I nearly tied myself in knots defining this. I mean, we’re all getting older aren’t we? I’m older now than when I first started writing this piece. Verbally untying myself, I’m referring to riders over the age of 50, irrespective of sex, skill level or previous training history. Cycling is a sport you can enjoy into genuine old age – there are 70 and 80 year olds on the same start sheet as 14 year olds at my club time trial. The days when you retired at 65, played two rounds of golf and keeled over are, thankfully, long gone.
However, whilst age is not usually seen as a natural performance enhancer it shouldn’t be viewed as something stopping us from getting faster on the bike. It’s achievable, it just takes application. The Principles of Conditioning (adaption, overload, progression, recovery, reversibility and specificity) apply to older riders as much as younger ones, as do the components of fitness. The effective application of these principles lies in their thoughtful, sequenced deployment to the individual.
I’ll explore the specifics with reference to older riders in more detail another time, but for now it’s worth looking at some broad areas.
This is a much neglected area, and getting it right can give you more sustainable, long term satisfaction and fulfilment out of your riding. There are many commonalities around why people ride but the fundamental drives are often different with older riders. I’m risking over characterising here, but younger riders often want to race although they might not be entirely sure (or even care) what they want to compete in. The primary drive is to win. This is natural, they’ve got the time to discover what they’re best at and they haven’t had the chance to experience the whole of the competitive playing field. They calculate risk in a different way. Sometimes, they don't calculate risk at all. Some older riders want to race, but the drives may be different e.g. fitness, weight management, riding in sportives, social, getting in shape for a week’s riding abroad – the list is endless. Having a few years under your belt can bring a clarity of focus about what you want to get out of your cycling and it’s worth spending a bit of time exploring this. Conversely, if you’ve forgotten why you ride and your motivation, commitment and enjoyment of the sport has ebbed, maybe it’s time to find where you left your mojo.
You might want some support in looking at the pillars of sports psychology notably, goal setting, imagery, self-talk and anxiety control/stress re-framing if this is an area you feel has been holding you back. With some work, this could improve your results or, equally importantly, your enjoyment of cycling.
Older riders have different types of engines. Some well trained and tuned, other less so. The adage that riders don’t train hard enough when they train or rest well enough when they rest becomes more relevant to the older rider. Your ability to train hard when needed coupled with effective rest is paramount to developing and building resilient rather than transitory fitness. It needs careful analysis of your performance data and thoughtful planning. Fitness takes a little longer to develop with older riders and training needs to fit around real life, not supplant it. Your training will need to be specific, targeted and measured. The knowledgeable use of a power meter and a heart rate monitor is, in my view, pretty much essential.
Youth brings a natural ability to adapt and, at a pinch, young riders can cash in their genetic youth tokens and avoid doing the supporting activities that are so important to older riders. It’s the little things like active (as opposed to passive) recovery, developing your core strength, stretching, hydration, nutrition, weight bearing exercise, strength and conditioning and the like that become so important. An injury and illness prevention strategy will mean more consistent and effective training as will recognising the importance one of life’s most vital performance enhancers, good quality sleep. In short, do all the right things to support your 'on the bike' training and you will be a better, faster cyclist.
This is particularly important if you’ve come to cycling as an adult rather than as a child. As a kid, skills acquisition, balance and judgement come from playing on your bike, riding off curbs, keeping up with your mates, riding on different surfaces and leaving chunks of skin on them. As an adult you’re not allowed to get your bike out of the garage and play, you’re scared of what the neighbours will say. Youngsters who aspire to ride at elite level often ‘play’ by spending hours training and racing on the track – this can be an intimidating and unforgiving environment for those of us with a few years under our belts. But finding the right environment to develop your skill level will ultimately make you a more efficient rider and can be a rewarding experience. There’s a lot of satisfaction in mastering and executing a new technique.
If you think I can help you get more out of your cycling then get in touch – if nothing else, age brings a little wisdom and we might learn something from each other.
Rich Smith is quite old and knows a few things about getting older after practising for the last 52 years. He still ascribes to his father’s view that whilst getting older presents certain challenges it is better than the alternative. He has coached the GB Transplant Cycling team for 10 years, is a British Cycling qualified Level 3 coach, a mature psychology student and in a previous life, has 30 years’ experience working in senior roles for Barclays, HSBC, British Waterways and National Grid Property.
