I've been in California many years. I have never seen such a dramatic change of weather from one spring to the next fall/winter. Last winter was wet, cold, and continued into June. It was the reason for the cancellation of 1.5 stages of the Tour of California and probably why the organization didn't go back to the beautiful Lake Tahoe area this year. This year, they could've had the race in December! So with all this good weather both here and across the country, it seems this year will be optimal in terms of rider preparation for the race season. Here are a few questions to ask yourself as to whether you are ready to race in 2012:
Are You Physically Ready?
One of the main reason riders do not perform consistently throughout the long season is a lack of physical preparation during the offseason. What does that mean? Simply that the offseason is a time where riders are not interrupted by weekend races and events. Once the season begins and you are racing a lot, that becomes your focus; focused training and self-care can take a back seat at times.
There are several significant aspects to this question. First, on the bike, during the offseason, it is important to have a time period of uninterrupted training during the winter and early spring months. This allows you to create a true base of fitness that can last a good period of time. You can focus on improving different aspects of your cycling capacities, particularly technical ones like bike-handling and descending skills and do extended rides in the sub-threshold zones to improve your aerobic capacity.
Second, there are many things to do during the offseason that are off the bike. Have you been fit properly on your bike within the past year? If not, this would be an outstanding time to make sure that your comfort on the bike is optimized, allowing you to perform to your maximum abilities. If you have gained weight over the holidays, the first couple of months of the year, PRIOR to racing, are an excellent time to lose that weight and reduce your fat composition (weight and fat loss are related, but unfortunately, independent variables).
Looking at your nutrition, both from a weight/fat loss perspective, and more importantly, from an optimal fueling perspective, can be done during the relative quiet of offseason. Proper nutrition is analogous to having a high performance sports car that requires premium gas, but only giving it regular gas. The car will run, but will have significant performance issues. If you have questions about your nutrition (notice I'm avoiding the word "diet"), then the offseason is a great time to get a nutritional consultation that will help you to develop an optimal "fueling" plan for your year.
Finally, spending time focused on your flexibility (either through a dedicated stretching program and/or in yoga class) and core strength (core exercises and/or Pilates) will greatly aid you in all aspects of the sport and your life.
Are You Mentally Ready?
The cycling season is extremely long. Physically, it's actually pretty easy to get though. As long as you don't overtrain, you can pretty much recover after a few days off the bike or taking a truly easy recovery week. The main issue is maintaining your motivation and desire to compete with everything you have, leaving nothing left on the road. This is a much bigger challenge, as most riders don't structure their mental approach to the sport like they do their physical one.
The solution to approach this side of the sport is much the same way you approach the physical training. Plan times when you will be able to be 100 percent committed to the racing and training you need to succeed. And, plan down times when you give yourself a break and focus on other areas of your life. Perhaps you can coincide this with a work schedule or family events. Bottom line is that it is not possible to commit 100 percent all the time and be on top of your game. You need down time, both physically and mentally.