It is Tour time, so what better time could there be to learn a little about cycling from professional cyclists. Watching coverage of this year’s Tour de France reminds me of some of the tricks I learned during my days as a pro cyclist. Here are a few that I still do, but are not very common to see at a tri.
Know the course
This one is not as straightforward as some might think. Many, if not most, people pre-ride some or all of a course, or drive it, before a race. That is all well and good, but that is not "knowing" a course for a cyclist.
Back in my heyday as a cyclist, between stage, races, and crits I could have 40+ race days a year. With that much racing, it is nearly impossible to pre-ride or even drive all the different courses. So many cyclists tape a little piece of paper to their stem with the course profile. Then we base our nutrition schedule off this course profile. I know how often I want to eat and drink during a race, and I have a good idea what my pace is going to be during a race. With the course profile I can map out the most advantageous places to eat and drink during the race, finding slight downhills or longs flats that correspond to my schedule. With my little piece of paper taped to my aerobar I can take all the guess work out of one of the most important aspects of triathlon.
It is no secret that cyclists do not have a great deal of respect for triathletes' bike handling skills. I have witnessed triathletes completely miss the apex of a corner, brake on a straight down hill, and nearly knock out a volunteer trying to grab a drink at an aid station. It became clear to me why this happens when I began coaching triathletes.
Triathlon is not a sport that most people grow up with. Athletes who do not come from a cycling background can be very tentative on their bikes. If someone hasn't been on a bike since they were a kid, and are now on a bike that costs more than some cars, they may ride it as though it was a piece of art.
The key is ride your bike like a kid, that is how a professional cyclist rides.
Do not be afraid to ride your tri bike on a dirt road, off a curb, no handed, or even do a skid (though it is not great for the tire). This is how you get a feel for your bike and begin to understand how it handles. Which provides more confidence so you carry more speed through a corner, cruise down a hill without touching the brakes, and grab a water bottle from a volunteer at an aid station without stopping.
You do not need the most expensive gear
If you are a bike geek like me, or have raced in UCI races, you probably have noticed that not every on a team rides the same bike. The riders on the team whose numbers end in a 1 or 2 are usually the only people that get the top-of-the-line components.
(Quick side note: In UCI bike race every team has a block of consecutive numbers with the first number ending in 1. The team then gives the number ending in 1 to the team leader, who is the rider expected to win on their team. The number ending 2 goes to the rider who is tasked with keeping the leader in an advantageous position in the race. The rest of the numbers go to the domestiques whose job it is to drop back to grab bottles/food from the team car, cover a breakaway, and freely give their wheels to the leader if there is an issue with the leader’s bike on the road.)
The other riders on the team, domestiques, typically get the second or third tier components, and sometimes frames, of the team sponsor. The point is, not all the professionals in the Tour de France are riding the highest end components or frames. It true that a $100 front derailleur looks prettier than a $40 one, but they both do the same job just as well and the difference in weight might be perhaps an ounce. Picking functionality over fanciness is a great way to save some money for more race entries, or better yet, Team MPI coaching!