Goals - ‘The object of a person’s ambition or effort; an aim or desired result’*. Snappy eh?
You’ll see lots of stuff about goal setting for the upcoming season and the importance of making them SMART at this time of year. At least, I hope you will. Goal setting is 1.0 on the Level 3 Cycling Coaching qualification and, collectively, we coaches bang on about them a lot. And rightly so, goal setting works because at a psychological level they direct attention, they mobilise effort, they increase persistence and they encourage the development of positive responses to obstacles in our training.
So, sure, they’re important, but we can miss a couple of fundamental things right at the beginning of the goal setting process.
Make them yours. Your goals have to be your goals, not just the ones that fit neatly into what your coach wants them to be because they are measurable. Setting measurable goals is easy but if they don’t match what you, in your heart of hearts, actually want to achieve, they’re going to be ineffective. So, spend some time with them, sleep on them, get comfortable with them and develop them with a mind to their resilience. Goal setting is best if it’s an iterative process, so don’t be afraid to ask your coach to challenge you on them, try to find weaknesses with them and thereby improve their quality and resilience. Do this, and they will serve you well.
Most riders can find the motivation to train in early January. We’ve demolished the last of the Roses chocolates and the remnants of the blue cheese has gone in the bin, but by the end of the month things are looking a bit tougher and motivation tends to fade. At this point you’ll need to rely on commitment rather than motivation. If you’ve set goals that overemphasise their SMART characteristics but underplay what actually gets you on the turbo after work, they’re not doing their job. Training hard for the sake of training hard is rarely tolerable in the long term and commitment to your goals is vital in the moments your motivation heads in the same direction as the blue cheese.
Get in touch if you want to talk your goals or 2020 training through…
*OED definition. Anecdotally, whilst I was eating the corporate sandwich for one the big banks, a colleague set a work related performance goal of ‘doing away with his earthly body by turning in to a pure form of energy’. Disappointingly, this was deemed unacceptable by the powers that be.
An introduction to the Shropshire and South Staffs Road Race League.
What is it?
Started 30 years ago as a training league by Wrekinsport’s John Churm. It is now a series of handicapped road races open to junior and senior men and women of pretty much all abilities from novices to Elite and, on occasion, professional riders. It is formed of 12 rounds held on Thursday evenings; you ride 11 and marshal the one your club organises which is not as difficult or as scary as it sounds. There is a maximum of 80 riders allowed in the race with priority given to riders of affiliated clubs who have entered the series. If the race is not filled then unaffiliated riders or those who have not entered the series can sign on ‘on the line’. It is held on open road circuits over 36 miles or 50ks or so, often 5 or 6 laps of a circuit, varying from hilly, to undulating to flat – something for everyone.
When is it?
Broadly speaking, it’s during what us Brits refer laughingly to as ‘the summer’. Opening round on Thursday 7th May 2020 at Knighton, Newport final round Thursday 23rd July 2020 at Charlton, Telford.
Where is it?
Basically, around Shropshire and South Staffs. You can find the courses and the HQs on the SSSCCRRL (catchy huh?) website here. Briefly they are Knighton (Newport) Cannock (Huntington), Enville (Stourbridge), Charlton (Telford) one round is at Swinnerton (Stoke) and there might be a circuit race at Stourport. There use to be a couple of rounds on the Bridgnorth course but traffic lights have just been installed on it so the league committee are considering alternatives.
It is handicapped and, as such, riders are divided in to 4 (occasionally 5) groups based on an assessment of your ability by the appointed handicapper. Many riders return regularly to the league and are known quantities. As a new starter you are almost certainly to be placed in Group 1. This is the ‘slow’ group (the term is relative) and will set off first and will usually having something like a 5 min gap over Group 2. Smaller gaps are usually left between Groups 2 and 3. Group 4, containing the faster riders, will be set off last.
