Cyclocross for the Road Racer

‘Cross for the Road Rider

By Richard McClung 2013

Cyclocross can make you a better road racer. It gives the road rider a chance to improve handling skills, but more importantly breaks the routine while providing some needed intensity in the post road season. The best part is, you don’t even need to train if you don’t want to.

First, what is Cyclocross? They are races of about 30 minutes to an hour (depending on category) raced on set courses of about 2-3 miles/lap on a mixture of grass, pavement, and dirt, but mostly grass. There are some portions where competitors are forced to dismount and run carrying the bike.

‘Cross is not a “mix between road and mountain bike racing”. This as a definition is impossible, since ‘cross predates mountain bikes by a good 70 years. Cyclocross is its own kind of racing, distinctly different in form and favoring a specific type rider. It is, then, ridiculous to argue whether road or mountain bike racers make better ‘cross racers because ‘cross racers are the best ‘cross racers. The qualities needed for ‘cross are distinct from road racing and mountain bike racing.

So, how can ‘cross help you become a better road rider?

I’ve mentioned before that our local road racing season is too short. It typically runs from March to August. What most people then do around here to prepare for the next season, I think is generally a mistake.

Riders revert to base miles and ride the miles before taking a break when the weather turns bad, then resume in December or January when the weather is still bad. If the rider rides faithfully through this period, he is usually so sick of riding base miles that one of two things happen: Quality work begins much too early and the rider burns out after just a few months, or, the rider takes too long of a complete break from the bike when the weather turns bad and never really regains his ‘footing’. Now, there are indeed some people who can negotiate the time between seasons just fine, and go on to perfectly fine road seasons, but these people are relatively rare.

 The problem with this approach is that the rest period is much too long: 6 months with no racing, the same amount of months you’ll participate in racing. It’s difficult to build on form from year to year if the lay-off is too long. It’s even worse if the rider takes a very long complete break. For younger riders 3-4 weeks completely off the bike is ok, but more than that can be a setback in terms of building cumulative form. Riders who are older or have been at the sport longer (5+years) need to take shorter complete breaks to avoid losing ground in multi-year form building. Failing to build on cumulative form is probably the biggest thing keeping most racers from reaching their full potential.

So how do you keep the form building? One option is to do some traveling and extend the road season a month or two. This isn’t practical for most of us.

The easy and most practical option around here is to race ‘cross, and there are many advantages to this approach here in the Northwest.

The primary advantage is that it introduces some intensity to your post road season routine in a fun and competitive atmosphere without placing a great deal of stress on yourself. Other advantages include breaking up the monotony of riding base miles, improving your handling skills, and the opportunity to learn if you actually are better at ‘cross than road racing: who knows, maybe the style of racing suits your natural abilities better.

The approach:

As a road racer, you are not racing ‘cross to win, but rather to keep an edge on your form through the fall months. You don’t really need to train as such, just do normal base miles for an hour or two every day, with one day dedicated to practicing ‘cross techniques. It is a good idea to work on the technique as it will help you to avoid injury and help you avoid getting worn out in races dismounting and remounting. The Wednesday night ‘cross workouts at Marymoor are perfect for this. Lots of guys get together at Woodland Park on Wednesday late afternoons to run drills as well.

Don’t worry in the least about results: if you’re getting lapped, or riding mid bunch, it doesn’t matter. Just have fun and go as hard as you are able. All you are out to accomplish is to put some intensity in your week. One of the great things about ‘cross is that no matter where you are in ability and fitness, there is always someone around you to make a race of it. Unlike road racing, there isn’t a main field to define a minimum level of success. Even if you’re getting lapped, you can take advantage of the situation to learn by watching.

You also needn’t worry about the running aspect. In 99% of the ‘cross races out there, it is rare that you will run any more than 200-300 meters through the course of an entire race. Even guys taking ‘cross seriously don’t need to go out and run 10km or anything like it. Doing a little running with your bike up hills or across barriers is plenty. Cyclocross is still a bike race and being fast on the bike is what wins them. If running made any real difference, we’d have 10k runners out there giving it a go…and we don’t.  The other ‘1%’ are extreme conditions. Sometimes, but rarely, courses get so muddy it’s faster to run than ride big sections of the course, and other cases might include courses with multiple long run-ups/lap (like the old South Sea-Tac course, which in my opinion isn’t even a ‘cross race), but these are getting rarer and rarer…fortunately.

Bike set-up and equipment:

A real ‘cross bike is best, but mountain bikes are allowed. If you have an old style road frame with a little more tire room, it’s even possible to run skinnier ‘cross tires in them.

Generally though, set up your ‘cross bike the same as your road bike in bar height, and saddle height. The frame size should be roughly the same as your road bike. The only difference is your top-tube/stem length. You should run anywhere from 1 to 4 cm shorter up top than you do on your road bike. How much shorter in this range to fall depends on how stretched out you are on your road bike. The reason you shorten up the top is to put more weight on the front wheel for greater traction and control. Aerodynamics rarely plays a part in ‘cross, so sitting a bit more upright is to no disadvantage.

Normal road wheels work just fine for ‘cross. There is no need to buy beefed up wheels. I’ve been running 28 spoke fronts and 32 spoke rears with 350 gram rims for several years now. My two primary front racing wheels were built in 1991. I mention that because it shows that ‘cross doesn’t really beat up your wheels any more than road riding.

Tire pressure is also typically much lower than on the road. On some courses, pressures as low as 25 are a real advantage. I think this is one of the hardest realizations for the road rider to overcome, that lower pressure is faster. Tubular tires of course can accommodate lower pressures than clinchers, but plenty of people have had success on clinchers.

While there are many different tread styles offered, only top pros can really justify picking out different treads for different courses. Pick a middle ground tread (like you find on a Challenge Griffo or typical TUFO) and it will work just fine for everything you will encounter. In fact, “middle ground” treads are better than aggressive treads in mud as they shed the mud off better.

You don’t need two bikes; sure it’s nice to have two, but you don’t need it.

The brakes are of course different. Cantilevers or disc. Cantilevers are still the norm, but discs are gaining steam quickly (I think discs are overkill). Cantilevers can be tricky to keep working sharp, but there are tricks you learn by the by to keep them consistently working well. With the ‘cross boom, there are more models available than ever with simplified adjustment options (less is better, contrary to what one might think). Some people like top mount brake levers on the tops of the bars, I think they’re unnecessary.

What to do if you decide ‘cross is for you, and you want to really give it a go:

If you really end up enjoying ‘cross and feel the urge and have the steam to actually train for it, you don’t need to do things much differently than you would on the road. Really, the only differences are that you don’t need to go out for big distance, and instead of training for sprints, you train for starts. The big difference between starts and sprints, though pretty similar, is that with a start you of course have to continue at a high level of effort after a big effort. This is probably the most difficult aspect of ‘cross racing for the road rider to adapt. While there is some draft to help you recover, it isn’t terribly strong like in a road bunch. It simply takes practice.

One thing I generally advise is not to do your quality work off road. There’s a reason most top mountain bikers do most of their training on the road: Off road there are too many detractors from applying your maximum amount of effort towards the work. If you’re using muscle to keep yourself on the saddle from bumps, or you lose concentration anticipating changes in terrain, it takes away from your effort. If you do your quality work on the road, or on a trainer, you can apply you full attention to your effort. Don’t be fooled into believing that you need to learn to go fast on the surface you will be racing on.  Fast is fast, it doesn’t matter what the surface is. If you train doing intervals on bumpy ground that prevents from applying a full effort, you will be slower. Training where you can apply full force means you will be fast whether it’s smooth or bumpy.  Note though that its not that you can’t get fast doing quality work off road, it’s just that you’ll be faster if you do it on road.

In terms of timing and peaking, you have to remember where you focus is. If your main goal is road racing, ‘cross has to take a backseat. If the road season ends in late August, ease off for two or three weeks, then begin training again for ‘cross, first lightly and mainly with starts, then progress into intervals. If you begin to lose steam or motivation, pull the plug and back off. You can keep racing, just stop the training and place no importance on your results. Generally, it seems to me that younger rider (and those who haven’t been racing too many years) will have more trouble maintaining a training regime for ‘cross after a road season than will older riders (or those who have been racing many years). This is just a matter of experience and accumulated form.


Quality & Intensity of Training

Quality/Intensity Training

First, you need to know yourself

It seems to me that the use of heart-rate monitors and lately power-meters have misled many people into depending on the device to tell them how they feel, instead of knowing how they feel, and then noting the results on the device. The only people who get real and full benefits out of these devices, I think, are the people who have the resources and time to periodically run tests to monitor progress and then map out optimal training. Usually, these people are well paid professionals for whom the benefits outweigh the costs.

I feel strongly that it’s important to know yourself, whether you use a device or not. This is a long and sometimes sobering process, but when you know yourself well, you can better use heart rate monitors, power meters, and coaches. “Knowing yourself” means learning how long it takes you to go from the first set of intervals to your peak and how long it takes to recover from a peak as well as learning how long it takes you to recover from various races. You also need to know the smaller building blocks like how long you need to recover between intervals, a long endurance ride, and what things you do to best recover. It is mostly a matter of observing how things affect you, from day to day, from effort to effort.

Here is how you go about it, moving into quality training from base training.

Differentiation – Now things change.

During base miles there is little need for easy days vs. hard days. Ideally you just go out and do the same thing every day, gradually increasing your level of fitness week by week. As you move out of base training and into quality training you are ready for more intense efforts, and therefore there is a greater need for recovery.

