racing hurts. i mean, it really hurts, in so many ways that i’ve always wondered how Dante missed it out when he constructed his Nine Circles of Hell, for surely road racing deserves to be in there, somewhere between Heresy and Violence, being kissed by your auntie and eating Marmite.
the gut-busting, lung-bursting accelerations leave you feeling like you’re about to have a prolapse. ‘how to stop that pain?’ you may ask. easy – don’t race. it always hurts, no matter how strong you become, because you just go faster.
there are though some areas of racing that do bring pain and injury, that needn’t, or rather, needn’t as often as they do. these include body aches, the build up of lactic acid, tendionitis, crashing, bodies that recover too slowly and the effects brought on by over-training. all these, by and large, can be minimized if not outright neutralized, with just a little care and attention.
much like the pain brought on by the incredible effort demanded by racing a bike, crashing cannot be wiped out completely. the plain old fact is that if you race, you will, at some point, crash. and it will hurt. a lot. however, in my opinion, the majority of crashes can be avoided.
first of all, learn to trust yourself. a lack of confidence in your position and in your or others’ bike handling will lead to crashes. try to look not at the wheel directly in front constantly but in the guy about four or five riders ahead.
doing this will allow you to anticipate crashes much earlier and thus avoid them. keep those fingers on the brake levers but be relaxed, for if you are hitting the brakes constantly you’ll become the nuisance in the pack.
when descending and cornering, again, trust yourself. don’t take risks you aren’t confident of coming out the better of. when cornering at speed, don’t brake on the apex of the corner, but before it, thus allowing you to arch through it smoothly. if there’s someone unsteady in front of you, get out of his way.
a word too on the art of descending: instead of using your whole body to turn the bike, try pushing down with the outside (straight) leg and down on the bars with the inside hand. this provides better handling, increased ‘feel’ and allows you to be more aggressive on the way into and out of the corners.
if you are at the front of the pack on a straight descent, you have to keep pedaling, for if you stop you will slow dramatically but the others behind, in your slipstream, will suddenly find themselves travelling faster than you. if you’re hitting 70+km/hr it will be almost impossible to pedal, so get super-aero and be sure not to brake unnecessarily.
developing an ability to ‘read’ the wind is especially important if you are taking part in an event in flat areas, and can help cut down on your crashing. if the wind is coming head on and there is a right turn coming soon, that headwind will become a side wind and require you to position yourself on the inside of other riders to stay protected.
the ability to anticipate the wind’s direction is also very useful when riding alone as being exposed to sudden gusts from an unanticipated direction could have you flying into a fence, a la Andy Schleck, the famous cyclist-shaped balsa wood figure from Luxembourg.
for beginners, learn how to ride in a pack before you start racing.go on club rides and get shouted at, a lot, by old men with extruding nasal hair, shoes from 1987 and back pockets full of remnants of jam ‘sarnies’ in varying states of decay.
what’s really cool about this is that within 6 months you too will feel like you know everything about cycling and will thus be eligible to shout at the next newbie, prefacing every comment with ‘YOU FUCKING IDIOT…’ and to sneer knowingly when they say things like ‘so what’s the point of those big wheels then?’, and can, if you are very careful and make the recipient promise to secrecy on pain of death, even tell them that you rode in the Tour de France back before the days of t’internet.
for beginners, learn how to ride in a pack before you start racing. for those new to the sport, the ‘slipstream’ is the effect created behind an object as it moves through the air. if you can sit in the slipstream of a rider directly in front of you, your energy output will be lowered by as much as 30% as the slipstream ‘pulls’ you through the air.
it takes a little bit of practice though to ride close enough to the wheel in front to get the full benefit of the slipstream effect, but this is the best way to beat the effect of the wind. never let your wheel overlap the rider’s in front – this is the cause of many crashes and is a proper rookie mistake, yet one i see happening even at UCI races time and time again.
