The Art of Improvising During a Bike Race

The Elements of Cycling Improv

Mike's comments speak volumes; so let's break down the components:

Have a Plan, But... — It sounds simple to do...and it usually is simple to make an overly general plan. Most everybody makes this type of plan.

For example, a team will say that they want a rider in every break. The issue is which rider do you want in a particular break and what is the team going to do if you don't have the right rider in that break. Let's say one of your pure climbers makes a break on a course that suits power and sprinting capabilities, and he's found himself in a break full of riders who are better suited to the course than he. The team should choose to bring the break back and reshuffle the deck to better their chances.

In other words, it's good to have a plan, but always be prepared to make many more decisions once the race starts. And you cannot make those decisions without communication and trust in each other.

Unfolding — I love that word, because that is what happens when successful riders can read a race "as it unfolds" and see what is going on. I remember when I first started racing and one of my friends mentioned to me that he really tries to focus on the tactics and pay primary attention to what was going on versus worrying about how he feels.

Mike is saying the exact same thing. Don't worry about the result or how you feel, worry about what is going on at that particular time and what you or the team needs to do at that moment to have a better chance of victory.

Control — Identify the elements of a particular race that are in your control and out of your control. For example, you have control of knowing the race course, knowing wind and weather conditions, making sure your bike is in top notch mechanical condition and knowing who is in the race (more about this in a minute).

You have control over doing homework before in terms of how the race has unfolded in past years (assuming it is an established race) and how riders have won. Results and discussions are all over the internet these days, make sure you get involved.

Know Your Competition — This is very obvious, but very challenging, particularly at lower levels of amateur racing, as fields are large, and there are new and different racers almost every race. Despite this challenge, it pays to be watchful both in an individual race and over the course of many races, of which individuals seem to be the stronger riders. After a short while, if you are paying attention, you will know which teams are threats, and which riders are good wheels to lead you into a sprint or to follow on a climb.

At the higher levels of racing (e.g., M 35+, 1/2/3) you get to know your competition quite well over time. There, you generally know the team leaders and the domestiques, who can climb and who can sprint. Doing your homework in this way will help you when it comes to race day.

Work on Your SkillsSkills clinics are scheduled all over the place. Practice them time and time again. A lot of times I hear riders say they went to skills clinics but haven't improved. My first question is "Do you practice them every day or every week?" At our skills clinics, we make sure you leave with a clear list of "homework" items so you can get better and better at bike handling and gain confidence.

In summary, bike racing is really like a big "Improv." You need to work and establish the necessary components to be successful, and then through practice and repetition you can make the right decisions, which will lead to victory.

It's impossible to predict exactly what is going to happen in the bike race (like predicting weather). If you are prepared, there will be less to worry about and you can focus on the race at hand.

Bruce Hendler is a USA Cycling Coach and owner of AthletiCamps in Northern California. For the past nine years, he and his experienced team have helped athletes of all levels achieve their goals in the great sport of bike racing through cycling training camps, cycling coaching and performance testing. To contact AthletiCamps, visit their website at or follow them on Twitter.

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