Over the many years of coaching athletes of all levels, I've often tried to identify what makes certain riders successful and others not. Of course, the definition of success ultimately has to be defined by the athletes themselves. What may be defined as a success by one athlete may be a complete failure by another.
For this article I've identified five of the most salient attributes that seem to stand out amongst successful riders. Again, success is defined by the rider and not by anyone else. In other words, it's not just wins and losses; it may be something as simple as getting to the start line of your first race. Also keep in mind that not all athletes posses all these qualities, but most who are successful possess the majority of them.
A Clear Plan, Including Goals
A successful rider basically knows where they are going during their cycling career. They understand where they currently stand in the big picture, where they want to go and, most importantly, how they are going to get there. Their goals are specific and they seek advice from qualified and experienced coaches to "keep them in line" and their goals realistic. Plus, as these riders gain more and more experience they understand what they are capable of accomplishing and what is out of reach.
As a simple example, one common question we get from first year racers is, what races should I do? We advise them to get a feel for the racing styles and types of courses in the area, try as many as you can. After they have done the local schedule, they can begin to identify which races suit them and more importantly, which races they like. They can now realistically look at the schedule and begin to choose more specific goals the following season.
A key long-term component is balance in their programs. How many times have I heard an athlete try something new and think they have found the key to their success? They then proceed to give this aspect of their program way too much weight. When they see it doesn't produce the results they want, they look for something else.
The bottom line is if you want to be successful in this sport, you have to balance the components of your program. Let's take types of terrains in training as an example. Let's say a rider loves criteriums and is good at them. Does that mean that they should neglect climbing? Of course not. In this specific case, hills offer so many good opportunities to improve their overall aerobic conditioning, which in turn will help them become a much better criterium rider. Balance is the key for both physical and mental development.