For this article I’ve identified five of the most salient attributes that seem to stand out amongst successful riders. Again, success is defined by the rider and not by anyone else. In other words, it’s not just wins and losses; it may be something as simple as getting to the start line of your first race. Also keep in mind that not all athletes posses all these qualities, but most who are successful possess the majority of them.
A clear plan including goals
A successful rider basically knows where they are going during their cycling career. They understand where they currently stand in the big picture, where they want to go and, most importantly, how they are going to get there. Their goals are specific and they seek advice from qualified and experienced coaches to “keep them in line” and their goals realistic. Plus, as these riders gain more and more experience they understand what they are capable of accomplishing and what is out of reach.
As a simple example, one common question we get from first year racers is, what races should I do? We advise them to get a feel for the racing styles and types of courses in the area, try as many as you can. After they have done the local schedule, they can begin to identify which races suit them and more importantly, which races they like. They can now realistically look at the schedule and begin to choose more specific goals the following season.
A key long-term component is balance in their programs. How many times have I heard an athlete try something new and think they have found the key to their success? They then proceed to give this aspect of their program way too much weight. When they see it doesn’t produce the results they want, they look for something else.
The bottom line is if you want to be successful in this sport, you have to balance the components of your program. Let’s take types of terrains in training as an example. Let’s say a rider loves criteriums and is good at them. Does that mean that they should neglect climbing? Of course not. In this specific case, hills offer so many good opportunities to improve their overall aerobic conditioning, which in turn will help them become a much better criterium rider. Balance is the key for both physical and mental development.
This stuff takes time and successful athletes know this. If we could, I think we would all jump ahead a few years to gain that experience as quickly as possible! As we have written about over and over again, we are talking about the development of physiological systems. Better blood to transport oxygen and remove carbon dioxide. Better gas exchanges in the lungs. Development of mitochondria (where energy is created) in the working muscles. These things don’t happen overnight, they take time. Plus, equally important is gaining experience in the racing environment. Learning about tactics and strategies and developing true race knowledge.
Frequent Races and being a true competitor
Bike racing is different than most sports. In running and triathlon training, you can do some of your best performances in training. Your focus is usually for one event at a time and as you enter your event, given you trained correctly, you pretty much know how you will do. For example if you are training for a marathon to do 3.5 hours, given all things go according to plan, you will be around that and not 2:45 or 4:30. Bike racing is different and you have to race to race. No way to get true race experience but to pay your entry fee, line up at the start line and let her rip!
Successful athletes in this sport race a lot and race consistently. They are focused on certain race goals, but use a lot of races to ultimately prepare for those goals. This is actually a huge benefit to our sport. Unlike marathon running or Ironman triathlon competitors, we can race day after day, week after week. What a bonus! Do a little experiment and track days of training to days of racing and see what the ratio is. Use that as a benchmark to talk to your coach and see if there is room for improvement and make sure you are prepared physically and mentally to do so.
Without a doubt, this is the big one. You can say what you want about having the physiology, but it’s the attitude that successful riders carry that ultimately defines their success. Don’t get me wrong, physiology is important, but more at the higher levels of the sport, not as much at the amateur and weekend warrior levels. A majority of riders we work with have more than enough physiological capacity.
It’s the attitude they carry though the highs and lows that define them. We all fail, we all struggle, and we all go through difficult times. That is a given. It’s how you come out of that time that is important. It’s how you handle losing or failure (strong word, but gets my point across.) Successful riders handle these setbacks and losses with strength and determination. They avoid being super high and super low. If they lose, they congratulate the winner, smile and say, “Good job, you really rode well. I’ll get you next time.” If they get dropped on a given day, they realize there are days that just don’t click, especially as we get older. They don’t dwell, they just smile and focus on the next goal. In short, think about it this way: it’s not just about competition and performance, it’s about health and well-being. We are damned lucky to even be doing this stuff. Realize that and smile when you have a setback.
In summary, discuss these attributes with your coach or family. Understand as an athlete that we are limited more by our environment more than anything else and how much we can and are willing to sacrifice.
Ride safe, ride strong,
Bruce Hendler is a USA Cycling Coach and owner of AthletiCamps in Northern California. For the past 10 years, he and his experienced team have helped athletes of all levels achieve their goals in the great sport of bike racing thru cycling training camps, cycling coaching and performance testing. To contact AthletiCamps, visit their website at www.athleticamps.com or follow them on Twitter.