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Every so often I get the privilege to tag along for a ride with the pros when they’re back here for the summer. The tolerate my bad jokes, they wait for me at the tops of the hills, and throw me a spare tube when I’ve punctured for the third time.
It will probably come as no surprise that these guys are are no different than you or me. They ride the same roads, receive the same obscenities yelled at them from drivers, and they’ll talk the same shit (with the exception that sometimes they’ll say surreal things like “hey, remember when Cancellara attacked in Paris-Roubiax last year…yeah, that really hurt…)”.
Besides raw talent, hard work, dedication and ability, these guys are much the same as the rest of us. No secret there. However, I always watch with a close eye to try to quantify any differences or pick up any secrets. Here are a few subtle ones that I’ve been able to pick out:
1. They spin. Oh, do they spin. They tap out 100 rpm and don’t ever, ever stop. It’s not that they’re necessarily going fast, but they’re always spinning their legs over at a nice tempo. They don’t waste a metre of their ride coasting along. When you ask experienced coaches what the most important aspect of cycling is, they’ll tell you it’s pedalling. It sounds so basic, but there’s nothing that holds more truth.
2. They don’t hammer. They ride casually out to their training grounds nice and easy. There’s often a coffee stop in there somewhere. I know this isn’t true all season long, but you’d be surprised at how moderate many of their rides are.
3. They do intervals. Once they get to Kinglake, the Dandenongs, or wherever they’re heading, they almost always have intervals to do. Each of them different. This time of the year will usually entail some strength endurance work up in the hills and a lot of ~150km rides down the beach and back.
4. They ride tightly two abreast and respect the traffic. When traffic is building up behind them, they single up and let it pass. They ride like they have a right to be on the roads, but use common sense and don’t abuse that right. They also don’t ride in small groups.
These guys deal with traffic on a daily basis and know how to keep out of trouble. The people who I see most get into pissing matches with the traffic are the punters who don’t know any better. I could go on about this one, but I won’t…
5. The can descend, fast. They’re very comfortable descending and they make it look so easy. The lines they take are picture perfect and they’re in full control. They’ll sometimes even get something to eat or drink at 75km/hr and make it look like there’s nothing to it. Click here for tips on descending.
6. They’ll dress with long sleeve jerseys, leg warmers, vest, and booties when training. Even if it’s 20 degrees outside. So pro. Racing is a different story.
7. They know how to suffer. Ask most guys what separates an amateur from a pro, or even a pro from a top-level pro and they’ll always tell you that the best of them know how to suffer. They can hold on just that little bit longer and can put themselves into the red for a split second longer than the others until they crack.
After a crash, they’ll pick themselves up and climb back on. It’s not in the legs, it’s in the head. It often takes years of experience to develop this mindset. It’s funny that these guys are among the toughest athletes in the world, yet they shave their legs and wear lycra.
8. They shine. Everything glistens. Their clothing is in perfect knick, their drivetrain is clean and their bikes sparkle. You can see a pro from a mile away because of this fact alone. I haven’t confirmed this, but I’m pretty certain they lather up in Mr Sheen every morning.
9. Their endurance. The speed at which they climb is obviously very fast, but when I compete in races such as the National Championships, the one thing that is very apparent is that the pros are able to keep going at the same speed after 120km. That’s when the race really begins. Meanwhile guys like me are digging fairly deep during every climb and we tend to start tiring out after 100km.
The pros keep going and are able to lift after this point. This is, of course, a result of their superior fitness. If you look at some power data you probably won’t see anything outstanding. However, the fact that they’re often so damn light brings their power-to-weight ratios through the roof.
10. They’re small. To the point above, most of the time it is quite striking how small many (not all) of the pros are. Even guys who look fairly large in photos or on television are still quite small compared to most of us. When on the bike everything is in proportion so it’s tough to get a feel for their size, but when you see many professional cyclists in regular clothing you’ll notice how small you need to be to compete at the highest level.
Even though I’ve been around cycling for a long time, I still can’t resist the temptation to ask these guys all the rookie questions that I already know the answer to. I rarely get an answer that I didn’t expect. Just like everyone else, I’m always looking for those little “secrets” that they might be able to fill me in on.
The fact is, there are no secrets that will make us go faster or be better riders. There’s nothing special in their waterbottles or with the food they eat. They don’t use gimmicks or special equipment the rest of us don’t have access to. The biggest difference between us and the pros is that they’re extremely talented and dedicated individuals and are much more headstrong when competing. They don’t do anything that’s drastically different than you and me.
Have a great weekend and work on point #1, your spinning. Ride safe!