Picking your races is not always about picking the biggest and the best race. The one with the big name, or hard reputation. Being selective could the difference between achieving some goals, maybe some wins, and getting smashed week after week – or even riding your last race season ever! It’s about finding your sweet spot, between what you like and what you’re good at.
One cool thing about being a Semi-Pro is there is no Semi-Pro World Championships. You get to choose your World Championships – and unlike the PRO World Champs, you don’t have to wait until the course suits you before you can have a crack at the win. You can chop and change races depending on your preparation, racing style, physiological attributes.
Yes – that’s the fun part! You design the season as you want it – Yes there may be state championships you want. But if you’re not in for the win – yet – then you can select races that you are in the win for.
Depending on when you started racing – if racing is new to you – ride as many types of races as possible to help you learn about your physiological and psychological preferences.
At first, you can choose, crits, hilly stage races, flat time trials etc. until you understand what you like, and what you’re good at. The trick here is to find the sweet spot between what you like, and what you’re good at.
That’s a better recipe for the motivation to keep going for the long haul than just picking something you’re good at or something you just like.
Personally I’ve done a mix of things over the years – Either actually racing for the (lame humble brag alert) World Championships – races I just wanted to do compete or complete – races well out of my depth – and my favorite, picking events based on my strengths from my experience, self belief and physiological indicators.
Picking an event based on your strengths is definitely the 80/20 of riding the best you can in the shortest time possible. Finding events you can win – based on elements I’ve spoken about already.
Knowing what type of rider you are playing a big role in this. If you don’t know what type of rider you are yet – testing, testing, testing.
First up – you’re either a sprinter or you’re not. This is an easy split because you’re either sitting in and waiting for the sprint – or you have to win the race another way.
Be honest with yourself here. Before anything else, the reality is going to be the start of your journey. If next season is a development year – meaning you don’t have a chance to win in your category – then so be it.
I did want to move away from talking about your season as a whole, but it’s hard to randomly pick races and expect to do well. Unless you’re in a lower grade when everyone is a generalist, and less clued up to their strengths, then you have to follow some type of plan. Without getting into though, let’s take a standardised A, B and C race prioritisation method and pick out some races – without digging into your periodised training plan.
Also, prioritising events has nothing to do with wanting to win the event. We all want to win every time we line up, but it’s all about maximising the ability to realise your A race objectives.
It all starts with your A race. The big one!
How many A-races can you have? That depends on a number of factors, including your responsiveness to training overloads, the type of events for which you are training and the similarity of your A events.
Someone training for long stage races may only be capable of realising one true peak per season, whereas another athlete competing primarily in single-day events can realise two or three, or in some cases, four peaks.
Generally, most cyclists can achieve between one and three peaks. If you’re uncertain as to how many peaks to schedule, I suggest planning two in your first attempt.
Under Friel’s model, you don’t want to pick more than 3 A races per season. I endorse this. Considering you are not building fitness when you are tapering for an event, if you picked 3 races, that’s already 6 weeks out of the season you aren’t building fitness. If your season is 12 weeks – those 6 weeks take-away half of the time you could use for training specific areas.
Outside of tapering weeks, your race season will probably contain maintenance blocks where you aren’t building – instead you’re just holding onto the fitness you have developed up until that point. It paints a pretty clear picture, other than the importance of your off-season preparation, it really shows how a little bit of planning can go a long way.
So start with the number one race you want to do well in – then, have a look at the week after. Are there any races you want to do well in? At max look for 3-4 clumped together over 2-3 weeks
Look a little further now – remember a minimum of 6 weeks apart is needed – but 8 is better. Are there any races before or after that you want to add as an A race?
A couple of cheeky ways to increase your chances of a win is picking either early or late season races. As long as you’ve had a proper build up to either one you chance increase due to other riders not peaking (early) or tired (late). Or choose events that the heavy hitters won’t bother going, or overlap with other big races. Whether it’s an MTB/Road crossover event or just a big event that outshines the one you could do well in.
One final note: Because the entire training week is affected by an A or B event, when there are two events within a weekend, they share the same prioritisation with the higher prioritisation prevailing. The weekend counts as only “one” event for the purpose of counting types of priorities. For example, there’s a road race and criterium on the same weekend. The road race is a B race for you and you are doing the crit to get in some anaerobic work (i.e., it would be a C-event if it was the only race that weekend). The whole weekend counts as one B-event. Stage races also count as a single event.
Once you have those down – it’s important now to pick B races that will help you build race shape. Only racing can prepare you for racing – fitness and tactics practice plays into this. So make these races as similar as possible to your A race/s.
B races are important enough to warrant some reduction in training volume and/or intensity leading up to the event.
Expect to come into your B races a little fatigued. Depending on how you respond to time of the off the bike, it’s possible to have 2-3 days of light riding to get to the start line a little fresher. But don’t expect miracles here – pick your race objective, and use it as a stepping stone to learn and get a feel for the big show.
Again though, think about the time off a building phase of your training plan. You need to be careful with how many B events are scheduled and when they are scheduled.
How many B-races are too many? It’s probably difficult to have more than 10-12 B-races without negatively impacting the overall training load and it’s perfectly fine to have fewer.
In addition to limiting the total number of B-races, you should also consider when the B-races take place. Too many B-races on consecutive weekends leading up to a peak may be counter-productive because your training load is reduced. For example, if you have three weekends in a row of B races beginning in the first week of a build block, then you are significantly reducing the volume for the entire phase.
Try limiting the number of consecutive weekends with B races to two.
The final category is C races. They can be scattered throughout the season – more than likely though, they will be in the early part of the season where you will train through them.
Early season races should include a healthy dose of practice. Work on moving around easily, cornering safely and getting back in the flow of the field. If you’ve recently upgraded, don’t be afraid to work your way around the group and get acquainted. Your fitness won’t be there – unless it is a sneaky A race of yours. But either way, these are good events to get a feel for your competition – your early season weaknesses – and help out your teammates.
Fitness wise these races are just another workout – so it’s important to consider the effect on your overall plan. Just like a group ride can derail your carefully planned training, a race can take over the brain – and throw out any planned objectives out the window. We are human after all.
These races are a great time to experiment with different race strategies. So have a clear picture of what each C race can offer you knowing that your form won’t be there – use them for tune ups, hard workouts, fun events and general growth. You are not limited to how many of these are in your season – but be warned – you need to be careful that these do not push you from overreaching into overtraining.
Yes, it may take some time – but it’s not complicated once you lock in your A races. Finding those, and having the confidence to know that you can race for the win – make finding your B and C races a whole lot more fun.
Apart from everything I’ve spoken about – picking a race that fits into an overall plan maintains motivation when things don’t go your way – and give you your best shot at crushing every rider in the field.
Photo Credit: thelearningcurvedotca on Flickr