Patient aggressiveness and bike racing
One of the cyclists I coach is making excellent physical progress toward his A-priority race goal of a podium at his state's road race championships in a few weeks. Here's a note I sent to him describing what I think is the key to his success...
"We're down to five weeks until the State Road Champs. I'm pretty sure we'll have your fitness ready for the race. As mentioned last week, you are in better shape on the bike than one year ago, according to the PM Chart. I suspect that is true in reality, also. But you're not going to physically dominate the group like a Lance would do. So the key to a podium at state roads is probably more mental than physical. Unlike most other endurance sports, bike racing outcomes are usually determined as much by strategy and tactics as by physical fitness. I believe success in road racing is primarily based on two racer mental qualities: patience and aggressiveness.
"Patience is the capacity for calm endurance. When everyone around you in the group is starting to nervously wind it up, the patient rider calmly positions himself for what he anticipates will soon happen--and then waits for the proper moment to finally be aggressive. Bike racing patience comes from knowledge gained through experience--knowing the riders to watch, knowing the course, and knowing the way the race is likely to unfold.
"Aggressiveness is assertive and bold riding. This is the easy part. In covering another rider's move or in attacking, this is when the fit cyclist may "burn a match" with an appropriate amount of effort/power for the situation--not too much or too little.
"The patiently aggressive rider unleashes the restraints at just the right moment--neither too soon or too late. His power is applied at exactly the right time. In contrast, the impatient rider becomes assertive at the wrong times and squanders precious energy. The aggressive part is easy. Most riders waste their matches by riding aggressively at the wrong times and so are likely to remove themselves from the key moments in the race when the outcome is being determined.
"Patience is hard to learn. You must restrain yourself when your body is feeling powerful and anxious. This is the time to become finely tuned in to what is going on around you. Instead of needlessly burning a match at these times focus on getting yourself in just the right position so that you can't get boxed in and are ready to respond to any important moves. Now is the time to pay attention to other riders. Is anyone looking around nervously, shifting, moving up or back, out of the saddle, repositioning to the left, tightening shoe closures, etc. Listen to what is going on around you, especially breathing and gear changing. If the sun is right, watch for shadows coming up from behind you. Observe the other riders' faces--nervous, calm, suffering, placid? Using all of this information, you should always be ready to spring at just the right time to take advantage of someone else's match while conserving yours for when it really counts.
"I'll remind you of patient aggressiveness over the next few weeks as you prepare for a podium. You should practice this quality in your group rides and lower priority races in the next few weeks. If you master this skill, given your new level of fitness, you should be there at the finish. This will be fun."