Learning Bike Racing-How Experience Can Teach Important Lessons

 Right now, it is the middle of my bike racing season and I have been thinking about how it has gone so far. It just hit me recently that while I have been riding bike since before I can remember, and have been racing for over 10 years, I am still learning bike racing. That is to say, that I am learning how to be better at it. That’s right, bike racing is a skill as much as an exercise in fitness, and to get faster I not only need to progress physiologically, but also in my knowledge of how to race.

Through experience and trial and error, I have learned how to spend the energy I have in a bike race to produce a result that I am happy with. Sometimes that means working hard at the front, pitching in to chase a move, and sometimes it means sitting in and conserving energy. Sometimes it is best to launch an attack and sometimes it is better to be in position to react to another rider’s attack. Some courses favor breakaways and others do not(this doesn’t mean they won’t work, just that it is hard to get away and stay away.) Then there is the ebb and flow of the race. There are good times to launch an attack and there are times when doing so will almost always be a waste of valuable energy. The list could go on and on.

I have begun making a mental list of what I learned after each race I do. I try to focus on things within my control. For instance, if I didn’t have “good legs” I don’t necessarily factor that into the equation. I also try not to make excuses.

Recently I competed at the 2013 Grandview Grand Prix criterium. There was a Cat 3 race as well as a 1/2/3 race. I decided that for the training and experience that I would race both races. I knew this would be a challenge since this would total 60 miles of crit racing separated by just a few hours. I have done this in the past but have never finished the second race without getting dropped.

I focused on recovery and a solid cool-down in between races. I also looked to sit in the peloton to conserve energy as much as I could during the second race. During the first race, the Cat 3, I rode aggressively which is my preference and was able to get into the winning break away and ride to 3rd place. I was please with this result, but also knew that I spent a good deal of energy on that ride.

The second race started approximately two hours after the first race ended. The beginning of the race was fast and aggressive until a two rider break was established. Then the remaining peloton split as a group attacked to try to bridge across to the break. I found myself caught out and having to help work to pull back the split. It was a lot of work but we were able to bring the chase group back. Then I set about conserving energy as well as I could.

We were eventually lapped by the two breakaway riders and the overall pace of the race slowed somewhat however the attacks still came. The constant accelerations were taking their toll on my. I could feel the energy disappearing.

I was able to finish the race in the lead group without getting gapped by any accelerations. I was pleased with a finish in the top 15. While the race only started out with around 30 riders, my ability to ride even when fatigued and conserve energy taught me a lot.

I filed away a few lessons which I’ll use in future races. One of those lessons is that even when I’m not feeling 100%, I can still race to a high level if I am smart about when and how I use my energy. I will use this knowledge during future stage races when it is all about being able to conserve energy today to be able to race tomorrow and still have consistent results.

I also learned that my finish position has a lot more to do with my position going into the sprint and in the final few kilometers than it does on how well I am able to sprint. I was able to use this knowledge to finish 6th in a competitive criterium a week later even after riding a really hard aggressive race and trying multiple times to get away.

My plan is to continue learning bike racing to help my results improve so that I can meet my goals and enjoy this great sport more.

I hope you will do the same.

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