By Mike Sayers
Cycling. It is a simple exercise, but a complicated sport. For a lot of people, just getting out and riding is the thing that matters. Being part of a group, having a nice coffee, spending time in nature. That is their jam. For those of us who love to compete, it might be a bit more frustrating to get where we want to go. Personally, one of my pillars when it comes to cycling is that cycling is a sport of time, but time can be a finicky thing.
Why is time so integral to cycling? Why are the two so intertwined? For me, cycling is a unique sport in its intimate relationship to time, or more directly, development over time. July is the most important month for professional cycling. It is when the Tour de France happens, and the 2019 Tour has been the perfect example of how the sport of cycling and time are related.
Cycling and auto racing also have many parallels. Most of the innovations in your personal car have come from experimentation, engineering and innovation at the highest levels of auto racing. Series like Formula 1 and NASCAR are the technological testing grounds. Things like paddle shifters on your steering wheel, oversized brakes and triptonic transmissions started in the garages of these race series. If we draw that parallel to cycling, the physical development of top level cyclist is what coaches like us at Dai use to improve riders at every level. A lot of the techniques we use come from World Tour racing, those athletes and their trials and errors. We get to benefit from these innovations that are run under the most strenuous conditions. As I watch this years Tour, I feel so fortunate that most of the rising stars of today were riders racing against the USA National Team when I was in charge of the program. David Gaudue beat us at the 2016 Tour de L’Avenir and today he is a young, faithful lieutenant at FDJ. Bernal was the leader of a loaded Columbian squad also in the 2016 Avenir where he was beat by Nielson Powless to the top of the Croix de Fer. Laurens De Plus was a talented climber with the Quick Step devo team and now he is riding the front group down to the 10 best riders in the world. This did not happen overnight, it took years of training and racing, and more importantly, learning to train and race, for these talented guys to move to the top of the sport. We as everyday riders get to benefit from those experiences, and tailor them to our own needs.
Over my career, from racing as a local amateur to racing in the European peloton, I struggled with the fact that you can’t go from zero to hero in a single season. I made so many mistakes fighting the fact that cycling is a sport where every season leads to the next both mentally and physically. I wanted it now. Today. Tomorrow and the latest. Of course, there are seasons where a rider can make a huge physical and mental jump, maybe you get lucky, and you have two great years. Eventually, riders will hit some kind of a “developmental wall”. The key is how do they, you, get through that wall and get back to improving.
Understanding the landscape is the first step. Where do you stand in the season, in your personal development, and where do you go from that point. Sometimes, less is much, much more. Less training, less pushing, less fighting. Finding that confidence to relax and step back is a clear sign of development. We have written several articles on rest as training when properly proscribed and used, and in fact, sometimes it is the hardest training to do..mentally. Having a coach can help you asses these situations and get the perspective you need. This is where online training platforms lack. There is no assessed feedback. I love these platforms. I use them regularly to make my body stronger, or at this point in my life, prevent the loss of strength, but they don’t help me overcome my own mental lapses and insecurities.
Step two can be patients. Now this is the tough one, and again, it requires mental fortitude and confidence. Once again, I look to my own mentors for those two things. I have always believed I could be brutally honest with myself about where I am in any given situation, but I look to others to reaffirm and confirm my observations. Sometimes I am wrong and they instill in me the confidence I need to forge ahead and believe in my process. Everyone is different and some have a need for more direct assessment. Patients in not a singular clock. It can encompass a day, a week, a year, a decade, but you do need it to reach your training goals. One part of sport I have always truly enjoyed is the direct response to work. If you put X time in you can expect X result. That is pretty much universally accepted. Now X result will vary from person to person, but work in will produce a response. Work harder, or maybe smarter is a better word, and you will get better results…eventually. Which translates to patients. Look at these young Tour guys, in 2016 they are at the top of their game in their age group, their development group, and now they are the best in the world. It was not an accident. They developed plans of attack from their trusted advisors. They assessed numerous times. Maybe they changed and then changed again. Same can happen for you. Today you make it to a spot on the local group ride, 6 months from now, you make it to the sprint. If the work went in, a result will be achieved.
Observation is key. What are the better, or fitter, riders doing? Will that work for me. Will part of it work for me. A coach, your coach, should be able to tell you, and help you figure what part will work. In racing what is their preparation like? Organization. If you suffer mechanicals in key moments, why is that? Should you sacrifice an hour of training to work on you equipment, because having a frayed shifter cable break at an event ruins the day and all the work that went into that day. Part of organization is outlining what is truly important. We can all use help with that.
Details. This is my favorite. Addressing the detail of the sport. Skill work is not only for cyclocross riders. It is for all of us. Asking your coach or mentor to do a skills session with you in a parking lot. That is training, too! Working with someone on your descending skills. Watching videos. Anything that is information will help.
2020 will be my 32 year of riding. It hard for me to believe considering I got into cycling because it looked cool. I did have a few years where all I did was watch people ride, but for the most part, I have been part of it for a long time. I still struggle with my own development, because it never goes away. I believe that the doping era of cycling was replaced with the technology era. Bikes are better, faster, lighter. Wheels are better, faster, lighter. Training is more focused with tons more feedback. All this has translated to faster riders at every level. Speeds are going up across the board while times comedown. Old guys are going faster, younger guys are going faster, ladies are going faster. It really is amazing. The struggle now seems to be slowing down and not speeding up, but that is for another article.
In the end, development takes time, and energy, and patients. It helps to get feedback beyond that powermeter. Human feedback is just as powerful. The key is what you do with that feedback. Finding trusted advisors can really help you develop into the rider, or runner, or paddleboarder or skateboarder you want to be.