Now that you have a basic understanding of what a bike racer is, lets start figuring out how to become one. I am going to assume that everyone reading has experienced sitting on a start line at least once or twice. The concepts I will talk about vary according to your level of experience, but the beginner may use these to increase their level and upgrade.
Everyone needs to self evaluate his or her physical strengths and weaknesses. I break this down into three disciplines of the sport: sprinting or short efforts, bridging or medium length efforts, and the ability to time trial or a longer hard effort. A simple way to evaluate your level is based on power to weight ratio and can be found at http://cozybeehive.blogspot.com/2008/02/power-to-weight-ratio.html.
Remember this is only a guide, although, excluding the handling and tactics, I have found it to be quite accurate. Test yourself with this cozybeehive chart. Then, while racing, pay attention to things like: How do you compare to the rest of the group when sprinting? Are your first five pedal strokes powerful? Do you create a gap quickly or slowly when changing speeds? After you are up to speed, do you feel comfortable sustaining a particular speed? Does your body dislike repeated hard efforts? Do your legs fill with lactic when you have only a few seconds of rest between hard efforts? These are questions you need to answer honestly in order to adjust your training program.
So what are the secrets that top-level racers utilize? Have you ever listened to an interview of a pro football coach or player, like Peyton Manning? I understand that Peyton runs the offense most of the time based on how the opposing defense lines up. He changes the play called in the huddle or calls the plays on the line because of what he sees. How can he do this with success? He studies game film of the opposing teams for hours and hours. This concept is essential for bike racing as well. It is important to know who you are racing against.
So how do we get to know our competitors since we do not have game film? The answer is simple: USA Cycling results and rankings. This is a tool you need to become familiar with. When you enter a persons name or license number you will be able to see what races they have raced and their results.
After you race an event, check the results when they are posted. Then look up the people that finished in the top ten places. If you can see that they are consistent, put them on your watch list.
This list will allow you to be more confident in deciding when to attack and or whether a break is going to stick. This is Step number one. Step two is to keep a race journal. Keep notes about every race: how it played out and who were the riders that beat you. If you did well, record how and why you did well, who worked with you, and most of all, record the strengths and weaknesses of you opponents.
Ask yourself if your opponents were saving themselves in the field for the sprint? Were they aggressive throughout the race and attacking the field multiple times? Were they gun ho or gun shy? Were they active in the race early, later, or the entire time? Did they handle their bikes well? Did they allow gaps to open? Did they themselves close gaps that were formed, or did they allow others to close them? Did they climb well or suffer going uphill? Knowing these things about your opponents is a huge advantage. It is important to do your homework.
Remember, when racing locally, you should learn and know about the competition in great depth. When traveling to other areas to race, it is extremely important to do you homework weeks beforehand. It takes a lot more time to learn about riders whom you do not frequently race against: so remember to allow yourself enough time to do your research. If there are ten guys you need to pay attention to in a race, make a small list of their numbers taping it to your top tube or your stem. Example: I raced in a three-day stage race in Boone NC and I only knew one person, the rest of the racers were strangers. Day one was a tough 4.9 mile uphill TT, day two was a RR with two large climbs, day three was a crit. After day one I was second, so I needed to watch three people. I obviously needed to pay attention to the first and third place riders, but based on the TT times, I also needed to pay attention to the fourth place rider who was within striking distance. The TT was 1500 ft. of climbing in 4.9 miles. This race told me who could climb well and who couldn’t. Since I knew one of the riders, Andy, I only had to remember two bib numbers. I checked the TT results for these numbers and was prepared for the RR.
That is the lesson for today. Remember to do your homework and know whom you are racing against. It will help you know how to attack them and how they will most likely attack you. Until the next post, safe racing.