My first bike race was in 1988. I was 15 years old, and have been hopelessly addicted ever since. I was a skinny teenager who wore the same sunglasses as Bernard Hinault. The Velcro straps on my cycling shoes dangled and flapped in the wind, desperate to contain the path of wobbly knees.
Now, I am considered an old man in the sport. My 23-year-old six day partner Daniel Holloway and I jokingly refer to each other as "dad" and "son," and there is a little bit of truth in every joke. He is young, brash, talented and learning quickly. His hair is thinner in some parts than others, on purpose: he sports an '80s throwback Euro mullet. I attempt to impress my wisdom upon him through example and instruction. My hair is also a bit thinner in some places than others, but not really on purpose.
Of course, many times my example has failed and the student has seen the flawed side in the teacher. When this happens, I think silently, "Do as I say, not as I do." Like so many other promising talents I see in the sport now, Holloway is light years ahead of where I was at his age. He has better equipment, better coaching, and better tools, such as power meters, training stress scores and custom orthotics, all of which help him go faster.
The beauty of sport is in continuing to discover new things about cycling, refining and expanding my database of knowledge. I find perpetual satisfaction in fine tuning details and making new discoveries.
After many years, I still love long training rides, pedaling up the driveway wasted and bonking, celebrating every time I see six hours on my computer or every time I crest a climb with searing legs. I still find joy in the raw connection of mind and body that a long ride can deliver. For me, racing is not about smashing other people into the dirt, crushing my competitors, or beating my chest in triumph. It is about overcoming the adversity of the road, mountain, weather or hunger, and my own internal obstacles. It is about mastering the sport at the highest possible level. It is a challenge I continue to enjoy to this day.
1. Get a Coach
I spent so many years trying to figure out the puzzle of training. I oscillated between extremes: my type-A capacity for overdoing it, and battling my fear of overtraining. What I needed was someone to call me out on my own shortcomings and push my boundaries. My best seasons were definitely the ones in which I hired a coach.
2. Upgrade as Slowly as Possible
When I was a junior, there was an unspoken race to become a Category 1 as fast as possible. This was a mistake. Take your time and delay each upgrade as long as you can. The best place to learn how to win races is at the top--the top of each category. If you don't learn how to win in the lower categories, how will you when racing against the pros?
3. Not Limit Potential
For the first few years, race as hard as you can. When presented with any "yes/no" question--Should I follow this attack? Should I go hard in this time trial? Should I force the pace on this hill? Should I sprint for this prime?--answer YES. If you follow this rule initially, you will craft forward-thinking, aggressive racing habits, and you will learn much more about the limits of your body and your competitors. Don't worry about hiding your cards and being patient, that comes later. If you get shelled because you left it all out on the road, that is fine, you are in the learning phase of your sport. For now, when you see opportunity, pull the trigger!
4. Be Fitted By the Best
So many times riders give up performance or become injured because they are riding a saddle which compromises their pedaling, or their seatpost has slipped, or a cleat has moved during a crash, or their position has changed because they were not careful when they transferred measurements from the previous bike. Go to a specialist, get fitted, mark everything (a silver sharpie is the most useful tool you can own), record everything so you can reference any changes and use the measurements for any new bike build. Memorize your saddle height to the millimeter.
5. Be Disciplined About Hard Days and Easy Days
Clich? but true: If you want to get better, your hard training days must be hard. And in order to really improve yourself, your easy days must leave you fresh enough to really suffer on your hard days. Don't let ego ruin a rest day. Discipline is also about keeping the tiger under the hood on your easy rides. A true professional never lets another rider dictate his training pace.
Colby Pearce, 38, has won pro races across all disciplines: road races, track events, cyclocross races, road stage races, hill climbs, mountain bike races and criteriums. He has earned 17 national championships, raced the track worlds nine times, held the U.S. hour record and won a medal at the Pan--Am Games.
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