On Learning

A big component of being a successful bike racer is the brain. Legs and lungs don’t mean much if there is empty space between the ears. Yes, you can get along just fine for a couple of years by simply using the “put the head down and pedal” approach. But this doesn’t serve you very well in the elite categories of racing.

Last night Marc and I were out for dinner and naturally our conversation drifted to bike racing. In particular, what races I wanted to do this summer. Then we started talking about “race craft”. This is where I’m lacking. I realized last night that I’ve now got some very good fitness but I don’t really know what to do with it. We talked about how I should be approaching racing this summer – that I needed to learn to look for opportunities, to be willing to take risks/chances, and most importantly to look at each race as a learning opportunity.

Marc pointed out that there are very few bike racers who can actually change/impact the outcome of a bike race. Bike racers who can do this are the ones with the true race sense/knowledge and skill. As examples of how to impact a bike race, Marc pointed out things like – starting a break, creating a gap, bridging to a break, knowing when to counterattack, etc.

Most importantly, these skills are really individual. Each racer needs to learn how to do this for him/herself. I might need to start a bit further back in the pack when launching an attack or deciding to bridge to a break. You on the other hand, might be able to jump off the pack pretty close to the front.

So much to learn. Guess this is what keeps this sport so challenging and why we all know people who have been racing their bikes for over 20 years and never seem to tire from it. So many factors to consider.

One thing Marc has stressed in the past which I think is quite relevant – is the fallacy of the “race plan”. Too many teams/riders formulate a race plan for each race (often creating this plan weeks before the race). They stick to their plan. For example, at kilometer 7: so and so will attack, a break will be established, etc. Well, this just doesn’t work. Bike racing is a fluid sport. One must remember the ebbs and flows of the bike race. What happens to such a rigid plan, if I attack at kilometer 5 – do you still stick to your plan? Rather what is important is to have some “race rules”. This is what the successful teams have – a set of rules that can be universally applied to each race.

Also important to remember the key rules (thanks to Glen for drilling these into my brain): number 1: don’t panic, number 2: don’t panic, and number 3: if you’re on the front – ask yourself why you’re on the front – if you don’t know – get off the front!

So all this to say, I need to learn. I need to learn how to use my legs and lungs. I don’t want to be one of those “strong but dumb” bike racers. To do the things I want to do on a bike, I need to take the chances and learn “race craft” and race skills.

All this to say, your input/help is appreciated. If you see me doing something dumb in a race – tell me. If you think that you can help me out with some advice – give it. If I’m in a bad spot and you think a little push on the bum might help me a bit – give me a push. I’m all ears and want to learn. The time is now to go from being a participant to actually being a bike racer.

(P.S. Don’t know if you’ve seen Embrocation Cycling, but there is a fantastic article in the most recent issue by Matt Kraus about choosing lines in a cyclo-cross race. So good. So good that I read the article out loud to Marc last night. Definitely worth a read.)

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