How do you wind down after a busy season?

If you enjoy doing something, why would you want to stop? Just because the weather has taken a turn for the worse and the rest of the pros have ditched their kit and packed their suitcases for warmer climes, doesn’t mean you have to stop cycling for good.
The pros need to get away from the pressures of professional cycling and the glare of the media spotlight. For the majority of riders, it’s a little different. We’re not racing Grand Tours and don’t have sponsors breathing down our necks every time we say something out of line or fail to perform on race day, but we all have personal goals to chase nonetheless.

And just like the pros, tiredness creeps in, both mentally and physically. Sometimes a short break could be just what the doctor ordered. This doesn’t mean you’re betraying your underlying love for the bike by packing it in for a while – it’s only a brief riding pit stop in order to fully recharge, and come back fresher and sharper.

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Here’s a thought: why not take your break earlier this year, while on a high? Not only will it give your legs a rest and your mind a break, but come the end of it, you’ll be champing at the bit to pick up where you left off – wanting to attack the winter full-on and build your miles up again. Just think of it like this: winter isn’t a break, it’s the start of your new season.

Put your feet up
Spending a few weeks away from two wheels and the road will give your body the chance to recuperate. Sometimes you may not feel physically tired, you may have taught yourself to deal with fatigue, but eventually something will give.

A few weeks off will let your body settle, relax and refresh itself. Do nothing if you can (or nothing cycling-related, at least). Breaking your routine might be difficult, but getting some well-earned rest will prove to be massively helpful come the winter.

This is also a perfect time to deal with any health niggles that you may have or that you feel are starting to develop. If any of these problems are more serious than just a niggle or a nagging ache, then you should use the time off as an opportunity visit your GP. They’ll be able to diagnose what’s up, decide if you can ignore it or not and set you on a course of treatment if need be.

Many riders believe that the 
darker months of November and December is the best time to take a break as a lot of cyclists seem to pick up ‘new’ niggles when they start riding again in the spring. But the truth is, they aren’t new niggles at all, but the same ones from the previous year they haven’t taken the time to investigate and sort out.

As we describe above, the best idea is to treat any injury now while the problem is still fresh in your mind and the pain is still evident. Give yourself peace of mind, knowing that when you come back to putting in serious miles during the new year, your body will be an injury-free zone.

Don’t forget that your mind also needs a rest from time to time. Many cyclists will keep on riding if they feel fine, oblivious to the toll it’s taking mentally.

A couple of weeks away from having to think about training schedules, 
pre-planned meals, a clean kit and a fully functioning bike will ease the strain and take a huge load off your mind. You may not think it, but a having a clearer mind could make a massive difference to your riding abilities.

Why not try something new?
Remember, you don’t have to stop cycling at all! Nobody is telling you to, and many riders don’t. If you’re one of those who ride road and train all year round, either for the pure love of it, or the obsession with holding on to fitness, then why not turn your hand to something different for a few weeks this year? And we don’t mean the turbo.

A change in routine is a break in itself, giving you new things to think about and challenges to try, and stimulating your mind in the process. It also gives you a breather from your weekly sessions while still maintaining your fitness and love of the sport.

During this time of year, cyclo-cross is all the rage. It’s a great, competitive discipline, which, if you do want to do well, requires high levels of fitness and dedication. On the other hand, it can just be a bit of fun, which again will take your thoughts away from what you do on the road for the other 50-odd weeks of the year.

However, a new challenge will present you with new problems and new obstacles to get through. If you feel like you’re up for a new challenge, then perhaps this approach is for you.

Fitness writer, MuleBar Girl racer and cyclo-cross rider, Louise Mahé explains why trying something different is a break in itself…

“Some riders struggle to allow themselves to have a ‘break’ from riding. This can be for many reasons. Some worry that once they stop they’ll struggle to find the motivation to start again, while others love riding their bikes so much they just can’t think about not doing it at all!