If the handicapping is ‘right’, the groups should come together somewhere near the finish. More often than not the scratch group (the fastest riders) will catch the other groups and take the top placings. Sometimes the slower groups do manage to stay away. Whatever happens, somebody gets upset. The handicapper has an impossible job but is rarely shown any mercy.
You will need a British Cycling race licence which is 40 quid. The catch being you will also need to be a gold or silver member of BC which will set you back £40.50 for silver or £69.30 for Gold. In 2020 the series will cost £165 to enter the whole thing or you can pay £20 on the night. At circa £14 per race, it’s as cheap as road racing gets. If your club is affiliated to the league, you are guaranteed entry to the races.
Entry is open on the British Cycling portal (link here) you can pay for the whole series or four 'stage' payments to spread the pain a little.
There are some small cash prizes for the winners and British Cycling points for the top 10 finishers (10 for a win down to 1 point for 9th and 10th). All riders who finish are allocated league points for club competitions and for leaders jerseys (Vets, Women, Juniors etc).
How ‘good’ do I need to be?
In the olden days when I started in the 90s (that’s the 1990s, not the 1890s) Group 1 would ride at about 22mph before it got caught. There were more older male riders but fewer juniors and women back then. That’s changed quite a bit in recent years. Now, physiologically, starting in Group 1 last year I did the following. Knighton (undulating) 24.1 mph for 1hr 27mins. Huntingdon (undulating) 24.9mph for 1hr 20. Enville (Hilly) 23.2mph for 1hr 27 mins and Charlton (flat) 1hr 15mins at 25mph. This represents finishing with (or near) the bunch, not sprinting it out with the fast lads. For reference, I’m a 52 year old 3rd Cat road racer of modest ability.
If you get ‘spat’ from the bunch (and many do), it’s sensible to look for other riders in the same predicament and finish off the race together – slowing up and letting other riders catch you rather than pressing on on your own if usually the most satisfying way to get over the line. I’ve made a lot of mates this way!
Technically you should be confident in riding safely in a bunch at speed. Just starting out, you at least need to be able to hold the wheel in front of you safely so you can draft. Many riders start out not understanding ‘through and off’ – the principle technique that allows a group to move much quicker than an individual – but get it with experience. Some riders frankly never get it. The best way to learn the technique is to be coached on a circuit before you race. However, if you don’t seek this out, in order that you don’t endanger yourself and others you must, as a minimum I would suggest, be able to hold your line at race speed, particularly when cornering whilst not overlapping wheels. Riders need to look after each other and safety is paramount.
British Cycling have done a useful introduction to road racing you can see here.
There are risks, crashing being the most obvious. I can’t recall any last year but it does happen occasionally. If you’re going to get involved in bunch racing you must understand and accept this as a calculated risk whilst doing everything in your power to keep yourself and your fellow riders safe. It’s not the World Championships and most people have got work to get to on Friday morning. Recently, the racing has, in my estimation, got faster but safer.
The league is supported by NEG motorcycle outriders for each group, a lead car for each group, experienced British Cycling commissaires, and advanced first aid. Frankly, it’s as good as it gets from an organisational perspective.
Hydration and nutrition
You’re going to need to drink safely at speed – one bottle will probably be enough as long as you are well hydrated to start with. You’ll need to eat something pretty quickly after you’ve finished so bring a banana (other fruits are available) and some extra fluids so you don’t either cramp or go to sleep in the car home. Some people use gels during the race – all good, just be careful how your dispose of the wrapping. Oh, and try not to pee in sight of other road users, neighbours etc. If you must and you can’t get back to the HQ, be discrete.
Dropped handlebar race bike in good condition. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, just working and safe but maybe treat yourself to some really nice new tyres. Some people ride with compact chainsets (50/34) on the front. I can’t, I ride a 53/39 with a 28/11 on the back which means I can hit 40mph at Huntington (not bravado, I need this to stay with the bunch) and still grovel my way up Six Ashes at Enville (just – and slowly).
Wear gloves (short fingered track mitts), make sure your lid is up to date, stick a base layer under your race jersey (which will need to be your club’s jersey – the colours of which will be registered with British Cycling). Personally, I wear glasses for protection but that’s your choice of course. On some night’s you’ll need arm warmers and possibly leg warmers and a gilet. Come well equipped.
