast enough to keep everyone on the rivet. No one is going to attack. They possibly could, but have the “I can’t beat him, so why try” attitude.
With a mile or 2 to go, BD launches, one rider, stays, or attempts to stay with him. If he hangs on, he may counterattack, will probably get caught and countered again and dropped for good, or maybe #2 hangs on and they come in together and sprint at some traffic sign.
They then wait and regroup.
So who got what out of this?
If we examine the riders in finishing order:
10th, 9th, 8th, 7th, 6th- all rode 80% of the climb by themselves or with another rider, riding a hard sustainable steady pace. So they got some high-end endurance work, which you could replicate solo easy enough, but kind of a waste of a group ride. Odds are, once tailed off, they were content to ride a bit below LT and cruise to the top.
5th 4th, 3rd- Good riders who were also unwilling to challenge the other big dogs. They looked, they watched, and let them ride away. Yep, let them ride away. Make no mistake, decisions made when you are 5 beats from your max are the hardest ones, but those are the ones that win bike races.
You can always go harder than you think you can, even if it is for a few seconds.
So, after getting popped, these 3 guys probably rode in together, and sprinted, or maybe not, at the finish.
So they also got some high end ED, and a little more, but not much.
1st, 2nd- These two guys bike raced, and got the most out of this stretch of road. They got high end ED, plus 2 or 3 jumps, as well as a sprint finish. More important, they saw and made critical, crucial and very difficult choices about when and where to go, whether to attack or react. They rode seated, they stood, they spun some higher cadence, the pushed some bigger gears, they may have used 2 or 3 hand positions as well. In short they used all the cards in the bike racers deck, and they are better riders because of it. But are they really that much better riders than say, the next 5 guys? Maybe. But in most cases, probably not. The difference was the hard, hard choices. They chose to go, the others did not. It wasn’t legs, it was heart.
Those next 3 riders, faced with the same situation in a real race would probably dig deeper and follow the jumps to try and stay with the top 2. If they catch the wheel on the jump, then proceed to get dropped, no matter, they still profit huge from the effort, mentally and physically. You react according to what needs to be done, rather than what you want to do.
That’s bike racing.
Those hard choices, those hard efforts, even when they do not work, will pay big dividends, eventually.
If you do it in a race, do it in training. Don’t try and turn it on and off, just for race day. That is race roulette.
We have all heard these comments:
“ I have never seen my heart rate so high!"
“We rode 30 Mph for like 44 minutes, I didn’t think I could do that”
“I have never ridden that section of road that fast”
“We big-ringed that hill the whole way, unbelievable”
“My heart rate was 180 for an hour, not sure how I did that”
“That was so freaking hard!!”
All these comments really mean one thing.
You don’t train as hard as you race.
You have to.
Or, odds are you are going to fail.
Now, does this mean Lance, who knows he is going to ride 3000 KM during the tour in a 3-week span, need to replicate that exact effort in training?
Of course not, who could do that?
What he does do is replicate the hard parts.
He rides the critical climbs, and I wager even when he is alone, he jumps a few times, simulates attacks, etc. He knows what the race effort holds, and he replicates it. He does not just go climb the Tourmalet at LT and expect that will prepare him for the myriad of efforts that race day may hold on the same road.
I have been known to spring crazy attacks and huge solos. If I have a 2-minute lead, I go for 4, if the gap is 4; I go for 6, and on and on. I have caught flak for trying to show up, or embarrass other riders in the process.
That is far from the truth.
I know what race day holds.
Race days are full of outrageous, huge, unplanned efforts.
I make sure I am as prepared to answer the bell as possible when it rings.
You train like you race, and your chances of success go up substantially.
Keep an eye on the mirror this season,
Learn what needs to be done,
And go do it….