So You Are Fit, But Do You Know How to Win?
By PCG Elite/Master Coach Todd Scheske
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Over the past 10 years, power meters have become much more prevalent, and during that time the analysis involved has become more refined and advanced as well. It is common to hear even beginner riders talk of FTP [Functional Threshold Power] and thinking in terms of watts for outputs. These are certainly all great advancements, but there is something that I find missing in many riders’ pursuit of racing. That is: how to actually win a race.
It is true that without the fitness portion you will have a harder time implementing any strategy or tactics, but strength, without good strategy or tactics, isn’t going to win you a race most of the time. I know, personally, that I’ve won races against stronger competitors. I have a saying that goes something like: “the strongest rider almost never wins, but the smartest rider almost always does.” Being smart in a race is likely more important than what your FTP is, or your 5 sec power.
So what things should you be thinking about in terms of being a smarter rider? First of all, STAY OUT OF THE WIND. Sounds simple right? Look around at how many riders will ride next to the group, or (try to) move up when it is single file into the wind. Racing is about conserving energy until you need to unleash something, not dribbling out power sitting in the wind, accomplishing nothing. Learn to flow with the pack. I’ve seen race files of clients that did the same race as I did, and yet they had half the percentage of zero pedaling. This is where you can also start to use the “power” of the analytics available as well. Look at your road race files and see how much time you spend generating less than 5 watts. If you have a low percentage of (near) zero pedaling, and you were not in a breakaway, then you may need to look at why and find ways to save energy.
Jacques Anquetil (racer on left), though a superb time-trialist, regularly out-thought his competition. Here, Anquetil is racing against Raymond Poulidor, a better climber. But it is Anquetil the supreme strategist who has five Tour de France wins.
Remember it is not a contest of who does the most KJ of work!
Secondly, ask yourself two fundamental questions: “What am I doing?” and “Why am I doing it?” This will help you with the first point above and also help you start to correct for mistakes on the road. I hear often from athletes, “I just found myself….” Don’t just let things happen to you. Own what you do. If you find yourself, say, sitting on the front, ask the questions: Q: What am I doing? A: Sitting on the front. Q: Why am I doing that? If you aren’t setting up a teammate or helping chase something, etc., then stop it. Even if you are chasing something, ask the same questions!
Third, respect everyone and fear no one. If you ride with respect, you mitigate the tendency to ride dumb. Kind of like the proverb that says, “Pride cometh before a fall.” I’ve seen strong riders sit on the front, pulling people, because they think they are “hurting them”. Most likely, the reality is you aren’t. So respect that they are fit and strong, and don’t just pull people, or don’t lead out a headwind sprint from 500 meters, and then expect to win. When you respect other people’s ability, you recognize that you cannot be foolish in the race and waste energy. Along the same lines though, don’t fear anyone. Don’t negate your chances by thinking that you aren’t good enough. You are lining up to race, so you deserve to be there. Ride like it! Confidence and respect set the stage to make good tactical decisions and plan solid strategies.
So yes, use the power meter and be strong, fit and fast. However, make sure you are a smart rider too, so that those tools are put to good use. Use those tools to be even smarter by knowing yourself even better.
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