Bring some spare safety pins for your number. And some dry clothes for afterwards. And a towel!
On the night
Racing starts with the first group off at 7 o’clock. Get there as early as you reasonably can. Changing rooms of some shape and form may be available but learning how to get kitted in the front seat of your car is a handy skill to acquire. Sign on, hand your race licence over and you’ll be given a timing chip and a cable tie in return. Put the timing chip low down on your front forks and trim off the tail. On the first night your race you’ll be given your allocated number if you’ve entered the series. You will keep (physically keep) the number for the duration of the series. There will be a rider briefing by a BC commissaire a few minutes before the race.
When the race is over, get the chip off your bike (bring some clippers) and go get your licence back ready for next week. Or, chuck the lot over the hedge and vow never to do it again, but do hand the chip back in first.
Why should I consider doing it?
It’s very tough but great fun. You’ll make friends. If you’re currently a fairly fit guy or girl with a bike you’ll likely end the season being an amateur racing cyclist – there is great satisfaction and some justifiable pride in that. You’ll be faster, fitter and you’ll have learned some stuff that will serve you well as the rider in the future. You will discover how you can push yourself harder on the bike than you imagined – the frustration of losing the last wheel in the bunch is worse than the suffering of digging in one last time. Trust me!
We’re fortunate to have the league in our patch. A huge amount of effort goes in to running it and, if it’s not well supported by riders and local clubs, we’ll lose it. It’s a valuable resource we should cherish in my view.
Any questions, drop me a line.
It’s a loaded title containing loaded words isn’t it? Nobody likes to make mistakes and nobody likes to fail – it’s far more satisfying watching others do that from a position of safety – but failure and mistakes are utterly essential to us as athletes, coaches and, well, human beings if one has a desire to improve.
We need to reframe mistakes, to embrace mistakes, value mistake and make them much more huggable. They are, after all, our broken friends.
One of the most impactful quotes I’ve come across, and something that helped me view mistakes not as embarrassing little blighters to be hidden away but as a vital component for advancement in pretty much any sport involving technique, comes from Matthew Syed’s book ‘Bounce’. In it he says ‘purposeful practice is about striving for what is just out of reach and not quite making it; it is about grappling with tasks beyond current limitations and falling short again and again. Progress is built, in effect, on the foundations of necessary failure.'
In short, to improve you must try to do things you can’t already do and be prepared to get them wrong. By doing so, and by watching others try the same thing, you either learn how to do them, or how to do them more effectively. The coach’s job here is to ensure a technique is described and demonstrated correctly, broken down into its component parts if necessary and athletes are given the opportunity to practice, to make mistakes and, critically, learn from them.
Creating that ‘free to fail’ environment is way harder than demonstrating a technique but, I would argue, equally important. Of course, one way to start is by reframing mistakes using Syed’s terminology. In addition, something used frequently in business in Change Management is the concept of a ‘rubber room’ – anything that is said or done within the confines of a coaching session, does not leave the room – it stays confidential to the people involved. What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas, right?
Mistakes aren’t bad – they are an essential pedagogical ingredient and creating an environment in which riders feel comfortable enough to try new things and ‘balls them up’ is crucial. In my experience this can be more of a challenge when coaching those who have come to cycling ‘late’ often after having reached a level of proficiency in other sports when they were younger. Adults tend to be more self-conscious than kids and less likely to lose their limiting inhibitions when indulging in ‘play time’ on the bike.
Once you’ve got a group of people comfortable with asking ‘stupid’ questions and happy to try new things in front of others knowing they may balls up, you’ve created an environment of openness, trust and platform to learn. That is a truly beautiful thing. A state where people feel free to express themselves and try things that are new to them in a supportive environment is a great platform for progression. It works with a bunch of riders on a cycling circuit, just imagine what could be achieved in business or politics if people felt free to say what they thought and try new things? Crazy thought...
So, the next time you make a mistake, don’t try to marginalise it, pick it up, give it a little squeeze and see if there’s maybe something you can learn from it. And remember, if you’re not making mistakes, there’s a chance you’re not trying hard enough.
