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Toolbox: Lessons From Pro Golf
One of the things we value in our coaching program is using other sports or areas of life to demonstrate how “simple” bike racing can be. Of course, nothing is ever “simple” when 99% of what goes on is out of our control. But still, it can be a useful tool that athletes can relate to…

Have you seen the recent PGA Tour commercial where well-known golfers label each day of a golf tournament with a specific theme? I saw this commercial the other week and thought this would be a perfect analogy to explain how a chaotic bike race can be simplified.

The premise of the golf tournament commercial is that each of the four days has a purpose or theme. Let’s apply that theory to a bike race and see if it can yield a more simplified view of how you and your team can approach a rather complicated situation:

Day 1 – You can’t win, but you can sure lose – On the first day (Thursday) of the tournament the golfers want to get off to a good start with no major mistakes (e.g. bogies and double bogies.)

In regards to the early parts of the bike race, I have a simple question: How many first attempt breaks or attacks actually stay away and win a bike race? What is the percentage? I don’t have any official statistics like major league baseball keeps, but I can tell you that the chances are pretty much slim and none.

We always want our athletes to be aggressive and take risks in order to increase their odds of winning, but there is a big difference between “smart” aggressive, versus “dumb” aggressive. Smart aggressive early on is getting near the front of the group and monitoring things. It’s staying out of trouble when everyone is nervous, fresh, and has good legs. Dumb aggressive is attacking from the gun thinking it will actually work. Of course, there are cases where it succeeds. For example, a bad weather day with major cross winds and rain will throw a peloton into disarray with early attacks. Or if the course is extremely difficult from the gun, like Nevada City here in Northern California, AND the group is diverse in fitness level (35+ Cat 1-4.) Bottom line, you’ll serve yourself best by getting through Day 1 feeling like you didn’t waste energy or throw your chances under the bus!

Day 2 – Cut day - On Day 2 (Friday) of the tournament, the competitor’s primary goal is to make the cut, so they can play through the weekend and thus bring home a paycheck or possibly win.

There is always a point in the bike race where the tide turns and you basically enter the second half of the race. This point begins the true battle towards winning. This turning point may take on many different forms and in order to be successful on Day 2, you must be able to recognize this moment. It may come earlier than later or vice-versa. It’s basically a point in the bike race where the non-contenders have been weeded out that the race is now down to a group that can actually compete for victory.

Let’s again use Nevada City as the example. It’s a very difficult race. But there is a clear point in the race when the tone of the race shifts. The first part of the race is pretty much single file, super hard and you are wondering who the hell is up there driving the pace. But at some point, things change and the race settles. All the weaker riders are gone and all of sudden you notice that you made it through that weeding out process. The pace slows a bit and the group gathers. You have made it through “cut day.”

Day 3 – Moving Day – It’s Saturday, you’ve made the cut, so officially you are in contention with an opportunity to play through the weekend and possibly win. It’s time to move up the leaderboard and make your presence known.

Now comes the point when you distinguish yourself from the pretenders or wannabes. In a bike race, a lot of riders are just glad they made it past cut day and their mental focus and true desire to win relaxes. The first part of the race was hard, but now it’s time to come out and show yourself as a serious contender for victory. You notice that a lot of the riders are getting tired. Gaps are opening more and what used to be easy is now much more difficult. You must be attentive and begin thinking how you will put yourself into position to win. It may be getting into position for the final lead out or in position at the beginning of the last climb. In Tour de France Versus coverage, it’s where they go commercial free for the last half hour!

Day 4 – What’s it all about – “I just want to be near the top of the leader board on the final nine holes on Sunday afternoon.” This is the goal of all the golfers in the field. They know that if they are near the top of the leaderboard, they are now in a position to win. They realize now that there is much more pressure and every shot they make has consequence.

You know, whenever you line up at the start of the bike race and say there about 100 competitors, I would estimate that maybe only 15 of them have the desire and potential to really win. And this is the point to which those 15 aim for. The final stages or Day 4 of a bike race is where winning happens. Again, it may not be the last 200 meters, but there is definitely a point when Day 4 goes down and these riders want to be part of it. Perhaps your team has put you in the position and you take the responsibility upon yourself to win. The bottom line is that everything you and your team have done has been to get you to this point. Day 4 is what those 15 riders strive for week after week. Most riders at the start of the race can handle the first hills or accelerations. Only the potential winners can handle the ones at the end, when they are most difficult. Are you one of them?

In summary, you can use this analogy to break down a bike race into different components. We’ve often talked about how bike races are so different from other sports in that there are no timeouts, commercial breaks, or half times. Hopefully by using this simple analogy, you and your team will gain some perspective on how you can simplify a race and get a good result!

Ride safe, ride strong,

About Bruce
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 or follow them on Twitter.


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