Attacking early is the sure sign of a nervous amateur. The truly confident athlete need never attack at all
I enjoyed Chris Froome’s comments after the early stages of the Tour of the Alps recently. He threw in a couple of his trademark high-cadence attacks. I think his RPM has, if anything, gone up over the winter — he looked like a kid trying to keep his feet on the pedals of a toy trike that’s run away down a steep hill.
The attacks had very little effect — it wasn’t so much that he was reeled back in as that he never really got off the front in the first place.
But afterwards, he coolly assured us that we hadn’t seen nothing yet, that the Giro was his main target, so he was very happy with his form. “I had good sensations,” he said.
I always admire confidence in a rider. I mean this entirely sincerely. And the thing I like best about it is that a confident athlete is one who knows there is always more time, that there’s no need to hurry.
The attacks in a race come in order of confidence — the neophyte goes first and the German sprinter (“I do not understand. What is this ‘nerves’ of which you speak?”) goes last.
And generally, the later you leave it, the more effective it is. Nico Roche was once quoted as saying the only thing his father Stephen would ever say in a debrief after an unsuccessful race was, “Too soon, Nicolas.”
The same applies to training. A confident athlete knows they can get fit in a few weeks. A nervous one starts training a year in advance, and does a flat-out race every week for two months before their major target to check that they’re ‘still fit’.
You would think that it was possible to be so confident that you left it too late. However, in cycling this is not possible. In cycling there is no such thing as ‘too late’, not for the confident athlete.
For instance. I finished on the podium of a race, quite a few years ago now, where former multiple time trial champion Dave Lloyd was presenting the prizes. Before handing over any silverware, he made a brief speech, in which he told us how slow we’d all been, and assured us that had he still been racing, he’d have whipped the lot of us.
The sparse crowd at the prize giving murmured in agreement. I say ‘murmured’ — in reality there were so few of them you could hear individuals saying things like “Damn right you would, Dave,” and, “That’s you youngsters told.” Even ‘retired’ does not count as ‘too late’ for the confident athlete.
Dave at the height of his powers probably would have beaten us. And in the world of cycling, that’s enough. However, that is not nearly the end of it. Here is a conversation with my friend Bernard:
Me: “Do you remember that race in Sussex where I clipped off the front with 80km to go and still only won by 15 seconds?” (It would be fair to judge me by this tactic, by the way.)
Bernard: “Yeah. I’d have beaten you that day if I’d been there.”
Me: “Mate, you actually were there.”
Bernard: “I mean if I’d been there and I’d done more training.”
Me: “Bernard, don’t take this the wrong way, but you never managed to beat me. Ever. In anything.”
Bernard: “I know. I never did the training because I was a lazy ass. If I’d ever got round to putting together a proper season, I’d have had you. Easily. Still could.”
He absolutely believes this. He is quite sure that the only reason I won that race and he got shelled out the back of a chasing group that couldn’t even catch me was, essentially, a technicality.
Now that’s a confident athlete.