The best cycling advice

Never give up in a race until you're positive you're out of it, no matter how badly you're suffering. Things can turn around in an instant, and you'll be glad you stuck it out.
Heading back early during a training ride one year, my good friend Kevin Metcalfe said, "Better over rested than over trained."

He was tired and wanted to make certain he was sharp for an upcoming race. Looking back, this has remained one of best pieces of advice I've heard in 20-plus years of cycling, and I wish I had followed it more often.

We all receive advice from friends, mentors, teammates or coaches that stands the test of time. Bits and pieces of information that may not strike you as something dramatic when first heard, but over time, remain a cornerstone of your cycling knowledge. We asked Mike Sayers (HealthNet) and Michael Carter (Marco Polo/UC Davis Cycling Coach) for the most memorable pieces of advice given to them over the years and also what gems they would pass on.

What is the single most valuable piece of advice a coach, mentor, friend or teammate ever gave you during your cycling career?

Mike Sayers - Learn what you're good at and focus on that. Not everyone can climb and not everyone can sprint. You have to be honest with yourself and excel where you can. That doesn't mean give up or don't try because everyone can race despite their weaknesses when they're really fit.

That being said, if you focus on your strengths during races, your results will be that much better. Don't worry about the things that nature has taken out of your control. This will also save you a lot of heartache and frustration. Race your strengths and train your weaknesses.

Next is to never give up in a race until you're 100 percent positive you're out of it no matter how bad you're suffering. Things can turn around in an instant and I hate throwing away races because I threw in the towel. The strongest guy doesn't always win the race.

Mike Carter - It's ironic that the best advice I ever received was about focusing on my weaknesses. As a skinny climber, I lacked power. Dale Stetina, who was my very first coach, told me that if I focused on developing more power on the flats, it would translate to better power when climbing.

Dale was absolutely right! Not only did my climbing greatly improve, but my TTs did as well. In fact, I tied for third at the flat Tour of Texas in 1990, only two seconds (or something close to that) behind Chris Huber, who was a pursuit specialist. The whole race came down to the prologue, a totally flat 7k TT.

I say it was "ironic," because you typically hear that you should focus on your strengths -- go with what got you there in the first place. In cycling, that's not always the case. I did (and still do to this day) constantly work on refining my climbing technique, and of course, work on my flat power as well.

What would be the single most important piece of training advice you'd pass along?

Mike Sayers - The same advice I mentioned previously; because I didn't follow it fully, I ended up wasting a lot of time. Now that I'm 34, my career is on the downward slope and I wish I had those months or even days back.

The other advice I'd give is that people have to realize cycling is a sport of time. It takes time to train. It takes time to get fit. It takes time to learn race tactics. It takes time, so be patient.

Mike Carter - I would stress that riders learn to listen to their bodies. Dale Stetina also told me that too. It does no good to try to do quality workouts when you're tired. All that results is that you become even more tired, and that continues to erode the quality of training you're able to do -- not to mention the mental frustration that's surely to develop as a result of not being able to do the workout you want to do.

So, when tired, rest. When feeling great, that's THE best opportunity to get the best quality of training.

Summing up

Let's summarize what the "Mikes" learned and how it benefited their cycling careers:

  • Race your strengths and train your weaknesses -- Be honest with yourself and learn what needs improvement. Your coach and your training diary are critical allies in this.
  • Take a lesson from the stock market -- Patience is required in this sport. There'll be good days and bad days, good weeks and bad weeks. Keep the proper perspective of trusting your plan and focusing on a "trend" of improvement over the long term. Stephen Cheung learned the same lessons from Canada's top Olympians.
  • Rest is just as important as the intensity in your training program. This is easier said than done. Endurance athletes in general think that more is better. Step back and evaluate whether you're doing too much and remember that it's better to be over rested than over trained. You can always push yourself harder when too rested versus being tired.
  • I've known both Mikes for a long time. They're incredible athletes and continue to be successful in their own ways. It's very important to point out they both learned and continue to learn from mentors, friends, coaches and teammates. Successful athletes never take for granted the amount of knowledge they possess. They're always looking for methods to improve their fitness and racing ability. Simply put, when they're done learning, they're done with their cycling careers.

    Seek out new information that can help you attain a higher level of skill and fitness. Continue to experiment with new ideas, finding ways to be more successful on the bike. To this day, I still pass on Kevin's "Better over rested than over trained" comment to my athletes. And in case you were wondering, Kevin turned back early because the Northern California district road race championship was that upcoming weekend -- he won!

    Bruce Hendler created AthletiCamps to provide cycling specific coaching and training to athletes and cyclists of all levels. Find out more at

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