“Cycling is more than a test of strength, power and speed – it’s also a game of strategy”
When it comes to post-mortems after disappointing race results you can divide guys into two broad categories – those who blame themselves and those who blame everyone else.
This is more about the latter and we all know them, with their usual litany of excuses and moans after every race:
- ‘Nobody would work with me’
- ‘They were just chasing me down’
- ‘They were riding stupidly’
- ‘They moved the line’
- ‘The race was too short/too long’
- ‘The route was too hilly/too flat’
- ‘He sat in all day and then jumped me’
- ‘I got boxed in’.
Everyone can add to the list.
Sure, sometimes such things do happen and, even though you have done everything right, chance runs against you.
Also, chin-wagging after a race is part of the fun: sharing the lows and highs, laughing at the funny bits and venting over the frustrations.
However, analysis is an important part of learning and that doesn’t happen if disappointing performance is always projected externally. So, if I get involved with a developing rider who wants to learn and improve, I sometimes have to interrupt the post-race analysis with: “Don’t blame the other guy – I don’t want to hear about it!”
For some, it takes a little while to adjust their thinking to the alternative form of analysis: ‘what I might have done differently’.
Recognizing The Strategy Game
In addition, some people don’t realize fully that cycling is more than a test of strength, power and speed. It’s also a game of strategy and if you are out-foxed it’s not something to be telling everybody about – or at least ‘blaming’ the smarter guy for.
Take the classic case of the two riders away in a break, with one doing all the work in front and the other sitting in and saying he’s not going to go for the win. And then he jumps from behind at the sprint. It’s a simple and classic case of strategy winning over strength.
Perhaps it’s not ‘sporting’ behaviour and we don’t like it, but there’s nothing in the rules which says that riders have to tell the truth. The biggest prize is for the one first over the line, not for the nicest guy or the most ‘honest’ rider.
It’s a matter of respecting and learning strategy – if the other guy does it better at it, and mis-leads you in the process, there is no point in blaming him. If that other guy is stronger on the day and simply out-rides you, you normally give him the credit. If he tactically out-manoeuvres you on the day, then give him credit for that also – it’s an equal part of the game.
Formalizing Post-Race Analysis
Most serious riders will do some form of post-race analysis where they reflect on how the race panned out, how closely performance matched expectations, what were the pivotal decisions, and such like.
Others do it more formally, such as keeping a training and racing diary and writing some thoughts after the race. If working with a coach it can be more formal still, with the strategy feedback provided along with the other ‘data’.
Analysis, of course, begins with the race plan, if there was one: did the plan work or not work, and why? Or, was the plan adjusted well to suit the unfolding dynamics of the race – an essential tactical skill in cycling.
The more significant the race the more detailed the plan the analysis can become – this is where ‘marginal gain’ makes the big difference.
The most important things is to make the post-race analysis introspective and habitual. Whichever way you go about it, here are a few headings to work from:
- The days before: was the taper right, along with rest and nutrition?
- Reconnaissance: did I know enough about the event, the route, weather, wind directions, opposition?
- Warm up and preparation: had I time for a proper warm-up and have the right equipment, kit and nutrition ready?
- Motivation and planning: did I start in the right frame of mind, with clear goals and strategy?
- Nutrition: did I eat and drink adequately during the race?
- Concentration: did I stay ‘awake’, constantly ‘reading’ the race and thinking strategically?
- The finish: did I know the finish well enough, had I a good plan for it and how did that work out?
- Strategy: what three things did I do well?
- Strategy: what three things might I have done differently?
- Planning: what will I try differently in the next race?
Some people have a naturally good ‘race-brain’ – it’s an innate talent and they have ‘a knack’ of making the right move at the right time.
However, like physiological ability, the race-brain can also be trained and, when a pattern of objective assessment is developed, significant learning can being to happen.
The first step is to stop blaming the other guy!