Become familiar with the course to avoid any surprises.
Races are won on many different levels. It's not just the winning move or the perfect team tactics on the last lap that contribute to a win. It involves preparation at all levels ranging from proper nutrition to an effective training plan.
In this article we will specifically address pre-race tactical preparation. We ask our contributing top Masters racers, Dan Martin (VOS Racing) and Kevin Metcalfe (Team Specialized Racing) how they prepare and execute prior to a race to give them the best opportunity for a successful result.
Pez: When going into a race, what specific "homework" do you do to give yourself the best chance of a successful outcome?
Dan: I think one of the most overlooked and probably the most important part of racing is the mental race buildup. I witnessed many different techniques that people use to reduce the stress of racing rather than deal with it. We have all heard the following over and over:
- I'm just training through this race
- I haven't really trained at all this last week
- I'm not feeling that well today
- I'm just going to see how the race goes
- I am using my training wheels
To me, these are all negative ways to deal with the pre-race stress of racing. Instead of mentally putting yourself into the battle; you are removing yourself. I see this type of thinking, and I have to ask myself "Why did he/she get up at 5 a.m. and drive for two-plus hours to the race just to think like that?"
The bottom line is people are not thinking in a positive way. These will be the same riders that attack at the start of the race, stop rotating in the crucial break, sit at the back of the pack leading into the climb, etc. They are just not planning for their best result.
The stress and nerves you feel before a race is critical. It's there because you care about the race outcome; otherwise, we would not be racing. It is what gets you to the start line on time, what makes you double-check your tire pressure and skewers. Without it you would never get out of bed. Instead of trying to calm it down, try to make it worse.
Think about the upcoming race and the stressful situations that might be presented to you. What if you are dropped on the climb? What if you flat in the final few kilometers? How do you deal with each of these?
My experience has shown me that I will always do things with better judgment the second time around, so I make the first time mental. The second time is the real deal! That is much better than the reverse. The funny thing is that after I go through all these mental drills, I actually feel relaxed and focused.
Kevin: It's nice to know the course. Generally, even if you've never done a particular race before, it's okay because you'll do a number of laps. In that case you end up doing your recon in the early stages of the race.
The downside to that is that maybe you'll get bad advice or guess poorly on your gearing and end up under- or over-geared at a crucial part of the race. In those cases I might choose to go with a wider range cassette than I might otherwise use. You can always not go into the 27 if you don't need it. But if you do need it and you've only got a 23, well, it won't be fun!
Another thing to consider is the prevailing winds. If you are racing in the central valley in Nor-Cal you know that there is a decent chance of a wind from the north. Just by looking at a map you can discern where there might be cross winds and where you need to be alert and up front.
To mentally prepare for a race, I like to think about what parts of the course fit my strengths. Where would be a good place for me to be on the attack? Where would be a place I need to be more defensive? That can depend on your fitness level at the time also.
For example, I am good on the flats, but if I am not fit, a crosswind section that I may normally attack on may become a defensive place for me.