Mtn. Bikers: Assessing Your First Race, and Planning Ahead

Many of us have probably entered our first race of the season. Whether it is of B or C priority, we should debrief ourselves as to the outcome.

When dissecting a race, remember that the most important person to compare yourself to is you. We will look at the competition later.

During the first event, it is important to remember not to put too much value on how the race felt; most races, as we progress in our careers, will often feel the same. They may feel good or bad or just OK, but those relative feelings for us often will not change.

What will change for each of us is the level of performance we achieve at each of those various levels of perceived effort during the race.

Following are the different aspects of the race I like to evaluate with my athletes.

Technical Riding Skill

Usually at this time of the season there hasn't been much opportunity to ride off-road, as we have been putting in lots of miles on the road. How does your new, improved fitness help you in the singletrack without much practice?

Were you showing fewer or more signs of upper-body fatigue during the event? Many of us stop strength training altogether when we start racing. It is absolutely important to at least continue to work on functional core and upper-body strength throughout the season.


How were you climbing? Was your upper body quiet? This can show how your core strength has improved, but also give some indication of your pedal stroke under load.

If your upper body is rocking back and forth, it could be a core-strength issue, but it could also be that you are not un-weighting the pedal on the upstroke.

Were you able to climb at a cadence you could maintain throughout the race or did it drop throughout? Did you find yourself able to remain in the saddle for all the climbing or did you have to use your body weight to get you up some hills?


When you hit the flats, were you able to stay on the gas or did you have to really try to recover? How was your rpm on the flats?


What were the lap times like? Were they equal throughout the race? Did you fade or get stronger? This is one of the most important points to look at.

If you had trouble with climbs late in the race or just couldn't push a big-enough gear on the flats, the limiter may not be the system responsible for that type of work but the fact that you went out too hard at the beginning. If your lap times weren't equal, I would address this before all else.


How was recovery from the event one to three days later? Were you able to get right back on schedule or did you require extra recovery? If you required extra recovery, it could have to do with the pacing of the event or your overall base fitness.

Assessing the Competition

Once you have had the opportunity to evaluate not only your race performance but also your recovery after the race for the following week, you can start to compare yourself to your competition.

If you feel that all aspects of your event, including pre-, post- and during, were satisfactory, then ask yourself how you compared to the competition.

Where did you feel stronger or weaker relative to the competition? If there is not any one glaring weakness, you may want to stick to your plan and improve your overall race readiness. If there is one weak link, you may want to focus on that type of training leading into the next race, and see if there is an improvement in the race result.

As a final note, improper pacing in races leads to inaccurate evaluation of one's strengths and weaknesses. For example, we see our performance deteriorate in the climbs at the end of the race, so we include harder training intervals in our program. This can often lead to overtraining quickly, so be careful to evaluate where the weaknesses lie -- it might be easier to solve than you think.

Can you imagine having a better result from just racing a little easier at the start, as compared to busting out a whole bunch of hill repeats in your red-line zone?

"If you think you are on the right track, don't will get run over."

Steve Neal has been coaching all levels of cyclists for more than a decade. Along the way he has produced numerous national champions, provincial champions and helped many other cyclists become more skilled and successful. He has also raced at the top of the National Pro Elite Circuit. He currently runs Steve Neal Performance Development based out of Orangeville, Ontario. Learn more at

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