How to Win Bike Races Even if You Are Out Numbered!

28 11 2008

Thanks to David Heatley from Cycling-Inform for this excellent tip. At Cycling-Inform they can help you set out a training plan that can incorporate where you are at in your cycling career with specific attention to the style of riding and racing you intend to do. It can be done remotely and is specifically geared for a busy cyclist that has to fit their training around family and work commitments.

Cyclists frequently face situations where
coming into the last closing kilometers of the race they are outnumbers by far better sprinters. It’s the scenario of a the little climber coming into the final lap of a criterium with a bunch of burly sprinters, or the big guy trying to figure out what to do a few kilometers out from an uphill finish. The best way to improve your chance of winning is to look for an opportunity to attack at a time that doesn’t suit the other riders around you. If you’re with sprinters, go early. They won’t want to waste their sprinting power chasing you so they’re likely to look around to see who else will go after you. If they wait too long, you win.

For the big guys trying to win uphill finishes, use your power advantage on flat ground before the climb to push the little climbers over their limits. Keep attacking them, because they know they’re only hope is to stay with you until the climb, where the advantage shifts to them. But if you break them before they even get to the hill, you’ll have a time gap to exploit and hopefully they’ll be so spent that being lighter isn’t enough to help them beat you.

What if you are not an extremely fast sprinter? The best plan get to get to the line with as fewer riders as possible. The least people to content with in sprint to the finish line the better. But it’s still almost as difficult as winning a bunch sprint as winning from a small breakaway group. Even though your competition is much reduced in number, you’re still going to need a rapid jump and nerves of steel to play out the final few kilometers of the race. No sense in getting to the finish after managing a wicked breakaway only to not have a plan for the sprint and end up being beaten by the handful of riders you broke away with.

Whether you’re part of a small breakaway or part of the bunch your ideal scenario is one where you get to contest the finish alone and that means dropping all the other riders that you are with. This will be hard if you’re still in the bunch as it speeds to the finish because the pace will likely be extremely high! Winning a race like this can be done though. What you need to be able to do is to hold an extremely high speed for over a kilometre and then launch your winning attack.

Your goal of course when beginning your attack is to go like a bullet so that no one has the chance to hold your wheel and draft you. Make your move as smoothly as possible to disguise your speed as much as you can. You’ll need a little luck on your side as well.


Inside vs. Outside

25 11 2008

It’s no secret to anyone who took high school geometry that the smaller the circle, the shorter the distance.  Did you know that the difference between riding in a 250m velodrome on the black line versus the red “sprinters” line is 8m per lap?  That’s only over a distance of 250m!  That means that if you’re riding on the red line (outside) for the entire lap you’ll need to be riding faster than the rider on the black line (inside) since he/she has not as far to go.  (sorry, I have very limited internet access right now and can’t remember the math of this to figure out “how fast” off the top of my head)

The same thing obviously applies to any course you’re doing laps on.   Why does this help me you ask?  If you’re in a break away move in a crit over a 1km course for example, take the inside part of the road as much as possible.  This can save you approximately 20-30m per lap! (this is just a quick calculation based on the 250m velodrome example above. This can vary depending on the shape of the course you’re riding on).  Of course you’ll need to account for the quickest line to get around those corners at high speed.  Many times the large bunch who is trying to chase you down is not taking the optimal line around the course and not taking those corners as quick as your small group in the break can, so not only will your average speed be higher, but you’ll also be travelling less distance.  This will increase your chances on getting to the finish line before you’re caught!  Every little bit helps…

Getting It Past The Boss

24 11 2008

I’m sure that I’m not alone here when I state my conundrum.  I go to a bikeshop and make a impulse purchase on a new set of wheels or whatever my cycling related need of the month is.  The problem is getting that bike part that you got a such great deal on home and past the wife.  Here are the following techniques I’ve come up with to help soften the blow:

– Buy online and get the goods shipped to work.  This way you can ride to work and slowly, one by one, put those new parts on the bike and ride home like nothing ever happened.  Then you can bring those old junky parts home one day and when your wife says “where did those come from?”, you can say “ahh…just some old crappy stuff that John gave me”.

– Say you successfully smuggle the new parts back home and camoflauge them in with the rest of all your bike junk in your spare bedroom.  This may not be the end of it.  What do you do when the credit card statement comes in and there’s that damn $1000 purchase on there. Having a secret credit card for this has obvious advantages, but not worth the risk if you’re caught.   I sometimes try to get a friend to order the stuff for me to save on shipping costs and to avoid this problem all together.  Alternatively, you can blame most of the charges on a riding mate saying to your wife “most of the purchase were Andy’s.  Just a couple tyres are mine and we went in together to save on shipping“.  Blaming a riding buddy can come in handy on many occasions, such as why you were home 3hrs later than you said you’d be.

– Plant the seed early.  Tell your wife that the new set of wheels that you want are gonna be $5k, so let’s start saving.  This initially sets off an explosive reaction, but you’ve done nothing wrong, so you’re not in the doghouse quite yet.  At this point she’s stressing about this extremely expensive set of wheels that you’re going to whine about until you get.  When you finally go and spend $2k on a set of wheels, this looks like an amazing deal.  This technique can work magic sometimes.  Use sparingly.

– Sometimes desparate measures need to be employed.  This is when you buy the wife a gift that’s just as expensive and lavish as the new Calnago frame that you just bought.   This will now cost you $12k, but if you can find one of them at a really good bargain you might be a bit ahead of the game.  A vacation to Cuba where you both can go and you can use your new purchase would be a good choice.

