Patience in Racing: Often Overlooked, Never Underrated

HERE. WE. GO! Whether you’re ready or not, the 2021 racing season has started. Many of us are emerging from the months of Zwift training and working up the courage to do that first race. It’s likely racing will be analogous to our first post-pandemic group social interactions. We’re all going to be excited, a little nervous, overzealous, and we’re probably going to be lacking important skills needed for success. Yes, it’s going to be awkward at first but with a little practice we will all be successful.  Yes, I’m still referencing both racing and social interactions. So let’s look at a couple power files from races, shall we? 

Here’s a quick profile of what it looks like when an athlete has zero regard for the race and simply charges full steam ahead.  The first 5 minutes is the best 5 minutes. The first 10 minutes is the peak 10-minute output. The peak 20-minute power comes in, you guessed it, the first 20 minutes.  Same with the first 30 minutes. Overall, this is a horribly difficult, painful and frustrating way to race. An athlete accomplishes very little and by the end of the race they are a shell of their former self as they walk back to their car for that long drive home.  

bike racing from the gun

Typically, this happens for a couple of reasons. First, the athlete may simply be excited and over-eager to participate. Seems simple and sometimes it’s really just that.  We’re all excited to do a real-life race soon.  There’s something about that thrill of battling for position and executing a real-life game plan in the face of your adversaries. But we all need to check our enthusiasm at the door a little bit. The laws of physics don’t change and, unlike your Zwift avatar, the real laws of physics, as stated in the Pauli exclusion principle, don’t allow for two masses (riders) to occupy the same space at the same time (don’t @ me with the exclusions this is supposed to be a fun article). Also, the tarmac is still a fancy word for “hard road surface” and falling on a hard road still hurts.

Second, the rider may not have a lot of confidence in their ability to make the race, meaning the best way to ensure you ride in the break is ride in ALL the breaks.  Seems like a great idea unless you’re not the strongest rider and the strongest rider usually doesn’t race that way.  

The most difficult aspects of race-craft are advantageous positioning and practicing a little bit of patience to make sure your big efforts come when they matter the most. 

Here’s some race files from another athlete who understood that the race would be decided at the end of the day. It’s basically an exact inversion of the first set of images. Both are great examples in their own right.

end of the bike race

Also, here’s a race file from a third athlete who has already started his racing in Europe.  First, notice that the late race was the most important part of the day when many of peak efforts occurred. However, the middle 80km of the race was ridden at a very low and nearly mind-numbing Intensity Factor of 0.64. The ability to ride easy in the midst of a fast road race is important to preserve the high-power matches for the defining moments of the race.

middle is easy

How does one learn how to recognize the defining moments of a race? Practice is obviously necessary but is also not sufficient to improve race-craft. There should be some sort of evaluation and discussion within your team and also with your coach. The team discussion should happen at the race before any phones come out and anything goes on social media. The idea is to do it while the events are fresh in your mind.  Then take some time and write out the 3-5 key moments of your race and how you reacted to them, for better or worse. Discuss those notes with your coach as you examine your race data together.

Finally, something that is starting to become more and more commonplace among winning teams is the utilization of film study and commentary. The technology and utilization have been slow to gain a foothold in cycling but this should be thought of as normal for teams looking to win prestigious races. Also, it wouldn’t be surprising if soon we will be able to view races live streamed entirely from the helmet camera of our favorite athlete. This would be strictly pay per view, of course.  

Thanks for reading and good luck racing! 

About the Author: Adam Mills MSED, RCEP has raced at the elite level since 2002 and graduated with a Masters Degree in Exercise Physiology from the University of Kansas in 2005. His true talent comes with his ability to combine his vast experience with his knowledge of sport. He is indeed a student of science, sport, athletic performance, strategy, and tactics. He continuously educates himself by keeping up to date with current research trends and methods in sport and his clients have reaped the benefits from this work with over 17 national championships in 11 disciplines on two continents. Adam is able to incorporate these attributes on a daily basis to help his clients reach and exceed their goals whether they are a beginner or a seasoned professional. Learn more about Adam and Source Endurance here.