Rich Smith has made many mistakes, amongst them congratulating a women on being pregnant who had merely gained a little weight and attending the wrong funeral. He has coached the GB Transplant Cycling team for 10 years, is a British Cycling qualified Level 3 coach, a mature psychology student and has 30 years’ experience working in senior roles for Barclays, HSBC, British Waterways and National Grid Property.
I should start by pointing out the trouble is with me, not you…
Whilst giving cycling coaching presentations, I’ve often been posed questions by triathletes about their training that I’ve not felt fully qualified to answer - particularly in relation to ultra or Ironman distances. I’m entirely comfortable coaching somebody to ride a 112 or 200 mile bike race, and I’ve coached a rider to complete the route of the Tour de France. However, that’s not after a swim and before running a marathon. I don’t know enough about the bio-mechanical, physiological and psychological demands of the non-cycling events or how they interact with each other in a triathlon sequence to comment with any real authority. I can swim a bit, but I run like Phoebe from 'Friends'.
To plug some gaps in my knowledge, I took the chance to sit down with a few Ironman distance triathletes in Mallorca recently to try to understand a little more about how they fit training around their everyday responsibilities of life, family, work etc.
A few anecdotes I picked up…
From this I’ve observed
I'm beginning to understand why I get asked so many questions but triathletes – anything that’s going to make training more effective means you save time and energy. However, there’s only so much cycling you can fit to a program that involves two other sports and you don’t need me to tell you to do a couple of 45 min spins on the turbo at Z2 in the week and a long ride at 65-75% of FTP because you already know that. Conversely you could probably save yourself a chunk of time on the bike leg by concentrating on technique and getting more aero – there I really could help but, have you got the time?
Comments and observations very welcome
For many of us, the cycling season is over and sooner than we might like, autumn will fade into winter in the UK. Not only does the light disappear but it can be twilight period for riders struggling to know what to do on the bike. If you’ve had a long season of riding and racing, you’ll rightly feel like a rest to recharge the mental and physical batteries is in order, but when do you re-engage in training? Is the thought of aimless turbo sessions staring at the garage door or the washing machine filling you full of dread?
Here are a few things that might help keep you going towards Christmas (I can’t believe I’ve invoked Christmas already…sorry)
Set some goals for 2020 now. Make it something you can commit to so, should your motivation wane a bit over the winter, you’ve got a target to look towards. Motivation comes and goes but commitment is the thing that will help pull you through those tough sessions.
Focus on strength. Now is a good time to get into the gym. There are some exercises that are specific to cycling and others that can help build a solid platform. And SSSTTREEETTTCCCCHHH! Long, strong, lean muscles help pretty much every aspect of physical performance.
Engage your core. Cycling benefits from a strong core but does nothing to develop it. Again, there’s some straightforward exercises you can do at home or incorporate into your gym sessions.
Understand your technology. If you’re training with a power meter on your bike, or have a static trainer that calculates power, you can save a whole load of time and ensure you get maximum bang out of your training sessions by using it productively. Otherwise it just produces pretty pictures on Strava and Training Peaks.
Introduce some variety. Get the rollers out or learn to use them (I’ve got access to some good British Cycling instructions videos), dust off the mountain bike, book a track session (they all do ‘tasters’ where you can hire a track bike etc). If Zwift or Peloton work for you, great. Maybe cyclocross is your thing. I’ve even heard of some cyclists going for a run…
Keep an eye on your weight. My own progression from eating healthy raisins, to chocolate covered raisins, to just eating chocolate is both rapid and linear at this time of year. Everybody is different but maintaining a weight that is healthy for you is important. And, like it or not, weight is an important component in cycling.
Have a plan. A framework, any framework, to keep your training focused may help. Finding ‘the’ framework – one that is individualised physiologically and psychologically for you – will ensure you exceed your 2020 goals. If I can help you with that, get in touch.
Rich Smith has coached the GB Transplant Cycling team for 10 years, is a British Cycling qualified Level 3 coach, a mature psychology student and has 30 years’ experience working in senior roles for Barclays, HSBC, British Waterways and National Grid Property.
