Years ago I read Boyhood Racer by Mark Cavendish. Something he mentioned that I never believed is that he said lots of cyclists are fit enough to race the tour but almost none of them have the technical ability to make it even 10 km without crashing. I never believed him. Then I did Redlands, a race three levels (maybe 4?) Below the Tour and now I get it.
Because of power meters, I think lots of up and coming dudes put out dece power in training and then think “I could hack it’ but then they get in a race, can’t race their bike, then find themselves at the back of the field clinging to the last wheel, pinned, staring at their Garmin report the power they assumed made them fast. Welcome to the NRC.
It’s hard to get a result when you’re the last dude in a 160-person conga line. It turns out if you want to bike race fast you gotta be good at racing, or as James says, “You just gotta bool, bro.” So how do you bool?
I have no idea. But since I’m usually the last person in the conga line, maybe take what I do and do the opposite:
Dread pain > Embrace pain
What you shouldn’t do: Not pre-commit mentally to go hard AF.
What you should do: Embrace pain, even look forward to it. I know that sounds dumb, kinda self-helpy, but I notice that my teammate Chaz before races often says, matter-of-factly, “I’m going ham today, dumb hard”, and the way he says it you know that he’s pre-commiting to absolutely butchering himself.
Why tho?: Because at the start of the race, or when it starts hurting bad, the difference between holding a wheel that keeps you in the group or losing the wheel can depend on whether you mentally decided before the race to just freaking murder yourself. Thinking about it might take a second you don’t have to make the group.
You don’t do that? Easy for you to say. Giving “100%” is easy to read on a bumper sticker and pretend you’re that terminally unique person that really can tap into everything you have day after day in a stage race.
Race scared > Sack up
What you shouldn’t do: Give up spots for free, stop trying to move up, hit the turns like a semi, not ceaselessly try to move up.
What you should do: You gotta have sand. I don’t think there’s any way around this in bike racing, but the higher up you get the faster it is, the more people there are, and the more comfortable you have to be taking lines, chances, and moves the part of you that doesn’t want to die really doesn’t enjoy.
Ironically, I think the less you think, the better. If you think about your nerve, you lose them.
Why tho? High-level bike racing is in some ways a game of chicken. If you blink first, well, you’ll lose.
You don’t do that? Yeah, I get scared.
Give up > Keep killing yourself
What you shouldn’t do: When you look at a race profile you think the move is going to go on the hill or some corner at some predictable point so you’re mentally not prepared to box yourself on some random section when it’s not supposed to be hard and you get dropped.
What you should do: Don’t just be prepared, but expect the race to get dumb hard at any time and to give everything you have to stay on.
Why tho? Maybe it’s just me, but sometimes it’s a shock when you’re in the first 20 minutes of a 95 miles race and the entire field is strung out and you’re in the draft doing 380+ for 20 minutes. You think, ‘shit, we’re not even a lap in and I want to die, I can’t hack this shit.”
Maybe. Or maybe if you just hang on, you’ll make It through this moment. And maybe you’ll remember to eat, move up a bit, and keep repeating this for the entire 95 miles race and end up doing better than you thought you would even though four hours earlier you thought you might not even make it through the first 20 minutes.
You don’t do that? I actually do, but it’s still hard for me to believe.
Imposter syndrome > Just go hard
What you shouldn’t do. Think you don’t belong in a field.
What you should do Just go hard.
Why tho? If you think you don’t belong you’ll race like you don’t belong. Maybe you don’t, but you shouldn’t just check yourself out, your legs should.
You don’t do that? Yep. I struggle to believe in myself even when I have reasons to.
Why you need to bool: Actual racing is as much about booling as it is about watts.
How do you bool? Don’t overthink it; just go ham.