One of my favorite yet most frustrating things about racing is how hard it is to win. There are so few sports that rank with cycling as far as all the things that must align to capture that elusive victory. It is crucial that when cyclists start to race, they learn how to win races.
As a professional coach I have the luxury of "replaying" hundreds of races through my client's eyes and have learned that there are a few common mistakes that I see repeated time and time again as riders acquire the skills to race.
Mistake #1: the Hero Move
You know this move, the moment when you tear open the zippered lycra of your cycling jersey to reveal the large capital yellow "S" on your chest and unfurl your streaming red cape, attacking and dropping your competition from 50k out, then effortlessly holding them off to the finish?
The reality of this move often looks different, more like you throw down a 1,000 watt attack, open a gap, hold it for 3 -5 minutes then get caught by the pack and hopefully hang on or even get spit out the back.
The hero move is often a ticket to disaster, typically ensuring a pack finish at best.
Bike racing is all about understanding the "odds." With all the things you need to have go right in order to win, you have to learn patience and begin to think about the odds. So here is a new "Rule of 3" that I teach my clients as they learn to race:
a. Step 1 – Narrow the Odds
b. Step 2 – Narrow the Odds
c. Step 3 – Win the race
This means learning to think through the race to go for the win. Your first two moves (I target two as an example, might be one, might be five but focus on the idea) as ways to "improve your odds" of winning.
How can you winnow down the pack? Get rid of the riders on the edge? Shell your key competitor? This is accomplished by smaller moves, often in conjunction with other riders. How can your "moves" narrow the odds, some ideas:
1. Don't go it alone! In a pack of 50 riders, early move should focused on splitting the pack in half or at least reducing the counts some. How can you do this:
a. To narrow the odds, don't attack so hard that other riders are not willing to follow (or believe you will just blow up the road), attack hard but bring a bunch.
b. How to bring others? Well here is a simple answer that so many racers don't think of. Try telling others BEFORE you attack. Yep, give away your super-secret strategy (which most other racers are thinking about by the way) and tell a small group of select riders that you might think have the horsepower to attack, then see if they will work with you for a while to at least drop a percentage of the pack.
2. Once you have dropped off a chunk of the pack, focus on ways to set up the next separation. Now it is time to start thinking about how you can win the race, then do something to set that up. Are you planning on the sprint finish? Are you a killer TT artist looking for the longer break? Your second "narrow the odds" needs to start setting up your winning move.
3. Your winning move IS YOUR STRENGTH (a least that is how the plan should go). So many times bike racing forces you to improvise as you go but focus on setting up final moves that allow to implement YOUR STRENGTH as the move.