I was based at OQ Service Course in Puerto Pollenca, Mallorca last week. I caught up with clients old and new whilst fitting in a little riding at the same time - It would be rude not to, autumn is a fabulous time to ride in cycling paradise, it’s still warm but much quieter than early season in March and April.
The physical representation of the Service Course is a retail unit close to the sea front in Puerto Pollenca right in the middle of the ‘cycling triangle’ formed by the famous Tolos’ restaurant, the enormous Pollenca Park hotel and large bike hire businesses close to the town square. Working out of there in the warm evenings, witnessing the hustle & bustle and excited conversations, I reflected on my past life in corporate real estate and soaked up what a wonderful concept the Service Course is. It combines all that is best in modern retail – those looking to save the UKs High Streets could do worse than form an orderly queue outside to get some great ideas!
In developing the Service Course, Ottilie Quince (of World Transplant cycling fame) has combined the provision of services and products that cannot be purchased over the internet, in a perfect location whilst connecting to a growing group of committed, passionate enthusiasts. You can’t get sports therapy or a massage over the web, nor can you get your bike fixed or pick up or get fitted for a hire bike on the internet. You can’t see, touch and feel the OQ range of casual or cycling clothing available in the shop just by logging on. Just try getting a cup of coffee and catch up about who’s riding where this week on a website.
From a retail concept you could wax lyrical about how the OQ Service Course maximises floor space, develops cross selling opportunities, brand awareness and customer segmentation but in there it’s a community of riders engaging with a service, products and people they know, like and trust. You get a feel, an atmosphere, a buzz and a sense of belonging that the virtual world cannot deliver.
It was fascinating to see newer riders come in, often families and their first time riding in Mallorca. They came in anxious about bikes, routes, guides, everything – understandably wanting to know they and their loved ones were going to be safe and looked after. An hour later they were leaving excited and reassured after getting to know their guide. It’s all about trust and reliability, right?
When you’re spending precious time away from work doing something as absorbing and rich as cycling, you want to be supported by people who share your passion and are there to help and encourage. That what Ottilie and the OQ Service Course does.
The link to the OQ Service Course website is here.
You could even talk face to face with a cycling coach there if you pick your time right…
Rich Smith has coached the GB Transplant Cycling team for 10 years, is a British Cycling qualified Level 3 coach, a mature psychology student and has 30 years’ experience working in senior roles for Barclays, HSBC, British Waterways and National Grid Property. He likes biscuits.
Organisations invest a lot of time and money in team building and leadership courses. In business, these tend to be either delivered in the classroom, building giant Jenga or outside making rafts to navigate a way through treacherous, if imaginary, waters. I’ve done a fair few or these over the years and frankly I’ve loved every minute of them.
Maybe it’s the biscuits.
As for me, alongside my career in business and eating biscuits, I have coached the Great Britain Transplant Cycling team for the last 10 years. A group of riders all of whom have had life supporting organ transplants and use bike racing at national and international level to increase awareness of organ donation and transplantation.
It’s fair to say they are highly motivated, courageous individuals. Their most recent outing at the World Transplant Games in Newcastle/Gateshead, August 2019, a team of 34 riders yielded 32 medals, 13 of them gold. I’d call that high performing.
So, before I get the Lego out or start blindfolding colleagues and persuading them to fall backwards into trusting arms, what team building analogies can be drawn from coaching this remarkable bunch? In business or sport, how does one go about developing a high performing team?
Emphasise the similarities shared by the team members
This is straight forward with the cycling team, amongst many other things, they ride bikes, they're all British and have had an organ transplant – this means they have shared traumas, experiences and back stories. What have your team shared? What makes them similar despite - perhaps even because of - their diversity?
Drawing out and emphasising similarities starts to bring a team together. I once led a team who all changed the ring tone on their phones to ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You’ … BAA DA, BAA DAP BAA DA DAT DAAA! Drove everybody nuts but you knew who was in the team. And never underestimate the power or a uniform. Or some uniformity.
The team must have a clear shared goal
Winning medals individually and as a team is a clear enough for my lot although not all the team will win medals, and the team know that, so maybe the goal is to perform to best of your ability – to try as hard as you can – you can do no more.
