This year could be the biggest so far for cycling in Britain. Our racers are riding the crest of a wave, cycling has never occupied such a prominent place in the UK's collective consciousness. Chris Sidwells suggests some of the ways you can make 2014 your best biking year ever
1. Reach for the stars
This year could be the biggest so far for cycling in Britain. Our racers are riding the crest of a wave, cycling has never occupied such a prominent place in the UK’s collective consciousness, and the world’s biggest bike race is coming to Britain. Chris Sidwells, with the help of a few top racers, suggests some of the ways you can make 2014 your best biking year ever
2. Live in the moment while holding on to your dreams
Focus on each aspect of your cycling as you do it. Plan to make the best of your ability. Focus on each single training session as you do it, and only that training session, then move on to the next.
In short, focus on what you are doing and don’t let everything get jumbled up, or you’ll end up going through the motions and not realising your potential. Above all, regard everything – training, recovery, eating or looking after yourself and your bike – as an essential step towards your goal. Because that’s what it is.
Some coaches call living in the moment ‘being in the flow’ and many consider ‘the flow’ as the gateway to the perfect mindset for competition. They call that ‘being in the zone’. The zone is a state beyond focus; it’s where you feel in total control, where you are dictating what happens, and everything around you slows down so you can analyse it correctly and do the right thing.
The flow is something you work on and practise, but once you’ve cracked it you can switch on the flow any time you need it. Keep doing it and you’ll soon be able to get in the zone when you need to. More about flow later, where we consider mantras and rituals.
3. Get a bike-fit
Lots of companies and individuals offer this service, and there has been lots of work on the interaction between cyclist and bike. The thing is there’s almost too much. You will get more from your cycling after a pro bike-fit, but who do you choose to do it?
One way would be to consider if you have any injuries or other physical problems that affect you when cycling. It might be best to consult a bike-fitter who has a physiotherapy background, or who works closely with a physiotherapist. Otherwise, find out from other cyclists you know whom they went to. Or keep buying this magazine, because we review the services of bike fitters regularly.
4. Love your bike
Look after it and cherish it, every day if necessary. It can be a chore but it needs doing. A clean, well-maintained bike boosts morale. It says the right thing about you and gives off positive vibes that you and others absorb. Plus, you won’t progress very quickly if you are always having bike problems; constantly having to be rescued by others puts a strain on friendships too.
It also helps in practical ways – a clean, well-maintained bike is more efficient. For example, a lot of energy is lost through a worn and/or dirty and badly maintained chain. Last, and by no means least, a clean and well-maintained bike is a safer bike, and we need all the help we can get out there on the roads today.
There are books about this, and about mantras and rituals. But basically, visualising a race or training session going perfectly can help you achieve that. To help you get started, try thinking about times when everything went well, when you were flying. Recreate the feeling of those times in your mind and dwell on them so your brain can create a pathway to access them when you need to.
Couple your visualisation with a mantra and a ritual and you could tap into some powerful stuff. We kid you not – most top sports people do this, but it needs practice, and you will feel self-conscious at first. It’s worth sticking with it, though, honestly.
6. Don’t make excuses
Make the best of what you’ve got; don’t put things on hold until your perceived situation gets better. Even some talented sportspeople do that, and it’s one reason why they don’t achieve their potential. You hear them say things like they did such and such a race for the experience of it, but next year (when this or that will be in place) they will really go for it.
The thing is, this or that might never be in place, and they might already have missed their best chance. Top sportspeople don’t put things off, they play with the hand they’ve got, the one dealt to them at the time. Their secret, though, is that they play it well.
7. Don’t let yourself be held accountable for other cyclists
There will always be cyclists who ride through red traffic lights, or otherwise breach the law and generally get on everyone’s nerves. Don’t get drawn into arguments about it. What they are doing is nothing to do with you, but some people will try to involve you simply because you are a cyclist. Don’t let them. Tell them what others do is nothing to do with you. Refuse to argue. It’s just a small thing but it can make life much easier.
8. Improve your diet
I know, you read this everywhere, but good diet is important for good health, and as we understand more about exercise, we now know it’s crucial for good performance.
You don’t need to live like a monk; just get interested in food and follow these broad principles, as follows:
Cut out as much sugar as possible. Eat complex carbohydrates, adequate protein and reduce the amount of saturated fat you eat. Unsaturated fat is fine, but increase the sources of omega-3 fats you eat. Cut out all hydrogenated fat. Do this and you’ll lose weight, feel better and ride longer and faster. We promise.
9. Stay positive
No matter how hard things appear to be, so long as you are going forwards, you are making progress. This is especially true if you set yourself a scary objective. The thing to remember is that progress in fitness is rarely linear.
You progress in distinct steps, and sometimes it can feel like you step back. But don’t let that put you off. Try to analyse why you went back, and address the reasons. And if there aren’t any, keep the faith – you’ll soon be back on track. Above all, don’t expect too much from yourself at once, just practise realistic optimism instead.
10. Watch the Tour de France in Yorkshire
Or Cambridge or London, or anywhere between the two. It’s going to be incredible, and it won’t be the same on TV. It’s going to be a massive cycling party that will take the country by storm, and you’ll regret it forever if you aren’t part of it.
Cycling has been though several turning points in the UK recently, and this could be the biggest. It could be when everyone ‘gets’ what we see in cycling. It’s just a brilliant thing to do.
11. Build a support group
It helps to have people on your side. A coach can inspire, counsel and direct, but above all he or she will be in your corner – because that’s the contract you have with a coach, whether you are paying or not. But there’s other support out there if you look for it.
Buy stuff from your local bike shop, get your bike serviced there and get involved in its initiatives, and it will come through for you when you need it. A good sports practitioner will help keep aches and pains in check, and can even help prevent time-consuming injuries. Lots of people can help, so get them on your side.
12. Train specifically
If you have an objective, make sure you analyse it, like British Cycling analyses its own. For any event, even the Tour de France, BC asks one question first; what does it take to win? It lists the answers, then it addresses them with the correct training.
That’s what you should do. Analyse your objective, break it into its constituent parts, and tailor your training to the parts. Of course, your realistic objective might not be to win a race, but this is still the approach to take in order to perform in anything up to your potential.