Chris Carmichael Blog: A Much-Needed Kick in the Tail

Two weeks ago I was talking with a CTS Athlete about how his season of training and competition was going, and after a while it became clear that he’d gone from being very aggressive to being more passive during the past few months of racing mostly criteriums. This is actually something we see quite often, even though it’s somewhat counterintuitive. As the season progresses and an athlete’s fitness improves, there’s sometimes a reduction in that athlete’s passion for competition. Instead of racing harder and exploiting that improved fitness, you’re on autopilot.

From a coaching perspective, what’s needed is a kick in pants. The race-winning fitness is there. By this point in the year your fitness is almost certainly better than it was earlier in the season, even though you were racing more aggressively then. Racing 45- to 60-minute criteriums weekend after weekend is fun, but the repetition can lull you into a comfortable state where you’re no longer fighting for wheels, thinking about getting into the best position, or sprinting for the victory.

The saddest thing about this scenario is that you’re wasting your hard-earned fitness. You’ve been dedicated to your workouts, committed to your training, and you’re finishing mid-pack because you’re mentally checked-out. Your races need to be the culmination of your efforts, if for no other reason than to justify the work you did to get the start line.


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So, what did I tell this athlete to do? Well, let’s just say I’ll tone down the language for a broader audience, but it boiled down to this:

  • Make the race harder for everybody: You have superior fitness, so use it to reduce the number of riders in contention for victory. Keep the pace high, encourage other strong riders to match your efforts. Aggressive racing favors the strongest riders and eliminates everyone else. When the racing is not aggressive, more riders can just sit in and wait for the sprint or a late-race attack. Don’t want to get jumped by some wheel-sucker? Make the race so hard that he’s not around at the finish.
  • Lap the field: You want an ambitious goal for a criterium? Gain a lap on the entire pack. It’s not easy, but it’s a beautiful way to win a race. You don’t have to try it alone, but if you commit to gaining a lap, you and the riders with you have to commit to get closer the rear of the field with every lap. That creates a specific goal for each and every lap of the race and helps the breakaway stay motivated. Don’t think about the gap behind you; do everything you can to close the gap in front of you.
  • Own the last 5 laps: Maybe you missed the breakaway or the pace was so fast that sitting in was about all you could do. Now there are 5 laps to go and you’re in the pack. Either go on the offensive or stop wasting your money on entry fees! Don’t just sit 20 wheels back and ride it in; make something meaningful out of whatever power you have left. Go to the front and fight for position leading into a sprint. Or get into position and launch a flyer within the final two laps. True, you may fail spectacularly, but you’re not gaining anything by sitting mid-pack, so what exactly do you have to lose? At least this way you cross the finish line totally spent, and probably a little wiser about what you can do better next time.

I got an email earlier this week from the athlete I talked to a few weeks ago. In it he said, “The last thing you told me was to ‘rip their f-n legs off’. That phrase has been echoing in my head through the past two races, especially when the pace slackens. I find myself launching moves or following moves I would normally shy away from, and it’s worked! I’ve never had so much fun racing, I never knew I could race like this, and I’ve also never won two races in two weeks! Thanks!

Chris Carmichael
CEO/Head Coach
Carmichael Training Systems

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