If you’re a veteran of multiple rounds of goal setting and performance reviews in business you’ll probably know about making your goals SMART. In business, completion of a project to cost, quality and on time are common but you do need to be specific about how much, how you measure quality and when it’s going to be completed.
How about making goals challenging, interesting and, easier in sport than business, fun?
Having a goal just because it’s measurable is not good enough. Goals need to drive the right behaviour. That’s where their real power of goals lies.
The team needs something to fight against
A little external pressure pushes teams together. A common enemy or a rivalry. It might be another team, organisation or even the Finance Department. Something the team need to work on collaboratively to overcome.
A little conflict, competitive pressure or shared adversity can be a positive bonding influence.
Rich Smith has coached the GB Transplant Cycling team for 10 years, is a British Cycling qualified Level 3 coach, a mature psychology student and has 30 years’ experience working in senior roles for Barclays, HSBC, British Waterways and National Grid Property. Whilst eating biscuits.
Recently, a chunk of my time has been dedicated to preparing the Great Britain Transplant Cycling team for the World Transplant Games being held at the back end of June in Malaga, Spain. At their core, the team are a technically mature group of riders with a good deal of international experience but we also have some new ‘unblooded’ riders and the addition of a new event to play with.
This year, the organisers have introduced a 3-man (or woman. Or man and woman etc) team time trial over 20km so much of my skills coaching focus has been around developing their technical ability to achieve what I hope will be world beating times. Team time trial is great to coach because there is so much in it (group riding, pacing, changing and communication to name but a few) and it’s great to ride because you can learn so much useful stuff. It’s also really exiting!
My challenges have been around advising on selecting the right teams and getting dedicated training time for them – tricky when they're spread all over the UK (from Scotland to the South Coast) and, with Captain Ottilie Quince, there is an international dimension as she’s based in Mallorca!
Physiological training for both the particularly brutal 5km individual TT and the team time trial has, for some of the riders local to me, been at Aldersley outdoor velodrome in Wolverhampton which has allowed them to get some very specific sessions in and produce some useful power figures to help with both training and competition. It is a great facility but nobody, ever, has walked away from Aldersley claiming they’d over heated – it’s always bloody cold there!
To resolve this heat deficit and get some warmth in to my bones, last week I swapped Wolverhampton for Sineu in Mallorca where it was 32 degs to put Otts through her paces in a controlled environment. It's a tough life, but somebody had to live it, right? Turns out I can't speak the language at either venue...
We did two very tough sessions amongst some other (rather less strenuous and more enjoyable riding) along with Steve Donaldson, a more recent addition to the GBTx team. Steve is a classy rider with national representative experience as a young rider before his heart transplant. He also enjoys the awesome almond cake at Sa Ruta Verde in Caimari, but then who wouldn't?
Saturday 20th May sees six of the transplant team competing in the Bromsgrove Olympic 10 mile time trial as a prelude to a skills training session at Stourport the following day. So, keep an eye out for times from me, Gavin Giles, Bob Joliffe, Michael Oliver, Declan Logue and Steve Donaldson.
My GBTx team duties are a happy addition to coaching a number of non-transplanted riders so, if you’re interested in engaging a cycling coach, take a look at the website and drop me a line.
Cheers for now.
2009 was my first visit to Mallorca to ride a bike. After many years of spending a couple of weeks a year in mainland Spain during my winters, it took me a while to get around to dipping my cleated toe in to the Balearic island.
Bradley Wiggins described Mallorca as a Scalextric track for cyclists, and he’s right, the Tramuntana mountains that range across the North West of the island are most cyclists’ idea of heaven and contain many of the classic well know rides. You also have access to some interesting flatter inland routes through the camis and the quieter roads too.
Staying, as many of us have done, in the Po Park in Puerto Pollenca back in March 2009, they’d screen off most of the enormous dining room to stop it from looking so empty. Now….? No way, I’ve seen estimates of 150,000 to 200,000 cyclists every year visiting the island, many in March and April although the season is expanding either side of the traditional spring months. Whilst summer tends to be quiet, October and November are becoming increasingly popular months to ride. Hotel dining rooms have never been fuller.