These are just a few of the ways I’ve come up with to get those stupidly expensive bike parts past the accountant of the house.  I’d be interested hearing your strategies and tactics in the comments section.  😉

Race Conservatively, Train Aggressively

5 11 2008

Success in road racing is all about being ready for brief explosive efforts lasting only a few minutes or seconds. Break-aways, cross winds, sprints, gaps and climbs will determine the race outcome. You have to be ready for these moments by having enough energy left to initiate or respond to the best of your ability. By the time a key move goes up the road you won’t be able to respond if you’re pulling everyone around the course and you are completely spent.

This is exactly why you need to race conservatively. In order to be successful with the moves that you either follow or create, you need all of your energy. You have a limited bucket of energy and you have no idea if the guy next you you has the same size of bucket.

The opposite holds true for training. Train aggressively! When you’re doing your intervals or group rides (when appropriate), you need to try to spend most of your energy doing the types of things that will lead to success in races. Give it all you got! There is no consequence in burning all your matches during a training ride. It will only help your body adapt to those short bursts of effort that will be required during the winning moves of a race.

How To Pace Your Time Trial

29 10 2008

Okay, I’m the last person on earth who should be giving tips on how to ride an individual time trial. However I can still pass on the “theory” behind a successful time trial. I don’t claim to be very good at them (in fact, I HATE them). It’s more that I don’t train for them rather than not knowing the strategy behind them. “Strategy behind them” you ask? There’s slightly more to a ITT than going as hard as you can.

Next time you go out and practice your TT over a set distance, try dividing it into four parts. This is advice from Dirk Friel – former professional cyclist and coach at

The first quarter. Ride at less than what you are capable of doing. You’ll need to hold yourself back here. The tendency is to go out too fast in this quarter and struggle at the end due to a build-up of lactate that can’t be eliminated without slowing down considerably.

The second quarter. Ride at the effort that you want to average for the entire race. You’ll begin to feel the strain in this quarter. If you find yourself struggling, back off. It’s still too early to go hard.

The third quarter. This quarter is the hardest and most important to get right. If you went out too fast in the first quarter, you’ll begin to slow down now. If you controlled quarter 1, stay focused now as it will make or break your race results. Check to make sure that you’re still aero. Ride hard. It will start to hurt. Try shifting to a harder gear to see if you can maintain cadence. If not, shift back.

The fourth quarter. This is where the very painful portion of the TT comes in. The finish line beckons and there are only a few minutes to go. Work on maintaining cadence, effort and breathing. Don’t allow any slowing. Are you still aero? Are you riding with the hardest effort you can maintain?

When you see the finish line, try to accelerate. If you can, you held back too much. The perfect pacing leaves you completely exhausted and unable to continue when you cross the line.

TIP: Going harder up hills and resting on descents will save you a lot more time than going hard on the descents and wasting the energy you could be using to go up hills.

If You’re Not Moving Forwards, You’re Moving Backwards

27 10 2008

Since my last post was on a more personal level, here’s a real tip for the day:

You’ve probably been in a situation where some shifty bugger keeps stealing the wheel you were sitting comfortably behind. As this happens again and again the next thing you know you’re at the back of the bunch. If you’re not the guy moving up wheel by wheel then you’re not going to keep a decent position in the pack. Since there’s always people moving up in the pack, you’re position is never static. Even if you keep the wheel you’re sitting on, you’re still moving backwards in the peloton. It takes some confidence and skill but once you master how to move up in the pack, it’ll save you a lot of energy and allow you to be in a better position.

One thing that works well is moving up on the inside of the road (watch far ahead for changes in the road or obstructions!). Carefully move up until there’s no more room to continue. Gently put the back of your hand on the hip of the guy in front of you who is blocking your path to let him know you’re there and coming through. Usually the guy will move over and let you keep rolling up through the pack. Don’t do this aggressively (or TOO GENTLY – he may get the wrong idea!  ).

This is only one of many maneuvers you can use to move up through the pack. Its one of the easiest and most polite strategies.   I’ll write more tips on this subject in future posts.

Damage Control

21 10 2008
Landis Cracks on Stage 16

Landis Cracks on Stage 16

This past weekend proved to be a goldmine for cycling tips. Both introspectively and by observing others.

We can all ride like a pro with our friends on good days but it’s how you handle those inevitable bad days that shows your true character. Haven’t had any bad days? Well either you aren’t human or haven’t been in this sport long enough!

I had a BAD day on the bike this past Sunday. 250km of BAD.  I didn’t eat or drink enough, my legs were heavy, and I wasn’t feeling well (on the verge of a cold). On top of that, my riding mates were all on fire. Not a great day to be riding poorly…

How do you handle those bad days? Here’s what I keep in mind and try to do:

1. FORCE yourself to eat and drink. One probable reason for the poor form on the day is because you aren’t properly fueled. It’s amazing what a can of Coke can do in the short term.

2. Don’t be too proud to sit in and do as little work as possible. Save your energy for getting you home. Let your riding partners know what’s going on and that you’ll be sitting in. They just may have mercy on you.

3. If you’re feeling horrible then listen to your body and don’t fight it. It’s just one bad day. Accept it and keep a positive attitude. This will make the ride easier on you and your riding mates.

4. There can be a massive difference between how you feel when you’re heart rate is at 165bpm vs 160bpm (for example). Ask your mates to slow it up a bit until you’re more comfortable and hopefully you’ll find a pace that will get you home while everyone else still has a good ride.

5. Save your legs, not your gears! Spin, spin, spin. Spinning does a lot less damage to the muscles than big gear riding. Also, every chance you get, stop pedaling, duck down into the slipstream and go for the free ride. Conserve every ounce of energy you have.

6. Break the ride into 30min pieces and don’t think about the rest. Set yourself small goals to reach. The daunting task of dragging yourself 3 more hours can be overwhelming if you’re feeling really bad.

Remember: A bad day’s riding beats a good day’s work…..