When to Start:

You can start with quality work shortly before the first race of the year, or hold off until a few weeks into the season (my preference). It depends on how quickly you personally get into shape. If you build form rapidly, you want to start later, and progress your training slowly. If you gain form slowly you want to do the opposite. In general, however, I recommend doing at least a few races before beginning quality training. The accelerations and speed of early season racing is a great way to launch you into the shock of quality training.

The Basic Training week:

Here’s a basic layout for a training week, assuming a two-race weekend:


Sunday - Race


Monday -  Easy


Tuesday - Intervals


Wednesday - Sprints or hills


Thursday - Long endurance


Friday -   Easy with few efforts


Saturday -   Race


A few notes about this structure, and training in general:

  • Never do any intensity two days before a race.
  • Some people, myself included, feel better the second day when      there’s two days of racing. This compels me move my easy day to Thursday,      and make my Friday a little more intense. Rather than Easy with a few      efforts, it becomes tempo with several efforts, some sprints, and/or efforts      on hills. Not so much that it blows the legs out of course.
  • The structure is flexible – If you feel better switching your      intervals to Wednesday, or moving your long day to Tuesday, that’s fine.      The only non flexible item is rest: when you need it, you need it.
  • Some people like to take one day completely off a week. If you’re      one of these people, I’d recommend taking that day 2-days before the next      race off, and combining the long day with the spints/hills.
  • Don’t concern yourself with what other people are doing in terms      of volume in quality training. You need to develop your form at your own      pace, not someone else’s.
  • It may take several weeks before you feel the training effect set      in. So if you feel like a week or two of efforts and resting hasn’t had a      positive effect, keep the routine going because it may take your body a      while to adjust to the change in your habits.

Easy days:

The definition of easy is to go very easy.  Probably slower than you think you need to go. There should be no strain on your muscles or cardiovascular system. How long you go depends on where you are in your riding life. One hour may be enough for some; riders at the top levels may get on fine doing 3-hours easy. Again, you have to figure out what works best for your recovery and with the time you have. I have been asked if its possible to go too easy. The answer is no, because with an easy ride you’re not looking to increase fitness. You’re only looking to get the blood moving and recover. It’s impossible to go too easy, but much too easy to go too hard.


Intervals have several dimensions..

 The first set of intervals you do in the year should be a discovery mission. First, figure out the largest gear you can turn fluidly at your preferred rpms (of course I recommend keeping at or above 100. This will likely put you at a level of effort that feels as if you went much harder, you would crack. You should feel like you’re going all-out but you should never feel like you’re struggling with your gear. That is, your heart and lungs should feel maxed out, but your muscles need to be fluid on whatever gear you’re riding. Now, you figure out how many you can do. Start with a step-up routine: i.e. 1-minute; 1.5 minute: 2 minute. Start with sets of 3 or 4, and see how many sets you can do before diminishing returns set in. Diminishing returns are when the amount of time it takes to recover between each individual effort begins to take longer than previous efforts. In the weeks following you should increase the effort in some fashion in two-week blocks; more on that below.

The individual effort itself: Gauging your effort by rpms is an effective one. When you’re on the biggest gear you can turn at 100+ rpms, you know you’re very close to optimal effort in varying conditions like road gradient changes, and wind. There are a couple of ways to approach an effort. One way (and the way I usually employed) is to start off like you’re attacking, get up to speed, and start your time from there. This simulates most race situations, and helps develop energy stores, and muscle response to attacking. The other way is to steadily get up to your level of effort, then start the clock. This type is more geared for the time trialist and steady efforts.

How long each interval is depends on your level of fitness. Start short and work your way up. One might think its best to start with long efforts, but if you can do 1-minute in a 53x15 at 110 rpm and recover in 1.5-minutes, vs. doing a 5-minute effort in a 53x17 at 100 rpm (suggesting you’re well below your AT) that takes 2.5 minutes recovery time, which do you think will make you faster, and work on better improving your recovery? It’s better to do shorter and more efforts vs. longer and less, until you can go as fast at the longer effort as you do the shorter (that should happen as the weeks go on). 

How long between each interval and how many should you do? Basically, don’t start the next effort until you feel like you’ve recovered from the previous one, and note how much time this takes. You may see that recovery takes a shorter time after you’ve done one or two efforts as you warm up. After your third effort, you should be able to use the amount of time it takes to recover as your beginning standard. Take that amount of time to recover from each additional effort. When you notice the recovery time widening back out, that’s your signal that it’s time to quit. This recovery time is also an important indicator of your progress. If it takes 2-minutes to recover between efforts at your first interval set of the season, but it only takes 1-minute to recover between efforts a month later, you know you’ve made real progress. This recovery work is one of the keys to racing. It’s not only how fast you go, but how fast you recover from your efforts. When the attacks start going, you have to be lucky to pick out the right one if you have only one move. If you can recover quickly though, you can make more than one move, and improve your chances.

How much riding before and after the intervals? This depends on who you are and where you are in your cycling life. At a minimum, go for 30-min before, and 30-min after, or as time allows, more, it’s up to you. For sure though, you need to get some tempo riding in before you go all-out with your tongue hanging out.

Where to do them: I hate to say it, because it’s no fun at all, but the best place to do intervals is on a wind/fluid/mag trainer. You can control your environment completely, and there are no interruptions. If you can’t tolerate indoor riding though, you can of course make good efforts out on the road. Find a place where you can make your effort uninterrupted, and hopefully on consistent terrain. If you’re in the city, and don’t have time to ride out to the farm roads, you can see why trainers are the best place to do intervals.

Hill intervals:

Hill intervals are quite a bit different from regular flat ground intervals. They are both extreme efforts, but for different qualities. If you want to work hill intervals into your regular rounds, alternate the two week to week, or do a little of both on the same day. It usually isn’t a good idea to do two sessions of intervals in one week.

Sprints or Hills:

Take your choice. One exclusively, one every other week, or as you feel it’s needed per your racing calendar. Note though, that you can do hills on your long endurance day. You would do hills on this day if you are looking to emphasize hills. Again, the specialty work here is a small part of the day’s efforts. Ride at tempo for 30min to an hour, do your hills/sprints, and ride whatever distance you like to round out the day. Don’t confuse hills in this case with hill intervals. A hill riding day, in this case, means just working on your hill riding tempo. You can either do repeats, or just ride over a lot of hills in the course of your ride.

Sprints are just that: sprints. They’re best done with other people as you have someone to egg you on, but you don’t lose much doing them by yourself. In short though, you don’t need to do them until you get diminishing returns, like intervals. Set an amount to do during a ride, and increase that number as the year gets on. It’s important though, if you sprint with a group, not to give up if you’re “losing” the sprint. Keep the effort on through the distance of the sprint, or you don’t get the benefit of the work, because you’re not doing the work…obviously.

If you’re not a sprinter by rider type, your lack of sprinting prowess is usually not a power or strength issue, but a leg speed one. Do your sprint training on small gears you can accelerate quickly. This way you train your muscles to snap quickly. If you try to train for sprinting by using the gears you would use for a sprint in a race, you merely reinforce the problem you have with sprinting in the first place.

Long Endurance Day:   

Get out for as many miles as you can get, within reason. Go at a base miles type of effort. At the end of these rides, you should feel tired, but not wiped out. Now, obviously, a lot of us have jobs, and can’t really go out for 4 or 5 hours, just substitute by going as long as you can at your base miles level of effort. A good way to stack on extra miles is to do two sessions, morning and afternoon. It’s best to go out in a small group to keep the speed up with less effort.

Building to a peak

There are a couple of ways to approach it: Keep going until you hit a natural peak, a natural decline, and rise again; or stick to a schedule.

The natural peak method is a good experience to try once at least, to see what you’re made of. When you know how long it took from your first week of quality training to your peak, you can employ sticking to schedule more effectively. I don’t know of any standards for how long it takes the average person to come to a peak, but 2-3 months seems about right. If you’re going for a natural peak though, go in with few expectations; everyone is different.

Sticking to a schedule says that you’re going to manufacture a peak, whether it’s as strong and fast as you can ultimately go or not. You increase your training load to a certain date, back off 3-weeks or so, and start back up again, a month or so “below” where you left off at your first peak. Build back up to a targeted goal. If you don’t know how long it takes you to reach a peak, you won’t know if your schedule puts you at this target necessarily in your best form or not. You could fall short, or go too far. Falling short is better, at least you’ll be close to optimal, and going too far means you will be kicked, which is why it’s nice to know how long it takes you to come to a natural peak.

Whichever approach one uses, a typically effective way to build your fitness week by week is to run a two-weeks on, one-week off structure. Some people like to run three-weeks on and one-week off, whatever, that’s something you figure out for yourself eventually. People who come to form quickly would be better served by the two on/one off routine; those rising slower to form would benefit more from the three on/one off schedule. Here’s an example of a 2-week on, 1-week off training block, assuming two race weekends:


















1-hr easy


40-miles with 3-sets of  3 intervals, 1-min, 1.5 min, 2-min. With   2-min between intervals, 3-minutes between sets


35-miles with 8 200m small ring sprints


65-miles steady tempo with some hills


25 miles, easy but with four 1-minute   efforts




Miles here aren’t a mandate, just an example.


















1-hr easy


40-miles with 3-sets of 3 intervals, 1-min, 2 min, 2.5-min.   With 2-min between intervals, 3-minutes between sets


40-miles with a hill loop.


65-miles steady tempo


25 miles, easy with four 1-minute efforts




















1-hr easy


40-miles tempo


40-miles easy


40-miles easy


25 miles, four 1-minute efforts




The point of the three weeks shown above is that in the second of the two “on” weeks you do something a little more than the previous week. In this example, both weeks one had 3-sets of 3 intervals, but in week two there is 1 minute more of going at effort per set. That was the major difference between the two weeks besides alternating sprints and hills. The third week, the “off” week, is just backing off, as you can see. Still make some efforts, but basically take it easy, and set yourself up for another step-up in effort for the next two weeks. Now, obviously, when you’re stepping up the efforts in proceeding months, you have to advance your efforts in line with your ability to recover. Again, this is something where you need to figure out your own boundaries.

