The Art of Improvising During a Bike Race

Time and time again, as coaches we are asked and want to help our athletes succeed in bike races. Because of the dynamics of competition, the act of racing separates itself from training in a very unique way.

Simply put, just because you work hard to follow your training program, it doesn't automatically "allow" you to win or do well in bike races.

In order to win, you have to really focus on the strategic and tactical side of the sport. The purpose of this article is to try to break down the bike race into understandable components and give you the specific tools to move forward and, over time, have a better grasp of what is going on out there. Notice I used the words "over time."

One of my new athletes this year who just started bike racing likened it to jazz music. Jazz music is known for being "improvisational." In other words, the musicians learn the components of the musical style and then when up on stage, performing for their audience, they basically make it up as they go along.

Heck, when you think about it, pretty much a lot of life is like that. Whatever plan you make, it needs to be adjusted time and time again during the race. The key is having a good understanding of the components it takes to succeed.

So, in order to be successful in bike racing, you must first learn the essential components or ingredients it takes to be successful in bike racing, and then, through experience, have a better chance of success when "on stage."

Always Move Forward

I recently had a great conversation with Mike Sayers, current assistant director for BMC Racing Team, and, of course, a very experienced professional rider for many years about this very subject:

"I think that no bike racer should race a race without a general plan. That plan should be set before the start. I am a big proponent of having a plan and sticking to that plan and if you get beat you get beat. Basically, the better person wins. But, within that plan, you need to be able to adjust to given conditions (road, team, obstacles etc).

"A good bike racer looks at the entire race as it is unfolding. They are usually overly concerned with how they feel, where they are at, do they need the result, etc. You have to look at the entirety of the race and how it is playing out at that moment.

"For example, there is a break and all but one team is represented in the break; should I try to be in it or not? First, will the team left out even put up a chase, are the teams represented happy with the riders in the break, how far to the finish, are the riders suited for a good finish if the break works? These are just some of the questions that need to be asked and answered in a very short period of time.

"To answer these questions, the rider needs to know the teams and their riders and what they can do on a bike. That might take some homework before the race season. So once all those questions are addressed and the rider makes a decision on their next move, enter the break or not, a whole new set of questions come up and they all need to be answered in the same way. So the questions are never ending and figuring out the "lay of the land" within the race only ends when the race is over.

"To paraphrase, racing is like a chess match that the rider must look at from many different angles in a continual time stream from start to finish. Decisions, whether they work out or not, need to be made in a timely manner and there needs to be action.

"I have always felt action in a race is always better than reaction. I used to tell myself, 'Always move forward, in the race or in the group, and never go backwards.' Nothing good happens when you go backwards."

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