Making the leap from casual rider to competitive cyclist is a decision that should not be taken lightly. It requires a new degree of physical and mental devotion to the sport as well as a whole new training approach.
Competitive cyclists ride differently, eat differently and sleep differently. They also plan for whatever challenge the road may hold. Are you thinking of joining the ranks of the elite? Here are four essential tips to make your transition easier.
Look the Part
When starting out, you may feel the need to put most of your riding budget toward essential gear such as your bike, cycling shoes and a helmet. Eventually you’ll need to invest in cyclist apparel. Not only do these form-fitting shirts and shorts wick away sweat and heat, they also considerably reduce wind drag. You might feel uncomfortable in a tight-fitting cycling outfit for the first few miles, but the true benefits reveal themselves after a few hours on the road.
When choosing an outfit, make sure it fits a little tighter than you’d like because it will stretch slightly. If it’s too loose, you risk experiencing some serious chaffing.
Competitive cyclists know that training is hard enough under ideal conditions. When making the leap from casual cycling to a structured training routine, you’ll want to do everything you can to remove any surprises from your long ride or interval session. Try to nail down a consistent training and eating schedule and stick with it. A surefire way to bonk out during a ride is by skipping a meal or eating one right before a ride.
Additionally, before heading out, inventory your gear to ensure that nothing is left behind. You don’t want to be 70 miles from home base and discover you’ve forgotten a spare tube, energy gels or a portable charger for your phone or GPS device. Having a consistent routine on day one will pay off huge down the road.
The gap between a casual cyclist and a competitive one comes down to two or three days of training per week. Even top cyclists spend most of the week riding at a slow, steady pace to aid recovery and build up energy stores for harder workouts.
Real improvement is born from serious interval training, which involves riding at a fast pace for short bursts with quick recoveries in between. This not only builds muscle, but it also teaches the body to be more efficient with the way it metabolizes fuel and delivers oxygen to the bloodstream. To improve your average speed over long distances, you must slowly put your body in a position in which it’s able to handle the demands.
Competitive riders must walk a thin line between riding smart and riding fearlessly. Whether training or competing, you have to anticipate every possibility but also be prepared for the unknown. Competitive riding requires a whole new level of mental focus so that you can maximize every crank of the pedal.
In general, casual cyclists break too early and change gears too late, wasting energy and killing momentum. Start paying attention to the road in front of you and making decisions in advance. Shifting gears a few beats early is favorable to shifting too late. And don’t lay on the brakes just because you’re traveling downhill. Look down the road to see how the terrain is changing. You might appreciate a little extra boost at the bottom.