Also, just because you can do, say, significantly more intervals than the previous week based on your ability to recover from them, doesn’t mean you have to do them. Think about how many you’re going to be able to do maximum. If you top out on what you’re able to do (time-wise and/or effort-wise) in four weeks, and can’t increase your efforts the next four weeks to your main goal, you will peak before your goal, or your form will simply stagnate. I recommend you dose out your efforts carefully. Again, It’s better to fall a little short than to overshoot.

Another point: You will likely have an idea of how many intervals and sets you want to do at each session. If your recovery time starts widening out before you complete the desired number of intervals, don’t feel compelled to continue. When it’s time to stop, you should stop. What if it seems to you that the resulting efforts were less than the previous week? Or the training does not seem to have had any benefit? Look back at the previous weeks, not only in terms of riding, but other events in your life. Something may have happened that hurt your recovery. Don’t stress about it, just take note, get recovered, and move on.

How many peaks can a person have in a season? I’ve had up to 3, almost always with the second one being the best. Everyone is different though, so be open and take notes on yourself.

You have surely noticed that I haven’t come out and said directly how many sets of intervals, how long they should be, and how many weeks you should train to arrive at a peak. That’s because, as mentioned, everyone’s different. Some people get into form very quickly, some very slowly. Most people of course are in between, but you can’t give a group of people the exact same program and expect everyone to come up with the same results. You simply have to experiment and figure yourself out. Even if you follow a book or a coach’s instructions to a tee, and unless you know yourself, you won’t be able to optimize the information. Perfecting peak arrival can take years. Ultimately, you are your own best coach, because only you know how you feel. As long as you’re honest with yourself and maintain a good work ethic, no one else can give you better information on yourself than you. Coaches can certainly help any rider focus and go better, but if you don’t know yourself well enough to tell the coach what he/she needs to know, results won’t come as quickly.


The most important thing to realize about recovery is that it does more to make you fast than the intervals and other quality work you do. If that seems ridiculous, consider that if you don’t recover from the training efforts you make, then you will not gain any benefit from them. So take your easy days seriously and take it very easy. If you’re feeling tired and sluggish in races, it probably means you’re training too hard, and/or not recovering well enough. Note also that recovery may not only be a bike riding issue, but could also involve other areas of your life. If you can’t change the other areas of your life, you need to adjust your riding to a point where you can recover from training efforts.

As for real, absolute help for physical recovery, there is an incredible supply of advice and product out there to help you recover. Be careful with products pitching recovery qualities, the line between legitimate products and what is or is the same as doping gets very fuzzy. If it’s not actual food, I recommend staying away from it.

The one main, real, and effective thing you can do to help yourself recover from any exercise is to eat something within 30-minutes of finishing exercise. Better yet (if my years of listening to Shaklee nutritionists were of any value) what you eat would be 70% carbohydrate and 30% protein. Don’t worry about getting the percentages exact; just get something basically good in your mouth before a half hour goes by.  The other main method of recovery: sitting on the couch, no joke. Our lives don’t always allow hours upon end go by just sitting on the couch, but it does work.

Massage, Ice baths, stretching: all these things may do something, but there’s no proof that they do. I’ve done many 2-week stage races with and without massage and cannot attribute any good racing or bad racing to the lack of or the presence of a masseuse. To me, stretching seems to help the most.

The Ever Changing You

As you get older, fitter, change jobs, etc, your circumstances change. As a result, what worked for several years may not work the following year. There aren’t any easy answers to this. If you feel you’re having a problem, you have to note what’s wrong, and figure out how to correct it, or make adjustments to adapt to what’s changed. This usually isn’t a problem for the dedicated bike racer until age advances, or there’s a major lifestyle change. It took me 2-years to re-figure out how to train while in school after I stopped racing nationally, and it took me 3-years to figure out how to train when I got a real job.

Remember always that the real path to effective cycling is an accumulation of fitness and knowledge. There aren’t any “tricks” to kick you into form. It takes time and there’s no way around it. How much time depends on an individual’s natural talent, and/or ability to learn and observe. Patience is a virtue, and is among the most valuable virtues in cycling. There are a lot of guys out there who train hard year after year and never get results because they do things before they’re ready for them; for instance, doing 10-minute intervals for you first set of the year, or doing power hill intervals straight off. Focus on what you’re able to do rather than what you think you should be able to do.

Training Basics

Here is a basic look at how to structure a solid racing season. First I’ll give an overall structure, followed by details on the various bits of the structure.

Before starting in on training for a racing season, I like people to realize two basic things. First, you can’t be on form all the time. Chances are you knew this already, but most people train like they do not know this (without realizing it). I will tell you how to avoid that. The second realization is that the older you are in cycling years, (so long as you keep continuity) the more capable you will be in terms what you can do in volume and intensity in subsequent years. A rider just getting started now will in five years be able to train better, bigger, and more effectively due to accumulated fitness and experience. Bike racing success is largely a matter of experience, and that’s true in terms of training and racing tactics. Building a good bike racer is a process, and it takes time.

There are a lot of different formats and theories about how to train for a racing season, but before you get into the specifics, you need to know the basics. This means learning how your body reacts to exertion. Training programs monitored by coaches take a lot of input from the rider receiving the coaching. If you don’t have reasonable expectations of how you’re going to react to a training regime, then you won’t get the best results from that regime. As an example, in ’91 I had a fantastic season which included a training program laid out by Chris Carmichael, then national team coach. While I did follow the program, it took a lot of tweaking to make it fit my particular style and needs. A lot of guys that year followed the CC format, but I assume most of them also adjusted it to fit their personal tendencies. The basic point here is that if you take care to learn how you’re body reacts to training, then you’ll be better able to effectively use and interpret other influences.

I will also explain now that I am not a physiologist and have had no training in terms of coaching other than taking the USA cycling level 1 exam (which I think helped my knowledge marginally). The ideas I will express are based on my own experience derived from advice given to me by the people who taught me how to race when I was a wee junior. These ideas are probably seen as being “old school” but they are still relevant, and more complicated programs are usually simply refinements of these “old school” ideas. Again, if you know how you react to the basics, you’ll be better able to interpret the refinements.  

Overall Structure

There are three parts of a road racing season:

  • Base preparation
  • Racing
  • Off Season

Base preparation is the simplest part of the structure, but quite possibly the most misunderstood and generally most poorly executed part. Again, there are a lot of ideas out there, but what I’ll explain later is a tried and true method, whose only caveat is that you actually go out and do the miles.

The racing portion of the year involves micro and macro cycles of intensity work and rest. The complications come from how and when to perform the quality work, and when to rest. Moreover, it is important to recognize when to rest, and when to dive into the intensity. I will explain, among other things, how to recognize these things.

The off season part is easy. Almost no one messes this one up. It involves staying off the bike and doing other things. But there are a few things to keep in mind during this time.

Base Training

It is my firm belief that base training is the most important step in the process. Ultimately, what you should take from base training are the skills and ability to suffer that you need for racing. Proper base training will make you a more versatile rider less likely to burn out during the year. To explain it I focus on the fundamental skill of our sport: Pedaling.

The first idea is that it is most important to pay attention to your gear selection and leg speed. We train to simulate racing to a degree, and the best way to do this is through pedal action. You can best accomplish this by keeping your rpm’s at or above 100 most of the time. Here is a point to support this assertion:

§  Take the (correct) idea that you don’t need to ride 100-miles to be competitive in a 100-mile race, but rather it is sufficient to ride the approximate time it would take. Since you can’t go race speeds for 100 mi in training, your mileage comes out shorter. Similarly, to push gears you will use in races, you don’t need to push those same size gears in training. Instead, its better ride what gears you are able to push in training at the rpms you will likely experience in racing.

On winter group rides all across the country I have seen people in the big ring turning 70-80 rpm at 20-22 mph. At the same time, I would be turning a 39x16,15 at 100+ rpm. If the speed increased, I would endeavor to accelerate by increasing my rpms, not by changing to a larger gear. I’ve rarely touched the big ring before my first road race of the year; even when I raced at the national level. I assure you that riding this way does not mean you won’t be able to turn a big enough gear to compete when racing begins. Because most riders don’t typically target their first races of the year as important, you can use these races effectively as “motor pacing” to help ramp you up to quality training. The draft will mitigate any perceived lack of strength you may have, and your ability to ride high rpms will mitigate the need to ride a bigger gear than you are able to push.

My argument against riding too large a gear at too low rpms in base training is that it trains your muscles to fire at too slow a rate. In races then, big gear riders tend to have slow, easy to cover attacks, and often find they are unable to cover really fast attacks. I also contend that bigger gear riding don’t teach correct suffering.

Training with lighter gears and high rpms will give a rider the muscular reserves to increase the pace at the end of longer training rides, and this is where you learn to “suffer correctly.” What I mean by this is the feeling you get when the effort to maintain or increase your current effort is attainable but by no means pleasant. The muscles, the heart, and lungs send you signals to back off, but you are able to resist because you are able to keep on the pressure. Incorrect suffering is when, in pushing on, you are unable to maintain or increase your effort. In this case, there is indeed suffering, but the current effort then usually declines because the muscles are unable to push the larger gear faster for a sustainable time.

