What a weird, obsessive, tough world it is in amateur racing!!
For the young teens and early twenties kids it’s pretty simple. Responsibilities are less, focus is clearer, and they have that slim youth on their side to make it happen. Going all in doesn’t really implicate anyone, or their future, and they can enjoy putting a few years into the sport and seeing where it leads them.
Then there is the post-college rest of us. We are pretty clear, or should be, that cycling is not going to be our career (from what we do on the bike) and yet we still have the ambition to achieve, race, get faster and win! For a majority of us becoming a pro cyclist would be a significant step down in quality of life, pay and take us out of the priorities we have in our lives. But we’d still like to experience being the first across the line - or a major contributor the result for our club.
The difficulty of doing this as a post-college competitor is why you see so many people put that 2-5 years into cycling and eventually burn out. It simply takes years to build skills and experience in the sport (what we spend a tragically small amount of time on) as well as the endurance fitness to compete at different levels. This turns into guys always a little down and disappointed in themselves because they can’t skip any steps and suddenly have fitness to compete, and they don’t have the skills or experience to make the most of the fitness they have.
Fitness is the main component to doing well in a race but so are the skills of the sport and competition which make a huge difference whether we are in a race or on a windy group ride.
That’s why we decided at our Velo Bike Lab camp to focus on skills from those that have solid experience instead of trying to log a couple hundred miles. Fitness we can always build, but the times to really sit down, think through and practice core skills in cycling is rare. We brought in Source Endurance, the coaching group I’ve been personally working with, to run our camp this year and it was the perfect experience for us as an amateur group of racers and cyclists.
Each day had a ride or two that started with a seminar on a core skill or strategic option in racing - then we went on a 40 mile ride to put the skills or dynamics into practice. We had two groups roll out - a racers group with SAG and then a riders group with SAG. The rides then could have the right intensities to work on breakaways, leadouts, echeloning and more without us then having a death march back to camp.
The end result was a dramatic uptick in the skills of our group and as importantly the chemistry between our riders to use those skills in a race scenario. Chemistry is crucial if you hope to ever execute on team skills in a race - no matter how simple. Having that going into a season is fantastic.
But even MORE importantly this same chemistry and set of skills is important for any group of cyclists that just want to rider better together. So many of our riders, who don’t race, were talking about how much it made a huge difference knowing how to communicate and ride together to address challenges. From climbs, to heavy winds, to basic communication together all improved - all meaning a success for everyone that attended the camp.
I think that it is important for local clubs to realize that we aren’t the place that pro cycling happens. Elite local cycling? Yeah, sure. But we also need to support the building of chemistry and skill in the sport for all the cyclists that compete with each other, the elements and for the killer experiences we all know are waiting for us out on the road.