The month of May is upon us. While this winter has unleashed its fury on most of the country we are now in the part of year when cycling activity is in full swing. For us on in northern California, May offers a chance to get the rare glimpse of professional cycling as the Amgen Tour of California rolls down the state. Athleticamps is especially excited as the stage two time trial in Folsom came within a few hundred meters of our training center yesterday.
Bike racing is an interesting sport, unique from the perspective that a team is established to help set up an individual to win. Every person has a specific role designed to help the leader win. Certainly the team and sponsors receive accolades, but the focus is typically on an individual, which can create issues when multiple riders have personal ambitions.
As the official coaching partner of Limitless Cycling we have had the opportunity to participate in the construction of this development program from the ground floor. Teamwork and team unity have been hallmarks of our approach to bring about success for all of our riders. The principles we have used to create the foundation of Limitless can be applied to any cycling team.
Build the Foundation
Organization – A good team requires a network of people prepared to put in the effort required to provide the resources, mentorship, and atmosphere for everyone to thrive. Whether that is a director and staff or a group of dedicated riders – having people that are willing and able to put in the time that will ensure logistics are covered and the team shows up ready to race makes the difference. The extent of resources available will vary, however, all teams need a mission statement, clear objectives, organization, motivation, etc.
Build the Team – Based on what the team mission is (e.g. youth development, masters racing, etc.) the necessary riders need to be assembled to help accomplish the stated objectives. At Limitless we wanted to assemble a group of young riders that were committed to cycling, willing to work for others, not afraid to take advantage of opportunities, etc. Yet the most important attribute we looked for is a passion to be a part of a program and get involved with their teammates. Through these goals, we believe they will be successful in life no matter what path they choose. Without regard to team philosophy, the same principles apply to most situations when building, re-building, or re-tooling a team.
Know your role – Like an orchestra, every person in a cycling team’s organization plays a key role in the overall success of the group. From the director selecting races, to the parents providing the funding/transportation/home environment for the kids, to the team leaders setting an example for others to follow, each person has a role and knows exactly how it ties to the overall plan. It really does take an army, and a well organized one.
At the races
Set the teams – Each race presents an opportunity to establish a protected rider or designated leader. Some of the factors to consider when deciding this are: who is on form at the time, who has the characteristics as a rider to succeed on a particular course, who has marked it as an “A” race, etc.
Create the strategy and execute – Once the leader(s) has been agreed upon it’s time to formulate the plan of attack. We like to keep it simple. If our desire is to send our leader into the winning break we assign some riders to attack early and soften the group. Others are given the job of pulling back dangerous moves we missed, or perhaps launching the leader up the road. If we have the luxury of numbers then someone is always near the leader to help provide shelter from the wind. But all riders understand their job and what defines success for them at that race. This eliminates confusion and allows each person to feel good about their contribution.
Plan for the plan to fall apart – Not all plans work out well. In fact, many times they do not work at all. Limitless riders are encouraged to think on their own and race on instinct when the plan is blown out of the water. If the leader flats or crashes or simply has a bad day it can ruin everyone’s day without quick reaction and redirection of effort. Certain people have a knack for knowing what move will stick, others have to learn through experience (sometimes it takes a lot of failure to produce success.) Either way, we urge the riders to try what they feel is right and learn from it.
During the race – A team must learn to communicate while on the bike. Who needs what, who is feeling good, or is the strategy working. As a team grows the communication will often become non-verbal. The right look, body language, understanding tendencies, are all queues that can help riders understand what is happening and what they need to do. A perfect example of this happened at a local circuit race where the Limitless team attacked their race continuously with each rider queuing off each other and counter-attacking with perfect timing. Nobody spoke a word, but everyone contributed and the net result was a team win and four riders in the top ten!
After the race – Riders and directors need to decompress and identify what they learned immediately after the race. What went right, what went wrong? Who saw what developing? Why were certain things done the way they were? Find a spot away from the chaos and group up for a chat. Or take a cool down spin together. However you choose to do it, do it quickly while the race is fresh in your mind.
Keep it above board – We can agree to disagree. Not all people see the same thing happen at the same time. This can lead to some friction and hard words when things don’t work out as hoped. Conflict can be productive if you apply and stick to some basic rules: agree to disagree, never make it personal, you can only get in someone’s face if they know you have their back, and always shake hands before leaving. Simple, but effective.
Racing as a team takes time, practice, patience, and persistence. As they say – Rome was not built in a day and neither is a cohesive, well executing cycling team. But with some foundation building, racing and experiencing plan successes and failures, and open, regular communication a team can grow into it’s potential. We see it happening every day with Limitless and hope it is happening with you.
Ride safe, comfortable, and strong,
The AthletiCamps Team
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