I also want to dispel the notion that riding in the small ring necessarily means riding “easy”. Again, if I’m in a 39x15 vs. everyone else in a 53x17, going the same speed, taking the same pulls, how is it easier? I would argue that it is in fact harder because you have to apply more muscle to keep your pedal circle smooth. Not to mention your muscles are firing 20-40 more times per minute, which adds up over 3-5 hours. Additionally, at higher rpms, the heart bpms tend to be a bit higher, as well as breaths per minute. Both of these unpleasant physical reactions are things you experience and have to endure in racing.

Time and miles in base training

Base training is really very simple. Ride the same basic effort most every day, with different mileages/hours as you are able. The gear you want to use is the one that feels like you can sustainably keep at high rpms for the duration of the ride. Otherwise, get as many miles as your body and time allows. If you feel tired some days, meaning you overdid it the previous days, ride a smaller gear over a shorter duration to let yourself recover. Adjust your schedule to make sure you don’t overdo it again. Through the weeks, you should be able to move to slightly bigger gears. Whenever you feel like you “have command” of the gear you’ve generally been using, you can move up a cog.

A few more notes about gear selection and rpms and other theory

It isn’t imperative to ride at 100+ rpms at all times, there are exceptions: hills are the most notable. Steeper hills will likely mean you don’t have a gear small enough to push at 100 rpms at a sustainable pace. In fact, on most any sizable hill, it takes a lot of work to be able to go at high rpms. So don’t sweat it, get up the hill in the best style you can.

If you feel like you’re lacking power, there are a few tricks that aren’t terribly onerous. The easiest is to ride any sizable hill on a cog or two larger than you otherwise might. You want to keep your rpms somewhat high in doing this, don’t merely ride a larger gear up the hill, but suffer a bit to keep your legs moving. It won’t be 100 rpm, but try to keep it over 80. Another method is to use slighter grades as an opportunity for power building. To do this, just keep your speed the same as it was on flat ground. It’s hard to do, but sustainable, and is big power builder in the best way: at high rpms.

At this point in the year, I’m not a fan of using heart rate or power monitors to dictate your training. Don’t get me wrong, a monitor can be useful, but it’s not the only, or even the most important factor in any kind of training. For base miles I don’t believe it matters too much what your numbers are during a ride because in a high rpm regime, it is self regulating. The gear you will have to ride in order to maintain the rpms will put you in an acceptable heart rate/power range. If you go outside of the acceptable range you’ll know it (especially if you’re going too hard). Instead of watching your heart rate, pay attention to how the muscles feel. If the pace you’re riding at is tiring your muscles too quickly, you need to back off. If you’re totally fresh after a ride, you need to pick it up; being more specific than that isn’t necessary.

As you approach the first race…

The old conventional wisdom said that you should have at least 1000-miles before your first race, or begin quality work, but even more is better (2000-3000 miles). Don’t despair if you’re short on miles. All you need to do is take it easy in the races and continue with base miles until you feel ready to move to quality work. The number of miles you have before you begin racing will depend on what your body allows and more importantly on how much time you have. Time limitations may in fact leave you with fewer miles than you are honestly capable of doing. Again don’t despair; you can make up for it by being prudent. The important thing is not to rush into quality work just because the racing season has begun.

I generally recommend that you in fact not begin quality training until several races into the season. As I’ve mentioned before, the first races can be used as a good way to ramp you into quality training.

 If you don’t do any quality training and have done your base miles well, how should that first race feel? Racing at 25-27mph in a 53X17 or 16 should feel relatively easy in the draft. At 30 mph or more, you’ll have to go to the 15 or maybe the 14 and this will make you suffer a bit, but the many hours at high rpms will have trained you well to endure this. In the March races, in the last hour or two, people start getting tired, and it is possible to “walk” away from the field in a 53x16 or 15. Again, you suffer to do this, but you should be able to overcome it. The important thing is that early season races should act as a good introduction to starting quality work in training, and get you used to the suffering you will encounter in more important races. Locally, and even nationally, there is little need to come into March fully prepared to race, as long as your muscles are trained to respond correctly.

You should feel like your “heart is ahead of your muscles.” That is, your heart is ready to race, but your muscles aren’t quite ready to tackle things you would expect in May. And this is a good place to be in the early season, because there’s a solid base and room for improvement. People who have already started quality work in February (before they’re really ready for it), typically have their “muscles ahead of their heart”, and have trouble finding ways to get much faster through the year, a recipe for burn out

Where does burn out begin? Here’s an example: 180 bpms on a 39x15 at 23mph means different things than 180 bpms on a 53x15 at 28mph. If you’re doing the former in February, you have plenty of room to get stronger. If you’re doing the latter in February, I ask you what you’re going to do to get faster later when it matters. When you reach your peak too early, you will continue to try to push yourself further, and get nowhere.

There’s also something to pedaling technique

Correct pedaling is difficult to describe. Basically, you strive to apply muscle to every part of the pedal circle, and most people do a lot less of this than they think. The best way I can think to describe correct pedaling is to consider your foot and ankle as similar to your hand and wrist when throwing a ball; that is, like a lever.  On the down stroke, “dig into” the pedal circle pushing with your toes, dropping your heel.  On the backstroke, pick up the heel pointing your toes down. This is a difficult thing to do consciously. It helps that at higher rpms you naturally do this a little anyway, but it helps to try to work the action a little more. It just takes practice. If you try it out at slower rpms, up a hill, you can feel the benefit. If you can master the technique at higher rpms, you will be able to turn a larger gear than otherwise without sacrificing your ability to stay on top of the gear. Note also that another method to attain a correct pedaling style is to ride a fixed-gear, but I caution that a fixed gear on its own doesn’t necessarily help; you have to keep up the rpms as well.

Group rides

It’s important to realize the effectiveness of group rides in your base training. The only reason to ride with others from a training standpoint is that with others, you will be able to move at a faster pace than by yourself. Everyone in the group then, needs to be mindful of the idea that everyone is there for each other’s benefit, and take advantage of this opportunity to move a faster pace. If the group lollygags and you could move faster on your own, it’s just a social visit. Also know that the ideal size of group to ride in is six to ten riders. Any more than that and you don’t get in the wind enough, and it’s hard to control the group in terms of traffic issues. Any less and you’re in the wind too much, and you have to move slower, and again, you’re just as well off alone.

So, the broader points:

  • Ride everyday (or at least as often as you can).
  • Keep your rpms above or at 100 (except up long, steep hills, have a gear you can turn 80 rpm)
  • Remember that you’re not looking to ride easy; you’re looking to ride at a level you are able to, with a view to rising to a higher level.
  • Listen to your muscles. If they feel tired, and warming up doesn’t help, ride a light gear at high rpms for a shorter time.

If you do these things, you will have a proper base for beginning quality work.


Avoiding Burnout

First, what causes burnout? Some argue it’s all in your head; others say its physical factors caused by going too hard early in the season. Burnout is a mental condition brought on by physical realities. Here’s how it works:

  1. You      begin a year with a training program in mind.
  2. Gradually      (or maybe not so gradually) you begin rising in form.
  3. You      reach a peak
  4. You      come off your peak
  5. You      continue training as if you were still rising in form
  6. Though      you’re training hard, if not harder than ever, the results in races are      getting worse, and/or don’t come as easy.
  7. You      find yourself unable to train as hard as previously. You have trouble      recovering.
  8. Though      you’re still trying hard to keep the regimen going, you’re not getting the      same rewards. This begins to depress you.
  9. Maybe      you take a week off, when you come back you get right back on the rivet,      but it’s just not there.
  10. It’s May,      you’re cracked, you stop coming to races. Maybe even stop riding      altogether.
  11. You      get back on in August and start getting excited about next year
  12. Repeat.

The key is between step 3 and 4. It’s important to learn to recognize when your peak(s) occur. Peaks aren’t easy to recognize, and while you’re on your peak it is also difficult for people to realize the peak won’t last forever, no matter how hard you train. The more seasons you race, (if you’re observant) the better you will be able to read yourself and recognize form peaks and valleys. Generally though, you can recognize a peak by observing the following:

  1. Notice      how training feels. If week-to-week you feel like there’s improvement,      you’re able to train at increasing intensities and durations, and your      ability to actually race follows, you’re rising in form, and rising to a      peak. Recovery is good.
  2. There      should then come a 2 to 3 week period when you feel stronger than      previously. Racing goes “easier” than before. (Sometimes, this step is      optional, that is, you have a “soft peak” and basically go from rising or      flat form straight to declining form)
  3. Shortly      after this, you should notice that training doesn’t go as well. Recovery      is not good. This is because you’re coming off your peak, and your body      wants to rest. When you don’t let your system rest after a peak, and keep      training as if your form is still rising, you start “digging” yourself      deeper into that proverbial hole that we call burnout.

After you’ve reached a peak, it’s important to back off your training. It’s also important to keep riding, just don’t train (and realize there’s a difference between simply riding and training). Everyone is different, so how much you back off is something you learn about yourself through trial and error. Personally, I go back to square one, small gear tempo riding. It is also important to keep racing. Racing doesn’t burn you out; it’s the training that burns you out. It is actually through racing that you recognize when you can begin training again. After a peak you will probably struggle in races until you hit your bottom, or valley, in form. Eventually, you will start to feel “fresh” in races again; your head will be more into racing. This is the signal to begin training again. Remember that you have to start back up gradually and be patient. If you take your time rising to a second peak, it will last longer, and possibly be better than the first.

Also realize that if you don’t recognize your peak and grind yourself down into deep, seemingly irrecoverable burnout, you can come back. Just take your knocks and keep coming to races, and eventually you will feel better, I learned this from direct experience in ’88. Early on in the year I won a lot of races. But as the summer stage races rolled around my form just kept getting worse. By August, I was totally and completely cracked and couldn’t even go out on an easy ride without unreasonable suffering. So I stopped riding for a couple of weeks and just worked on my parent’s farm. I kept going to races though, and for 3-weeks got absolutely kicked. Then, as if by magic, I started winning races. I started training again. In late October, I did the Vuelta a Guatemala (14-stages) in good style.