The pros still tend to be out there in the winter months, November to February mainly, and whilst the conditions aren’t balmy, the experience of riding in 16 degrees on a sharp January day on deserted Mallorca roads is well worth packing some leg warmers for, trust me, it’s beautiful. Certainly well worth missing a reliability trial for if you have the time and money.
In the olden days, there were very few places to hire a bike and when you could find something, the choice was limited and the quality hit and miss. Hotels catered for cyclists in a spirit of reluctant tolerance rather than open armed bonhomie on the proviso they didn’t have too much impact on the real guests and didn’t nick all the bananas from the breakfast buffet.
Woe betide if you had a mechanical over there, needed a massage or a guide or wanted to top up on gels and powders. Possible, but tricky to find when you wanted it.
Okay, so enough of me doing the job of the Balearic Island Tourist Board, we all know Mallorca is bloody brilliant, right? The point I want to make is the cycling scene in Mallorca has changed significantly over the past few years, both in terms of the islands’ offering and the riders who, if you will, buy in to the concept.
Nowadays you can hire a bike of your choice either through your hotel or independently – you can specify crank length, cassette ratios, saddle type, pedals etc. You can book a massage, find guides to show you the best routes, arrange to be picked up in the event of a breakdown, buy photographs of you descending Sa Calobra etc. Hell, you don’t even have to bribe the driver to let you take a bike box on the coach anymore. This, I hope you’ll agree, is a big step forwards.
In the past, riders would go to Mallorca on a ‘training camp’ to prepare for a domestic cycling season. Yeah, okay, it was really a cycling holiday with your club mates but you could kid yourself and significant others it was a vital ingredient in your quest for a 22 min 10 mile TT if you tried hard. I know this. I’ve done it. Many of us have.
More recently, chatting to fellow riders I've found many are training in the UK for a week in Mallorca – they are preparing at home so they can get the maximum out of a week on the island rather than the training for something else. It’s become a destination where you show your cycling form rather than a place you develop it for use elsewhere. Or maybe they are just more honest than me. You decide.
In most aspects, cyclists in Mallorca are now as well catered for as skiers in Meribel. The parallels (no pun intended) between the two activities are striking and, as Mallorca continues to develop as a cycling Mecca, no doubt the similarities in terms of what is being offered to consumers will grow.
There is however at least one distinct and notable difference. And no, it’s not snow.
As a novice skier, you wouldn’t think of hiring your skis and boots, getting a ski pass, taking the lift to the top of black run and chucking yourself off. You’d be out of control, out of your comfort zone and be a danger to both yourself and others. As a novice skier, you wouldn’t join a line of young experts following each other down a tricky off piste section in close formation unless you were 100% sure you could do so safely without ploughing in to the back of them would you? Of course you wouldn’t.
You’ve probably worked out where I’m going with this but, as a cyclist inexperienced in cycling in the conditions Mallorca presents – mountains, switch back climbs and descents, large groups of riders with mixed abilities, fast speeds etc you CAN do exactly that on a bike. You only have to look at the queues outside A&E at Inca or Playa de Muro hospital to prove you can and what the results tend to be.
A novice skier would go to ski school in the morning to learn how to ski safely and proficiently before going out to practice on the slopes to develop his or her skills. Similarly, an inexperienced cyclist should be able to learn to ride safely and efficiently in Mallorca before tackling its more challenging elements. In fact, I’d go as far as saying, particularly as the number of cyclists has increased exponentially but the standard of riding has declined, learning the ropes is essential for your safety and enjoyment.
Not only is the learning process great fun, just like ski school, you make friends and take away some skills that will improve your riding, and the pleasure you get from it, immeasurably. It will also make you safe and competent ensuring you have a better chance of going home with all your skin still attached to your body.
Compacted snow hurts when you hit it at speed, tarmac more so. Plus, the last time I skied down a slope, I didn’t have to contend with a hire car driver coming up the other way.
So, look out for RideFast Mallorca Bike School, coming to a bit of traffic free Tarmac in Puerto Pollenca in October 2017 and then again in the spring of 2018. A couple of hours learning or reprising the basics and you'll be well on your way to a better Mallorca cycling experience.
The ramblings of a cycling coach...