finally, stay alert. most crashes happen at the beginning of stages, when riders are tense, or at the end, when riders are fatigued but pumped full of enough adrenalin that, if combined, could potentially reanimate Marco Pantani.
the safest place in a pack is at the front, but you need strength to be in the top 20 all day.
avoiding aches and pains
cyclists often complain about back, neck, shoulder and arse ache. if your bum hurts from the saddle, change it. i suffered for years with a 133mm saddle, thinking it was just meant to be painful, all the while decreasing my chances of ever being a father, then one day tried a 142mm saddle. thought the days of my famous ‘recently invaded prison inmate’ impression were over, i was, i have to say, suddenly transported to a state of bliss.
angels rejoiced and children wept. so did i, but not, for one, because of numb balls.
if you have persistent problems with neck and back pain, head to a professional bike fitter. it might seem expensive but trust me, they can work wonders. i was always sceptical but i finally went in and came out with a new position now that has not only improved my power but means i can train longer, as i actually enjoy riding now, and am no longer bent double like a north Korean hunting for grains of rice in downtown Pyongyang when i’m done.
when racing in a long event, remember to relax the neck and shoulders so that the hands just dilly-dally on the bars. release the grip on the bars, keep your upper body steady and let the legs and backside do the work.
massages are also excellent in improving recovery time and in allowing your body to release tension. improving recovery rates mean less injury, it’s that simple.
stay out of big gears
there is a natural inclination amongst most racers to use a big heavy gear, when in fact the best way to conserve energy is to use a higher cadence.
light, easy gears will allow you to spin the pedals and get through the kilometers much more efficiently. sure, it’s kind of cool to grind, but not if it means you have lactic acid coming out your ears and are cramping all over. spinning, contrary to common belief, does not in fact induce shrinkage to the male genitalia.
racing is all about the preservation of energy for when it is most needed. keep that in mind and chances are you’ll feel stronger at the end and have less injuries such as tendonitis.
as a professional rider i should be an expert at doing absolutely nothing all day long but in fact i have a thing called a life and it also takes up quite a bit of my time.
but generally speaking, if you are serious about riding and training, recovery is massively important. keeping the muscles fresh and aiding recovery by good sleep, good food and warm-downs has such a direct effect on the way you’ll race the next day that to overlook it makes no sense at all.
massage is important, and you can do it yourself with a rolling pin if you must. sleep, well, you should know that that aids recovery by now. protein after a race is also vital, and again, as a cyclist of any note you should know that too.
so let’s take a look at three, perhaps not so often-consumed foods (by cyclists) to see that benefits they can bring. these all reduce swelling, tenderness and pain, all of which can benefit all of us.
pineapples, like red onions and walnuts, contain bromelain, a powerful anti-inflammatory that is so strong that it can actually relieve rheumatoid arthritis and post-operative swelling.
as well as being packed full with vitamin C, the bromelain in pineapples also helps the digestive system as it breaks down the amino acid bonds in proteins.
onions are also full of good stuff, with allyl propyl disulfide and chromium to reduce blood-sugar glucose levels, quercitin to maintain the health of your gastrointestinal system, and vitamin B6 to aid cardiovascular health.
they also contain a compound known as GPCS that inhibits cells that break down bones, and reduces inflammation in the throat and bones, reducing symptoms of osteoporosis, asthma and the common cold. a wonder veg!
walnuts are great little nuts, a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids and alpha-linolenic acid that improve artery function after a high-fat meal, with some research suggesting them to work even better than olive oil in promoting heart health.
anti-oxidants and L-arginine, also found in these nuts, further improve artery function, thus leading to a reduction of tenderness and swelling after exercise.
a handful of walnuts (between 6 and 8) is recommended daily. One cup of pineapple is recommended, and one onion per day will also bring about health benefits.
so, hope all that helps. remember to have fun whilst racing, because it’s a wonderful sport, but, as ever, be safe!