There is a greater implication to all this. Once you’ve learned to recognize and stave off burnout, you can move on to building a real season, and therefore, series of seasons. As you learn more about yourself, you can learn how to ride peaks longer and how to lessen the amplitude (if you will) of your peaks and valleys, which is another way of saying you’re strong all year. The ability to do this comes by avoiding burnout, which then allows you to effectively race an entire season. You are then able to begin the next season at a higher level of fitness. It follows then, that the longer you’re season is, the better you will be able to add to your level of fitness the next year, etc. See how that works? Successful bike racing is an accumulation of strength and experience. This is why I recommend riding ‘cross (at least half the season) around here. When you realize that most top racers race from February to October, you see how really short our Northwest road-racing season is. Without something to keep your fitness level relatively high for a decent amount of the year, it becomes more difficult to start each successive year at a higher level than the previous one.  More simply, the longer your lay-off, the closer to square one you get.

Time Trialing

Time Trialing is probably the most baffling of all the cycling specialties. People who can’t do can’t figure out why, and people who TT well can’t figure out why people who can’t do so poorly at it. Despite the fact that in my best cycling years I shared a house with one of the greatest time trial guys in U.S. history, John Frey (former holder of the U.S. hour record, still holder of the U.S. 40k TT record at 47:32 set on a 52x13 fixed gear), and despite the fact that I trained with him often, and despite the fact that he held no secrets of his success from me, my time trial efforts were wildly inconsistent. There was no reason I should not have been a good time trialist. I had good power, I could make good long solo moves in road races, I had good position on the bike. Some element was missing and long after it mattered, I discovered what this element was. In retrospect it seems ridiculously obvious.

I got much better at riding consistently good TT’s as I got older and it was entirely due to a better ability to focus on what I was doing. There is the key element to Time Trials: concentration. A time trial guy can tell you exactly how he trains, exactly how he sets up his bike, how he tapes up or stuffs Vaseline in all the bolt holes, and none of that will help you ride a better TT. It’s all about focus which is an attribute that TT riders take for granted.

I have one method for helping keep your focus in a TT: Pay attention to your rpms. That may seem silly, but again, if you target a rpm range, and ride the biggest gear you are able to do that in, then you can’t do much better than that. You of course could pick something else to focus on, a power meter for instance, whatever, if you have trouble focusing, you need to find something to keep your mind on the task at hand.



There’s a lot more to sprinting than just gunning it as hard as you can at the end of a race. There is of course the physical raw speed and power of the sprint, but there is also positioning, and some technique.

First, there are those who are natural sprinters and those who are not. If you are among the many that are not, you need to train yourself to gain a sprint. You may never be as fast as the natural sprinter, but some work at it will help you to better placings and wins. Some sprinting ability is naturally better than none at all.

The main ability that natural sprinters possess that most of the rest of us do not is accelerating throughout the sprint. The non-sprinter will start a sprint with a sharp acceleration, and the speed then tends to stay the same throughout the sprint. The sprinter will accelerate sharply, and continue to accelerate all the way to the line.

What the non-sprinter needs to do in training is to learn to continue accelerating. This is usually more of a problem with leg speed rather than power. Most non-sprinters have plenty of power, but simply need to train themselves to apply that power to a sprinting situation. The biggest mistake in training for sprints is (here it is again) to use too big a gear. By training for sprints in a large gear, you merely reinforce the habits that make you a less effective sprinter. The trick in training for sprints is to use a light gear you can accelerate with relative ease, and continue to accelerate throughout the sprint.

For the non-sprinter, find a 250m stretch of road with a slightly downhill approach and that is relatively free of distraction (intersections etc.). Come into the sprint at normal riding rpms and at the start of the 200m stretch, without shifting, stand a bit to accelerate sharply. Once you’ve accelerated as much as you can standing, sit down and work on continuing to accelerate. If you find yourself unable to continue accelerating, you’re using too big a gear. Do a set number of these (say, maybe 6-10), and you’re sprinting will improve, I promise. It won’t turn you into a mass dash master, but it will give you something to fight with.

Another method to improve sprinting, also very useful to the natural sprinter, are short uphill ‘power sprints’. I would caution that these should only be used once you’ve gained good form…say, a month or two after you’ve begun quality training. While the light gear leg speed sprint workout isn’t too terribly onerous in terms of workload, the uphill power sprints are very taxing. Find a 150-200m steep hill with (preferably) a downhill approach (a flat approach will do if need be. Also, its better if the hill gets gradually steeper toward the top). Roll into the hill with good speed on a medium big gear and accelerate sharply just before the hill begins. Here the idea isn’t to continue accelerating, but to continually increase the power output throughout the sprint (if only a little). Without a power meter to determine this, you can tell you’re increasing the power output if you can keep the effort going while staying ‘on top of’ the gear you’re in. If you can’t find a gear that you can ‘stay on top’ of, or you can’t keep the power going up, you’re probably not ready for this particular drill. Put it off for a few weeks and try again.

Positioning for the sprint is every bit as important as having the ability to sprint. Obviously, if you’re out of position, you won’t be able to use your sprint, no matter how good or bad it is.

When the entire bunch is coming to line together positioning yourself can be more about luck than fitness. You could seemingly be in the perfect spot with 500m to go, and get swarmed on the other side. To keep position, you have to take chances and have a bit of luck. It is of course important not to take dangerous chances (trying to push into holes that aren’t there), but take calculated chances. It is of course better if you have teammates to keep the bunch fast and strung out close to the finish, but this isn’t an easy thing to do, and it requires a strong understanding as to who the team’s sprinter is, or for whom they want to get a result.

Positioning for a sprint from a smaller bunch will depend on the situation. Sometimes being second wheel is best; sometimes it’s better to be at the back of a 6-rider group. Recognizing where it’s best to be is a matter of experience, and knowing your sprinting abilities vs. others. Some generalities though: If the sprint is a tailwind, or slightly downhill, go for a longer sprint. The reason to go longer is that the speed will be higher in a tailwind or downhill. If you reach top speed early and it’s easier to keep that speed because of the gravity/wind assist, it will be harder (by the laws of physics and mathematics) for someone to get by you. On the opposite end of the spectrum, in a headwind or uphill, you want to start your sprint much later (shorter). If there is an impediment to speed, it will be more difficult to maintain or increase your speed throughout the sprint. Riders in your draft will have a very good chance to accelerate and get around you late. Also take note of which direction the wind is blowing at the finish. Sprint on the side of the road where no one can take advantage of your draft.

Positioning is easier if your team has a lead-out organized. In a small group, the sprinter stays immediately behind the lead-out rider. From 450m to 200m to go the lead-out rider should be sprinting as if the 200m to go sign is the finish (with a less sharp initial acceleration). The idea of the lead-out is to deliver your sprinter a clear line to the finish, at such a speed that it will be too difficult for anyone to come around. About 10m before the 200m sign, the lead-out rider should move gradually a bit to the left or right depending on which side the wind is coming from (if the wind is blowing from the right, you would move right to protect your sprinter). The more teammates you have, the earlier the lead-out process can begin. Don’t start the process to early, lest you burn yourselves out and can’t deliver a fast enough lead-out for the last 500m.


First, standing or sitting? Sitting is faster in general but for the initial acceleration standing will usually provide a sharper initial acceleration. Once that initial acceleration is finished, however, get back in the saddle and keep accelerating. On steeper uphill sprints, standing all the way may work best, depending on how steep it is.

The only other technique point is upper body use. Use your arms like a fulcrum, as if you were trying to pull your handlebars into your chest, and hold your torso rigid. Do this throughout the sprint, whether you are standing or sitting. Finally, you will get more leverage out of your bars if you are in the drops. If you’re up on the hoods you will be more stretched out and less able to leverage your body.

I will also point out here that while the track is a good place to work on sprinting; sprinting is an entirely different ballgame on the road. Momentum and positioning is more important on the track while power takes more of forefront role on the road.


Hills & Climbing

First, the bad news: If you’re not a natural climber, there is very little you can do to make yourself one. The good news is that there are things you can do to make yourself the best climber (or hill rider) you can be, the only problem being that it is very hard work.  This section is mostly for the many of us who are not natural climbers. Natural climbers don’t need any help going uphill.

Let’s begin by establishing that there is a difference between hills and climbs. Very different types of riders do well on the two types of rises. Consider the diminutive, emaciated climbers who excel at hour-long 20km climbs averaging 7%, versus the stocky, heavily muscled classics riders who excel on cobbled 800-meter hills averaging 20%, or even the 2-mile long 15% “hills” you see in Liege-Bastogne-Liege.  The basic difference between the two can be defined through the type of effort required to get over the obstacle. Hills require a lot of power and can be ridden over by basically giving an “interval” effort, something you can go over your head for, and recover from later (if need be). A climb, on the other hand, requires a tempo that you can maintain for the distance of the climb.

Obviously, this definition means that the line between a climb and a hill are different for different people. A pure climber may view a hill as something as long as 3-miles while a track sprinter may have to view a 400m 6% rise as a climb. So, if you feel you’re lousy at both hills and climbs, or feel like you need to be faster at both, what can you do?

The thing that hills and climbs both have in common is that there is a diminished draft, due to the lack of speed. Along with gravity, this is the biggest reason riding gets a lot harder on hills relative to flatter ground. Without the draft to neutralize differences in raw talent, going upward becomes a test of power to weight ratios. Riders with lower ratios have to put in a bigger effort to go the same speed as riders with higher ratios. The problem, as you all well know, is that as a race wears on and you’re going up that hill for the 7th time, the efforts add up and you risk getting dropped, or might be unable to answer the vital attack on or after the hill. What you’re looking to do is improve is your base climbing tempo, whether you’re on a climb or a hill.

