What it Takes to Win Races or Get to a New Level

This entry was posted in Comments about Cycling on by .

I’ve been thinking some about this past weekend and the races.  I think doing this can make you better at the sport of cycling when you critique yourself afterward and try to learn from the experiences.

I didn’t go into the weekend with the mindset to win.   I went in with the mindset to try to survive and improve.  When you have this attitude, it is rare you win.  I usually win races when I go into a race with all the t’s and i’s crossed and dotted.

I’m pretty happy with how Friday’s road race went.  I had no intention to try to race the first half of the race, so never would have made the early break that eventually won the race.  But the 2nd half, I did a system’s check and decided I had enough energy to race the 2nd half.  I realized that a group would go and made that group.  Eventually I rode into a situation that I was feeling pretty good.  At the end, I felt I had pretty good power and got a little lucky, which is always nice, and finished best of the rest in 8th.

Saturday is a different story at Snake Alley.  I have won the race a couple times and know where you have to ride to win.  I was never there.  I was always riding at least 10 riders back and sometimes more, heading into the climb.  There is no way to make the front split riding from here, especially with my current form.

My main criticism of myself on Snake Alley is that I was making the climb very long.  I was shifting at the wrong point, right at the bottom, entering the brick climb.  To get up the hill quickly, you need to hit the first switchback or two with momentum, then shift.  This makes the hill shorter and leaves you with extra power cresting the top to start the descent.  I was pretty much done going up the last short pitch and didn’t have any juice to accelerate over the top to get up to speed descending.  I know the descent pretty good, so could make up a bunch of time, usually, on the guys ahead, but that won’t save you 20 times around.

Once you get in the survival mode in Snake Alley, the race is done.  You don’t usually come back into race mode again.  I don’t think I’ve ever been in a chase group in that race that has someone come around and put themselves into a race winning position.  I was in survival mode before they blew the whistle.  The results showed.

In retrospect, I wouldn’t have skipped Sunday’s Muscatine race in the rain after knowing I was only going to race 30 minutes on Monday.  Sunday’s race is good for me too.  Not as good as Monday’s, but any criterium with a climb is a race I like to race and  usually do okay at.

Skipping racing in the rain was a mistake.  I could have gotten a little, tiny monkey off my back, being a little apprehensive about criterium racing, or more accurately, cornering fast, in the rain.  The Muscatine course is a very good course to race bikes in the rain.  It is pretty safe, only two tight corners, one being really slow.  It would be nice sitting here right now with that race under my belt.

Sunday, I don’t really know.  I had changed my mindset and was in the race with a race face.  I had good feeling warming up and started with the mindset to try to get a result.   I kept feeling pretty good in the race.  I don’t think I’m going well enough, just right now, to be able to say I could have won the race, but I know I would have been there at the finish and hopefully would have known by the end if I needed to try to be away or just participate in the sprint to finish well.

That is what is so disappointing, crashing only 1/3 way into the race and not knowing how my body would react to the last hour of the race.  I was surprised that I wasn’t overheating, since I’ve had some issue with that historically early in the year.  I guess I’ll never know.

Once great thing about the sport is there is always next week.  There are bike races nearly every weekend through the year.  If you want, I’m sure you could race 52 weeks a year.  So, with those opportunities, there is always a race somewhere if you feel you are going good and want to test yourself.  I think power numbers are all great, but the only way to know if you are going good is to have to do efforts you don’t have control over, and the easiest way to do this is race.

Skipping races when you think you’re flat isn’t necessarily right.  Sometimes, when you’re not going good, or you’re trying to figure out where you are, you need to go to the race to get that information.   Then take that information and try to tweek your training and racing schedule to try to get to the level your happy with.



The first lap of Snake Alley was the only time I hit it at speed.  And it was probably the best, in 8th, I started up the hill the whole day.  It only went downhill from here.


6 thoughts on “What it Takes to Win Races or Get to a New Level

  1. MS

    Sucks to be last. The farther back you get the slower they start up that hill and the front guys are already hitting it hard on the descent. Guy on the very tail nearly had to track stand.

  2. gehry

    Most every race that I ever placed in (with one exception)… It was because I’d gone in telling myself that I would do so. Every move I made during the race intentionally supported this outcome. I used to be afraid of riding up at the front. Daring to do it. Daring to believe that I might be good enough to beat everyone else. Bike races are won by guys who dare to win it. At last 75% of the riders just show up and follow. They hope that they’ll end up in a position to win at the end. But the guys who are in such a position are usually ones who’d decided (long before) that they’d be there.

    Being in the position to win is very difficult. Not only does it require great fitness, but it requires a willingness to stay mentally engaged in the task for the entire race. That’s the exhausting part. It’s so much easier to focus on “hanging” with the pace. Surviving. But all a survivor does is survive. Winners of such races… TAKE victory. They don’t just “end up” with it.

    That one exception? It was when I accelerated on a steep hill early in my first long road race. Only three other guys reacted. Everyone else just sat back. Little did I know that I created the winning break (with just 63 miles to go). But in retrospect, I made that break because I dared to make an acceleration on a climb. I didn’t just follow.

  3. H Luce

    This is your first real race since the injury to your hip – and it’s on the course where the hip injury occurred. For most riders of your age, that would have been a career-ending injury. A certain level of caution – of easing back into things – is entirely reasonable. You need to get responses and reflexive actions back, things you might have lost in the past year of (relative) inactivity. There will be other races on down the road, take it easy and build up to the wins that are in store for you.

  4. gehry

    I just remembered how I hate courses that force everyone into single-file straight from the gun. You have any problem clipping-in and you may as well quit the event right there.

  5. Sean YD

    Tell your camera person to turn their phone the horizontal way. Ick, ick, ick to vertical videos. The new iPhones (thankfully!) won’t even let you shoot in non-landscape (portrait) mode.


Comments are closed.