I think from an outsider’s perspective and to someone who has no idea about cycling, it might seem like it's all about how fast you can turn the pedals over. However once you start to learn about the event, you soon realise it's a very complex sport with seemingly never-ending learning and development.
Positioning on the bike
Position is a key component to becoming a good cyclist and something that is often neglected, but if you get it right, it will help you make much larger gains when training. For instance over the course of a hard winter of training you might become 10/20 watts stronger, but what if you could save that power from just one bike fit where you learn your best position?
I found this out during a week of testing. I spent two days in Belgium testing and analysing and a separate one day in Switzerland where we rented the velodrome and brought over some experts to watch us cycle. It wasn't cheap but it was well worth it for the in-depth analysis.
Heading up a group
The best cyclists are very smart and canny. Ideally you won't even know they're in the race until crunch time, when they'll pop up and show their true colours and that's all that matters. You can lie, hide, shy away from turns on the front and blag your way through the race, but it's the person who crosses the line first that counts.
Sitting on the front towing people around while you do the lion’s share of the race isn't hurting anyone apart from yourself.
Being the bunch engine is a classic cycling mistake. Sitting on the front towing people around while you do the lion’s share of the race isn't hurting anyone apart from yourself. If you really want to show how strong you are then you have to be more strategic. Plan your efforts to attack properly and put everything into it to get away or jump across to a breakaway. Otherwise you'll end up wasting all your energy only to get dropped later on.
Triathlon is similar, drafting is banned in most of the races but you can still sit 10 metres behind a stronger rider to save up to 10 per cent of your power. Remember only make a move on your own if you feel really strong.
Unfortunately due to the nature of the sport we all have mechanical breakdowns and get tangled up in crashes, whether it's our fault or somebody else's. Some days you have to put it down to genuine bad luck but I have to say you can really go a long way to making your own luck with both elements.
If you go into a race with a bike in terrible condition you're massively increasing your chances of having mechanical issues and perhaps causing a crash. Make sure you turn up to a race with a bike in perfect working order and good quality tyres which will hopefully almost always get you round.
Perhaps a little controversially and although people never like to admit it, I reckon at least 50 per cent of the time when you crash it's partly your fault. That might be because you were in the wrong place at the wrong time, or riding behind the wrong person.
You should always anticipate what's going to happen by looking way up ahead, judging the behaviour in the group as well as the nature of the course. Try to pick out the riders you can trust and avoid the ones you can't and just doing this will hopefully keep you out of trouble!
Nutrition is also often overlooked and it's obviously important if you want to get round a big training ride or race. The nutritional advice you can take is endless but most importantly you should eat and drink enough to fuel your ride.
I always think it's advisable to eat something every hour that you’re riding. Whether that’s a cereal bar, a banana or a sandwich if you eat regularly you're unlikely to run out of energy and you'll probably be able to eat less once you get home. It's not just on that day you need to think about, but if you're riding the next day, you'll thank yourself for recovering properly the day before.
Picture credit - John Kershner / Shutterstock.com