The way to do this is to increase your power to weight ratio, done, obviously, by increasing your power and/or decreasing your weight. The biggest gains can be made by doing a little of both, but that of course is the most difficult thing to do. We’ll look at weight first as it’s the more difficult to improve. Most of you are probably pretty close your racing weights, and know how difficult it would be lose weight beyond that. It is a bad idea to try to do it through diet (unless your diet is very bad) as you then tend to suffer through lack of calories, and can’t train and recover properly. Large and rapid loses of body weight usually also has the undesired effect of losing power. The only way I know to lose weight without losing power is to train long miles and do a lot of hard racing. This method also requires a lot of time, most likely several years to make significant loses, so you can’t count on it for a short-term answer.

That leaves power, and there are a bevy of methods to increase power on the bike for climbing, all of which shouldn’t be employed until you have the proper base. You can, however, establish a proper climbing base and at the same time make yourself better at going up hills and climbs by doing the same thing uphill that you do on the flats: small gears and high cadence. Once again, I base this premise on the idea of a sustainable effort. The only way to get faster is to start with an effort you can maintain, and gradually increase the effort over time.

You don’t have to keep rpms at 100+ on climbs or hills (more power to you (literally) if you can), but aim to keep rpms at 80 minimum. Find a gear you can turn these kinds of rpms on most of the hills you encounter. Right away I’ll say that there are some hills steep enough that you won’t be able to maintain 80+ rpms on without going over your head. The gears needed for these hills simply don’t exist without getting a triple or a compact crank with a 36. In these cases, don’t worry about it, just get over the hill. Figuring out what you can do on a hill may take some time. Say you’re riding a hill you usually push over on 39x18 at 50-70 rpms. If you switch to a 39x21 at 80 rpms, you will find it easier on the muscles to start with, but as you climb, muscle fatigue will set in, and you have to suffer a bit (ok, sometimes quite a bit) to keep it rolling. This is because, as you will discover, rolling those tiny gears at high rpms actually results in a pretty high speed for climbing, usually faster than you would ride otherwise at lower rpms in a higher gear. You’re doing roughly the same amount of work, what’s different is the type of effort you’re making. At higher rpms and with lower gears, you take the emphasis away from muscle and apply it more to heart and lungs. This is precisely what you need to work on to improve your base climbing tempo. When you have a cardiovascular system that can support the power you have, you can start trying to get faster.

The way you do it is to hit the hills with the gear you can turn at 80+ rpms, at slightly more than comfortable effort, which means you suffer a bit, but it is sustainable. At the top, change your gears up only so much as you can maintain or increase your rpms. This way, you get a smooth transition from the hill to the flat ground, and a smooth transition of effort. When you feel that you can climb the hills on this gear with less perceived effort, its time to move on to more suffering with the next bigger cog, or increase your rpms. Let me assure you that this is a slow process; don’t expect marked improvements in just a couple of weeks. There’s no need to do repeats or necessarily seek out hills, most rides around here are hilly enough that you get a good dose. Repeats and genuine hill intervals come into play when quality training starts. Concerning gear selection, some of you may need to swallow your pride: I regularly pack a 39x25 in the early season. If you need a 27, don’t be ashamed, it is what is necessary. Note also that you can start working on your base climbing speed anytime. You can already be doing regular flat intervals, and if you haven’t done anything about your base climbing tempo while at the same time you feel lacking in hills, doing hill intervals will be premature. Start setting the building blocks before you try to put the roof on.

After you have a good base of climbing you can break things down into specifics:


So long as you’ve done your work, hills (whatever your perceived definition of hill vs. climb is) shouldn’t pose too much of a problem. Obviously, if the pace gets very high, everyone will suffer, and things still essentially come down to power/weight. The only question is how well you respond to it.  Peaks or valleys in your form will show glaringly on hills at effort, and that will have the greatest effect on your ability to go up hills fast. If you have a good base, you should have some minimum level of comfort that should keep you in the bunch at the very least. Breaks in local races often don’t go on the hill, but rather after the hill. A quick recovery is important, and a good base helps. Once again, there are no tricks to mastering this ability, the only thing to do is prepare correctly with base, and good quality training.


Most of the races around here are hilly but don’t really have climbs. You can find genuine climbing at the Oregon stage races and at most of the NRC stage races, and if you enjoy those races, you’ll want some kind of climbing proficiency. As stated at the beginning, you can’t make yourself into a climber. Genuine climbers possess a rare combination: a light build combined with powerful muscle development. Most of us don’t have this freakish combination, and it is difficult or impossible to make up for it by increasing power to overcome our larger builds. A long climb is essentially a time trial with the added detriment of gravity. Basically, you have to find a sustainable pace and stick with it. If you try to keep up with the fast climbers at the bottom of the climb, you’ll crack, and end up going slower up the climb than if you had stayed at your own pace. This is important to realize, since it may be possible to catch back on the descent, if you get over the top in decent shape. Often, if you stick to your pace, you will catch people who went over their heads and cracked. Sometimes you even warm into a climb, and pick up speed as you go on.

Many of you may be borderline cases, I was one myself. Most of the time you can’t climb with best, but occasionally you can do it. For example, if I knew if I was coming into very good form and my weight was at 160, I could drop 1-2 lbs over 3-weeks by going for a 30-minute ride before breakfast (what this does is kick up your metabolism quicker) and cutting out a few fatteners like Snickers bars and butter on toast etc. I could then climb with the best guys assuming good form and with my weight at 158 lbs. But I could only do this maybe twice a year, and only for a week or two at a time. If I tried to stay below 160 for too long, I would get sick, or drop in form more quickly than I should have. This brings up another aspect of working too much on climbing: you need to balance the value of working on climbing to the cost it exacts on your other attributes. It may not be worth it. I can’t tell you how to determine any of these things. You have to discover what works for you.

Some situations:

Changes of pace: This is the most difficult aspect of going uphill. It is tough to change your speed on an incline because 1) you’re fighting gravity and your own body mass plus your bike and 2) once you’ve accelerated, and say, bridged a gap, there’s no draft, nor can you coast, to help you recover from your effort. The only way to prepare for this is to prepare for it in training. On your endurance ride days (this is after your base miles period) on longer hills and climbs, try accelerations and see how long it takes you to recover from the effort. Try different speeds of accelerating and find out what your limits are. Some will find they’re better off with a fast acceleration and thus a shorter chase. Some will be better off with a steadier pace and longer chase. The way you improve your recovery (for all aspects of riding, not just climbs) is through intervals.

Climbing “lead-outs”:

You can watch Tour de France on TV and see the GC leader’s team lining up the team in front of their star and leading him up the climbs. On the final climb the stars dash off and battle amongst themselves. What’s really going on there? Besides the doping spectacles of past years, there’s next to no draft on the climbs, so what’s the advantage of doing that? The answer is that only one team has business setting the pace on a climb, and that’s the team with the fastest climber. By setting a high tempo on climbs, a team places a bet that their rider is the fastest. If a team is setting a tempo and their guy is isn’t as fast, it is just a nail in their own coffin. All setting the tempo like that does is discourage attacks and wear down possible contenders.

In hilly races one thing a team can do effectively is launch a potential race winner on a hill. If a team drills the pace a couple of km before a hill the bunch will stretch out, and some guys may be caught out of position, or have to kill themselves trying to get into position. When you hit the hill, the “star” launches, and hopefully can win from there, bridge to the break, or whatever goal is in mind. Beware though, that a move like this may simply create a selection of the best riders, and may not end up in the team’s best interest. In other words, it doesn’t always work out. When to employ this move is a matter of experience.

Climbing in the drops:

Remember Miguel Indurain and Marco Pantani climbing on the drops of their handlebars? A few years ago, I decided to try this out and see what was up with that. At first I thought, “Wow, this really makes a difference!” but about 10-seconds later I was back up on my hoods because my legs were cracking.  Climbing in the drops puts you in a bio-mechanically better position to pedal, holding your upper body more rigid. With less wasted motion in your arms and torso, you get better power transfer to the legs. So, if you can develop the strength to do for an entire climb, go for it. If you can’t, you can still use it. I found it especially helpful for accelerating on hills when the occasion called for it. I basically got more bang for the buck when I attacked versus accelerating on the tops or hoods. You may find it more useful for carrying momentum over small rises in an otherwise flat road.

Bunch Positioning:

An old, renowned trick is to start a climb/hill at the front of the bunch and fade back, so that at the top of the hill you’re at the back of the bunch, having climbed at the easiest pace possible. This can be done, but it takes a lot of local knowledge and good timing skills. Another problem is that the fight to stay up front approaching a climb can sometimes be pretty fierce. You could exhaust yourself just trying to stay there, and get dropped on the hill because you’re already cracked.

Sitting vs. Standing:

Sit or stand? On hills, do whatever is most comfortable, but sitting is more efficient. On climbs, you want to stay seated as much as possible. The basic argument for sitting is this: It is difficult to keep your rpms as high for very long as when you’re sitting. To keep your speed up, that means you have to shift to a higher gear, and over time, this means you use more muscle to propel yourself; muscle you could use later in the race. Sometimes, though, the grade is so steep you have to stand for the extra leverage. Sometimes a change of posture is refreshing as well.

