About a month ago I asked cycling friends on twitter what they would like advice on and the big ones that came back were bunch positioning & climbing. So I thought, why the heck don’t I just write about both in one go. A short condensed version with all the juice , well that’s the plan.
I am forever learning as a cyclist. Even as I have got faster over the last few years, one has to be constantly diligent with bike handling, skills and observance in bike races to ensure you get the right result. I think the most fundamental rule I have learned in my 15 years of racing is to PAY ATTENTION at all times. Road racing is not for day dreamers. You have to race like you have eyes in the back of your head.
So first off positioning..
Why is it that the same folk seem to be finishing at the front of the race? Are they actually that much stronger? I have heard many a cyclist whinge and cry at the end of a bunch sprint about how they were shelved by someone before the finish line and how it’s just so unfair that they didn’t make the top 10…blah, blah…
I believe the truth is this. No matter how bad your sprint is, if you are in the front two rows of the peleton going into a sprint finish, you will no doubt do better than your buddy sitting 7-8 rows back. Simply put, you have less ground to make up. Even If Mr or Ms Sprint your butt off is 7-8 rows back from you, and you don’t have as good as sprint as them, you’ll still likely beat them simply because of your position.
I had a team manager who was convinced I had a terrible sprint, simply based on my many 50-100 placing results in top women’s races. Then, one day I got my position dialled, got into the front going into a sprint and won the race – no one could believe it, ‘gen can’t sprint’, and the honest truth is, I didn’t have to sprint that hard to win, I was at the front, and it was a lot easier than trying to get through the bunch.
So my point is this. If you want a shot at winning a race, you need to follow the golden rule – sit in the top 3 rows in the bunch, but never constantly on the front, second row back, sheilded from the wind and doing 30% less than the person in front. BUT you don’t want to get a reputation as a ‘wheel sucker’ so if you are pushed to the front, do a small turn (you can soft pedal) so you don’t hit max heart rate after 30 seconds and then pull off. You also don’t want the reputation as the ‘work horse’ – the rider that is constantly pulling the whole peleton along and then too trashed to contend the finish line. So if you do find yourself on the front a lot, just start riding really really slowly, it will annoy someone enough to attack or take a turn.
The trick to staying in the top 2-3 rows in a race is to constantly keep pedalling and looking for gaps to ensure no one behind you fills them. It’s okay to ride on the outside row of the bunch, but you need to try and remember that you could be exposed to the wind and therefore working a lot harder to be there, so if you can, tuck yourself in behind someone else. If you know someone in your races that is ‘ace’ at positioning, try and sit on their wheel, let them pull you up.
If you are not a strong climber and the hill is approaching, you need to get to the very front of the bunch, so that even if you do start slowing down up the hill, you are still in the bunch, even if dropping back a little – better to do that, than be at the back killing yourself to hang on.
Coming into the finish – this is the tricky part and I am still mastering, but with around 5km’s to go, you need to start making your way up the bunch. With 3km’s to go, you need to be no further back than the 2nd or 3rd row, if you want any chance at a good finish. If the bunch gets strung out at the 1km mark, you need to be around wheel number 5 at the worst if you want to try and contend the sprint. From races in the USA, UK, EUROPE, AUSTRALIA & NZ this rule has worked time and time again to get me a few wins, some podiums and many top 20 finishes in big bunches of up to 100 women.
Now for climbing..
Not everyone is a natural mountain goat, but what doesn’t come naturally can most definitely be learnt and taught. There are three main factors that are needed for climbing:
Weight – the less you are, the less you have to ‘carry’ up the hill
Strength – to go up hill fast, you need strength in your muscles. Some people have more natural strength than others, but even if you don’t naturally have it, you can train it.
Speed – when the hammer goes down, you want to be able to go with it.
I am good example. People/coaches assumed I’d be a great natural climber when I started racing because I was pretty light at 55kgs. However unless coaches applied regular strength sessions, I was horrendous uphill in races. We worked out that while the potential was there with my weight, I am a person that doesn’t hold strength for long, so if you want me to climb well, you need to constantly have some strength sessions in there, like virtually every week in the winter and at least once a month in the summer.
So, if you are someone that is struggling with the dem hills, I would look at how much strength you get into training. Over the winter you can build strength in your quads by doing squats, deadlifts, kettlebell exercises as well as press ups, push ups and sit ups to make your stomach strong.
On the bike you can build strength by doing low cadence hill repeats once a week for a period of say 8 weeks. Pick a hill that is atleast 5 minutes long and ideally one you can ride in big ring, or at a low cadence in your hardest gears in small ring and do 4 x 5 min repeats with a cadence of around 50-6-rpm. It will feel like death and anyone who passes you will think you have lost the plot completely, but after a few weeks, including some recovery weeks in between, you will start to see your climbing improve. This is an old school training session that many of the tour de France riders do over the winter, so what is stopping you from giving it a go?
As for the speed part, I would recommend short hill repeats, say 4-6 x 3mins at maximum effort up hill to work on sustained high pace efforts, that replicate a race. Do not start off too hard, you are looking for a speed you can maintain for the whole effort, so if you know that is 15kmph, do not start at 17kmph hoping for a miracle! Last year I got overly excited with a power metre and tried to hold 350 watts (which is someone near the current women’s world recorld) up hill for 5 mins, I blew up after 3 mins and was in such a state I couldn’t complete anymore intervals that day..DON’T LET THAT BE YOU..
So that’s all for training tips right now. I would write more if I simply had more spare time, but I hope this is helpful and feel free to email me if you have any more questions.
Your pal in all cycling related matters and wishing everyone a nice Easter break with a few eggs in there too
This bunny will not be safe for long..