However, constantly plugging away and getting those road miles in or spending hours on the turbo can leave you mentally stale. There’s something you can do that’s monotony free. Simply trying another cycling discipline is one way to keep things fresh and interesting.

“Some riders race cross, others head indoors to hit the velodrome. With sessions and track leagues on throughout the winter and local cross races running from September right through to February, there’s no reason not to give something new a try.

Doing so can keep riders ticking over, while helping maintain focus and fitness. Racing or just riding another discipline allows you to have some fun with your riding and not take it as seriously as during the summer months.”

There are some cyclists on the pro circuit who stay as far away from bike riding as possible during their short ‘off period’. But not wanting to lose their fitness, they partake in other activities.
There are stories of cyclists skiing, speed skating, even mountaineering.

What’s stopping you from doing the same? While it doesn’t necessarily have to be running, it’s perfect to keep your fitness levels high and challenge you both physically and mentally. It’s also great to help combat the onset of osteoporosis, something that cyclists are susceptible to.

Due to the low-impact nature of cycling, cyclists can suffer from brittle bones. Running also has the advantage of applying force throughout the body, which helps strengthen bones and joints.
Swimming is another fitness alternative to try.

It’s a brilliant aerobic activity, and ideal if you have any pains or aches that are still lingering from your cycling. Swimming is actually one of a few rehabilitation methods for those returning from injury and is prescribed among many health experts for its low-impact fitness- boosting qualities.

The fact that many of us cyclists find running and swimming boring could also be looked at as a positive as, after a few weeks, think how you will be salivating at the prospect of getting back on your bike, whatever the weather!

Winter checklist
At CW we’re not oblivious to the fact that winter riding isn’t as much fun as cycling in the sunshine. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be enjoyable providing you make the right preparations.

Get the basics right and there’s no reason why you can’t embrace the winter and ride with a smile on your face.

Opposite is our winter checklist. Although it’s basic, as long as you follow it, you shouldn’t go far wrong. In fact, you may be wondering why there is so much fuss made over winter cycling in the first place.

Expert comment

Matt Rabin – pro team Chiropractor
Matt is the chiropractor for Garmin-Sharp – he tells us about the importance of getting any injuries seen to.

“It makes sense, doesn’t it? Why, when your season officially comes to an end, would you not take a break, and get everything sorted straight away? Why wait a few months down the line, when you may either have forgotten about any of your injuries, or you may have made them even worse, through doing some benign house chore. You’ll be amazed at how often this happens!

“There’s nothing worse than starting a new season with an injury, especially if they’re pre-existing. In the pro world, all the riders want to be fully functional before the start of the season. And while we’re not all pros, there’s no reason why we all can’t ride injury-free.”

Pro Rider comment

Pete Hawkins – Sigma Sport rider
“I do take a break and it does help refresh the body and the mind, but I don’t like to be off my bike for that long. I don’t want to stop riding over the winter!

“Once my break has finished, I just get the miles in. I’m not hammering myself, and although I always try and get out, there’s no structure to it.

That way it helps me keep doing something, without doing much and keeps my base fitness levels at a reasonable level. The winter should be about getting and keeping fit, and it’s a great time to do that, because you don’t have to worry about being fresh for competitions, races or sportives.”

Amateur rider comment

Scott Wells – Commuter
“Commuting by bike is dangerous at times, and a lot of it comes from me not paying as much attention as I should. I usually find that I get mentally tired as the nights start to draw in. That’s why I take a break now, and get the train. It’s only for a couple of weeks though.

“During my break, my mind becomes clearer and sharper. It also gives me a break from worrying about clean kit and bike prep, lights etc.

“I also prepare for my winter commute, getting into the right frame of mind for night riding through traffic and bad weather. Having a break brings me back brighter and enthusiastic to ride more.”

This article was first published in the October 31 issue of Cycling Weekly. Read Cycling Weekly magazine on the day of release where ever you are in the world International digital edition, UK digital edition. And if you like us, rate us!