A training method, using hills, to increase power:

You’ve probably seen people doing this: riding up a hill in a ridiculously high gear, and stupidly low rpms, to increase power. This is a big misinterpretation of a method Francesco Moser employed to prepare for setting the hour record. It was described that Moser was riding up 10% grades on a 52x13 to increase power. What most people didn’t realize is that 1) Moser was one of the strongest bike racers ever (and we aren’t), and 2) he was sprinting up 200-400m rises. I guarantee you; all these guys going up hills on the big ring at less than 50 rpms are just making themselves slow. The proper method Moser was using does vastly improve your power, and is very good for improving your sprint. You may want to scale back to a 53x17 or 15 though.

The other way to improve power in this manner is to indeed ride up a hill on a bigger gear, but only slightly bigger. Go a cog or two higher than normal, and keep your rpms within 10-20 of normal. You suffer incredibly to do this, but it does reap benefits. Only do this after you’ve finished base miles however.

Wind on climbs and hills:

A headwind on a climb is every non-climber’s dream. A strong headwind will effectively create a draft. I say effectively because you still don’t get much of a draft, but the wind prevents the riders in front from climbing at maximum speed. Riders sitting behind don’t get buffeted by the wind, and get to enjoy the slower pace. What you should take away from this, is that it is foolish to attack on a headwind climb, unless you’re willing and able to put out a lot of effort. The finest local example of this is the 2-mile long rise at the Walla Walla Stage Race. It is a great pleasure to watch guys attack, only to come sheepishly back into the fold after flailing away in the wind for a minute or two.

Conversely, a tail wind makes climbing for the non-climber more difficult. While the wind does push you a little and aid you up the hill, the real climbers get an even bigger boost from it, and the differences get magnified. In short, if you thought those guys were fast uphill before, watch them now when they have a tailwind. In the meantime, you and your average ilk go up the hill marginally faster.

The main message I want to convey with all this is that, as with everything, there are no tricks, no devices; no easy ways to improve climbing. The only way to get better at it is to go out and ride them, and learn how to suffer on them. The method I’ve described to do this properly is bloody hard work, and not particularly fun. When it gets down to it though, that is the real key to the sport: the ability to suffer enduringly. You can’t suffer well, however, unless you prepare yourself for it correctly.


Race Tactics

Tactics can be divided into two basic groups which I will call macro and micro level tactics.  Just like in economics, macro is easier to grasp but difficult to implement, and micro is more difficult to grasp but easier to implement (provided you have the physical prowess). Macro level tactics are team directed efforts designed to accomplish a certain goal. Micro level tactics are decisions and efforts made by an individual or a small group of teammates with respect to the team. What I mean by that is that even if you are the only member of your team in a break, you still need to consider your teammates. Micro level tactics depend a great deal on experience.  Without experience, you simply have to stick your nose in the action and get some.   

Macro Level: Team wide tactics

Macro level tactics are what rule pro racing. The reason for this is that riders are paid and thus expected to do what they are told. Teams ride with agendas defined by a team director who gives very specific directions on when and how to perform. This is why local amateur racers should not take their macro tactical cues from pros. It’s rare that an amateur team has the necessary fire-power, and more importantly, the will to implement them (money is a big motivator, bigger than you think). That doesn’t mean amateur teams shouldn’t try; it’s just that history has shown limited success. Any amateur team that succeeds in employing macro tactics has something to be proud of though. Without the incentive of being paid, it is a genuine show of unity and selflessness that is rare in sport.

Indeed, the number one key to successful team and individual tactics is selflessness. The best teams are ones whose members have thrown their egos aside. This is a far more difficult thing than most like to admit. After all, we all race because its fun and a big part of the fun is the chance that we might win or do well. So, in the back of our minds we often hold something back when we’re all at the front chasing, and a lot of chases and other operations fail because of this tiny piece of selfishness. The only thing is to have everyone on the same page and work effectively together without regard to individual results. It’s a very difficult thing to establish. I have been on several teams where we tried it, but there always seemed to be one or two people not on the same page, or who knowingly took advantage of everyone else’s good nature. If, however, you can get a group who can conquer their selfishness, and understand how to help each other get results, its amazing how things come together.

The basic macro tactics:

Macro tactics require a point person to make the decisions to do them. When you pick someone, you need to respect their decisions. Certainly you can question them, but after discussing it, you have to accept whatever decision is made, and do it.

1. Chasing a break down - The simplest and most common form of team level tactics. Very simple and easy to implement; just put your team on the front, and ride. You do a basic rotating paceline and keep it fast. The decision to chase needs to be made fairly quickly. If its let go too long, the job can be quite daunting, and the longer the chase, the more likely the team will be unable to cover the counter-attacks.

2. “Guttering” the field - You need two things: a crosswind, and a group of strong guys. We don’t see this too often in the Northwest, because wind is rarely a factor in a race. When you know a crosswind is coming up, you line up the team and start winding up the pace. When you turn into the crosswind, you get an echelon going very fast, leaving the rest of the field with no shelter. The form of the echelon is a staggered line from one road edge to the other (one of which, in most cases will be the yellow line). Gaps will form, and your team gets the easiest ride. This is relatively simple in concept but difficult to do in practice. To get the maximum effect, the team or group of riders riding in the echelon has to go very fast in order to crack the riders strung out in the gutter. If the echelon is too slow, the guttered riders will be able to get just enough draft to hang on. It can often be the case that another team (or simply the collection of riders at the front at that moment) takes the initiative and gutters the bunch. In this case, you have to give everything to get to the front, and pick up teammates on the way up. If you pick up all your ‘mates, you should be able to protect yourselves with your own echelon. Just roll up and park right behind the front echelon.

3.  Leading out a sprinter - You all know how to do it, but actually doing it is very difficult. The only way to do it effectively is to ride fast enough that no one else can come around, and keeps the field strung out. That takes a great deal of dedication and speed. It’s tough to find 5 or 6 people with that kind of strength locally. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try though.

4. The early break – The overriding theory here is that if you put a representative of your team in the early move, teams without riders in that move will have to chase, and therefore tire themselves out. This is a fine theory, but in practice doesn’t usually work out at the local or regional level of racing. Further, a lot of people have the completely wrong idea how to implement this. Teams will often put their weakest rider in the early break, or an individual rider will assume that since he isn’t riding well, should take it upon himself to make himself the sacrificial lamb in the early move. The assumption is that since the break will get chased down, you don’t want to waste your on form riders. In practice, it very rarely works that way, and this reasoning makes little sense and there are a couple of key reasons why:

a.     If the entire break is full of weak and off form riders, it will crack on its own with  little or no organized chasing from the field

b.    If a team has a weak rider in the break, and other teams have viable race winners, the weak rider will likely get dropped and his team will have to chase a break in which their dropped rider helped contribute.

Moral of the story: never make an off form rider your choice for a break. The team’s representative in the early break needs to be a viable threat of winning the race. Fact is, local races, and even regional races rarely see teams ever conduct a chase to run down a break. This is the reason why early breaks more often than not work in local racing. Therefore, the early move has to have a quality guy in it, who can win.

5. Blocking - We do not do this. I repeat: we do not do this. Blocking is cheap, weak, and we don’t condone it. Let people race and expect that they’ll let you race. You can certainly sit on a chase, but don’t actively get into an echelon to disrupt a chase. When a rider drops back from a pull, let them back in. If someone wants in the line to pull, let them in. Clogging up the road or corners just isn’t racing. It is instead plain bad form. Do not even let the fact that other teams employ it justify its use to you; two wrongs don’t make a right.

Micro Level: Thought processes for racing

There are no absolute answers to questions like “when is the best time to attack”, or “how do you know which break will be the one”. When you make a move, it’s rare that you know it will be successful. Again, the best way to make a successful move is to remove your personal ambitions, and transfer them into motivations to represent the team. In short, this attitude encourages everyone to seek the front, and get their noses in the action. If you don’t make the break in one race, be assured that if you keep trying, you will get in one. The big incentive to get up in the action is that it is the only real way to gain the experience you need to someday be able “read” races. To help with that concept, I’m going to run through the various possible stages of a road race, and talk about various tactical considerations.

  1. The     start – The bunch rolls out and you find out the “temper” of the bunch.     Sometimes the pace stays mellow for a long time and sometimes the attacks     start immediately, while other times there will be a single attack, a few     bridges, and the early break goes away uncontested. We’ll concentrate here     on when there are a lot of attacks and counter-attacks. How, you might     ask, do you know which move to go with? Obviously, you can’t go with them     all, and going with one that gets run down may result in you missing the     successful move. Here, the rule of selflessness comes into play right     away. When lots of moves are going and coming back, the whole team needs     to be working on getting to the front and covering moves. It does not     matter who you are, if you were “saving” yourself for later, or anything     like that. If there are only 2 guys of a 9-member team up on front early     covering moves, the chances of missing the break are greatly increased. If     all 9 are in the action, someone from the team will most likely make it.
  1. The     start aftermath – Several possibilities:
    1. A       break has gone; the team has one or more members in it. This is good, but       is it good enough? An assessment needs to be made as to the team’s       chances of winning the race. If the team has two climbers in a flat race       representing in the break, while other teams have sprinters up there, the       team needs to do better. There are a couple of things the team can do.       One is to chase the break down and start over. There are two parts to       this: the climbers in the break should realize that they don’t stand a       chance of winning, and should sit on and not help the break succeed. The       rest of the team back in the bunch of course also needs to chase. Another       way to deal with the situation is to watch for other riders trying to       bridge to the break. A “race winner” caliber of rider needs to be ready       to jump on these attempts and get across. If the riders you jumped on to       get across are riding strongly, you may be able to use the excuse that       you have ‘mates up there, and sit on. If he/they are faltering, though,       you have to decide whether to help pull, or jump them and bridge the rest       by yourself. Sometimes the bunch rolls over and plays dead. The team can       then try to spring someone across. That rider needs to be able to attack       fast enough that no one else will consider chasing. Otherwise, the team       needs to set up an attack and counter-attack situation that will result       in getting the rider they want across to the break. Often, when the break       reaches a certain gap, the bunch will settle down because individuals       believe the gap is too far to bridge in one big effort. This is an       excellent time to bridge yourself; provided you actually have the prowess       to do it.
    1. Sometimes,       nothing can get away despite numerous attacks and counter-attacks.       There’s no telling if this will continue to be the case. You might decide       nothing is going to get away and sit back to wait for the sprint.       Suddenly, the bunch lets something go while you were napping. The team       has to stay vigilant.
    1. Sometimes       again, and believe me, this happens at the Elite level, you just plain,       flat-out get overpowered. Sorry, nothing to do about this. Hang on, soak       it in, hope for luck.
  1. The     break – what to look out for
    1. Let’s       assume now that we have a break and we have a rider or riders capable of       winning in that break. The rest of the team back in the bunch can sit       back but needs to remain watchful. Your job now is to jump on moves that       go off the front of the bunch. Simply sit on these moves and don’t work,       you have the excuse that you a teammate in the break that can win. The       only time you might consider working with a bridging attempt like this is       if adding yourself to the break adds to the chances of the team winning       vs. the additions of the other riders. This assessment requires a lot of       honesty (see the bit on honesty near the end). If you’re in doubt, just       go for the free ride.
    1. Up       in the break, a similar assessment must take place (and let’s assume for       the moment that you have no teammates with you in the break). Note who       all is in the break and assess their abilities vs. yours. If you feel you       are clearly the strongest rider you can ride with confidence, but be wary       of other riders making the same conclusion and dodging pulls. You never       want to be the guy who pulls the hardest in a break, you want at most to       pull even with everyone else, or at best, to pull the least hard. On the       opposite extreme, if you feel you are the weakest, you need to find ways       to ease your work load: shorter pulls, softer pulls, finding excuses to       sit out turns…whatever it takes to try to even the playing field. The       other alternative is to sit on. This will provoke a reaction from       everyone else. When they come back to yell at you, just explain that you       don’t fancy your chances of winning if you pull, and if they don’t like       it, then everyone should just sit up and go back to the bunch. If you’re       somewhere in the middle, again, you may need to find ways to try and       lessen your workload and increase the workload of others. When you’re in       a break with no teammates, you should always think about how you’re going       to win the race. As always, experience will broaden your knowledge about       how to go about this.
    1. In       the break with teammates – Now the assessment has to be made with respect       to teammates with you in the break, and this will guide you in how to       ride throughout the rest of the race. If you have the best sprinter in       the break, things are very easy. The “non sprinters” can try for solo       moves (within striking distance of the finish), and if they’re not       successful, the sprinter, who would have been able to sit on the chases,       should be able to finish off the sprint. If another team has the best       sprinter in the break, then you can’t let it come down to a sprint. Let’s       say we have a break of 8 riders, 3 of them are teammates. One of those 3       should go for a solo move from a long way out, and commit to making a       strong move. Its likely this rider will get run down, but then one of his       teammates (who of course, have been sitting on now) can counter, etc. In smaller       group situations, supposing you have a break of 5, with 2 of them       teammates. Again, one rider should attack solo from a fair distance out.       The teammate will sit on the chase, and should look for opportunities to       attack the chasers and bridge to his teammate. These opportunities may       take time to come, be patient.
    1. When       you have teammates in the break (and this goes for late attacks from an       en-masse bunch as well), you need to consider your move not necessarily       as a bid for victory. The move is every bit as much making yourself a       carrot to make the other individuals/teams chase. The efforts they make       can be exploited by your teammates. Have a look back once in a while. If       you see your teammate bridging clear of the rest, back off your pace and       let him catch up.
  1. What     to do if someone else in the break is sitting on – Analyze the situation.     Figure out why the rider is sitting on. Is it a good sensible tactical     reason? If so, you can’t fault them. Is the rider tired, or just lazy? If     in doubt, just ask, and then analyze the truthfulness of their answer.     Usually that answer (unless tactical) is tiredness. Now you have a     decision to make: If the rider is really honestly tired, the rest of you     should be able to continue and not worry about that rider. If you decide     the rider is lying, or you have someone sitting on for tactical reasons,     you need to decide whether you can still win if you keep pulling, or if     you should stop pulling yourself and either let the break die or force the     rider sitting on to start pulling again (calling their bluff). One common     thing that you should never do is try to take the rider sitting on “off     the back.” What some guys will do is sit up in front of the rider sitting     on, taking the both of them off the back of the break. Then the guy will     attack the sitting on rider, thinking he will drop the sitting on rider.     It rarely works that way. First, it’s very difficult to drop someone when     they have your draft. Usually then, the guy trying to drop the sitting on     guy just brings him back to the fold. If the sitting on guy was genuinely     tired, and does get dropped by the action, then the break didn’t have to     worry about him anyway. In short, trying to take someone off the back of a     break is huge waste of energy.
  1. Down     to the end – If you managed to break free of the rest of the break, and     you’re solo, no worries. Often though, good opportunities to get away     didn’t present themselves, or everyone else was too vigilant, and it comes     down to a sprint. If you’re not the best sprinter, you need to try and     find the best sprinter’s wheel. Note which direction the wind is coming     from. Others may make a mistake and come around on the windward side,     giving you shelter. General things to note about sprinting: Downhill and     Tailwinds go for a longer sprint. Others may not have given it thought and     you might get away with it. On uphill and headwind sprints you need to go     for a shorter sprint. If the wind is coming from the right, hug the left     side of the road so no can get shelter. If the wind is coming from the     left, go for the right side.
  1. All     this assessment! When do you attack? – Patience grasshopper…attacking is     best done when opportunities present themselves. The difficulty is     identifying these opportunities. There are a few I can mention, but by and     large you just have to go out and gain experience. Eventually, as you gain     race experience and get to know your competition, you’ll gain a sense of     when it’s a good time to attack. That said, some opportune moments     include:
    1. When       a lot of attacks and counter-attacks have gone, the pressure will start       to crack apart the front end of the field. When there are a lot of gaps       between wheels and from riders side to side, it’s hard to get together a       cohesive chase. This is a good opportunity to attack.
    1. When       a long chase is near completion and the break is coming back, attack       before the job is finished. Most people will assume you’re bridging to a       sinking ship and let you go. Go right past the doomed break (maybe a few       will tag on) and continue.
    1. Using       the terrain – hills, wind, curvy-rolling sections, these are all good       places to attack but they’re also quite obvious. A lot of people who feel       they’re stronger than everyone else will look to attack here. It’s often       better to follow these attacks, and counter-attack from there. For       instance, on hilly courses, breaks don’t usually go on the hill so much       as they do after the hill.
    1. The       soft attack – Only useful in very special conditions. In long distance       breaks, guys will often start sitting on because they’re cracking. This       in turn causes other riders to sit on, until finally, only 2 or 3 guys       are pulling. Assuming one of these is you, just keep pulling (at about       75% of your capacity) and at some point pull through “too hard”. You’ll       get a gap and the guy you pulled through on will look to someone else to       close the gap. Meanwhile, you increase your speed gradually and begin       walking away. When/if your gap reaches a couple of seconds, step on the       gas. All the guys who had been sitting on will usually wait long enough       for someone else to close the gap, that eventually, will be too late.
    1. No       opportunities – Sometimes, opportunities to attack don’t present       themselves. Unless you have a lightening-fast move that rips everyone’s       legs off, you just have to prepare for a sprint.

There are a lot of situations where I call for an assessment of the situation. Many of you won’t have the experience or information to make these assessments. In these cases, you merely have to guess based on how you feel at the moment, and how your form is going. You have to be honest with yourself, and your teammates about your abilities. If you go around telling your ‘mates you can win, you’d better eventually back that up if you have opportunities to win. As was mentioned earlier, egos need to be in check. If you’re hopelessly outclassed in a break, you should sit on and hope the break dies, rather than pull and get 6th place, or worse, get dropped. If you worry about people yelling at you for sitting on, just explain that you know you won’t win, so you want the bunch to catch. If they don’t leave you alone, this will disrupt the pace, which is good because they’ll fritter their lead away not getting down to business.

There are a million scenarios for tactical nuances, and a million more possible outcomes to your reactions. There are no pat answers or guaranteed results for what you should do for any given situation. A team can come up with a solid game plan only for it to go to hell in a hand basket. There is constant improvisation, which is part of what makes bike racing so much fun. Sometimes you will make the right decisions and win, or make the right decisions and still lose. Other times you’ll make the wrong decisions and lose, but sometimes make the wrong decision and still somehow win. There will sometimes be disagreements among the team about how things should have been handled. You will make mistakes just as your teammates will make mistakes. There will also be successes. It is important to learn from failures and successes. Be sure to go over the race afterward with your teammates and discuss the critical moments when things went right or wrong. Sometimes things could have been going very right, and suddenly they go very wrong; how did that happen? Be sure to talk about it, and learn from it.

Here’s a quick checklist of things to think about tactically in a race:

a.     Attack/React

b.    Assess situation

c.     Is the current situation the team’s best situation/reasonable situation/poor situation? (And many degrees in between)

d.    Act accordingly in the team’s best interest for the moment

e.     Note the result of your actions (did you win, almost win, get run down (like you did or did not want it to), make a good go of it but lose out, lose utterly, crack yourself, just plain flat out lucky, etc.)

f.     Analyze why the result of your actions occurred, and this include how your actions affected the actions of other people in your move.

g.    Most Important: Learn from your successes and your mistakes.