By Chris Carmichael, Founder and Head Coach of CTS
I hate wasting energy and it bothers me to no end to see athletes do things that are self-defeating. You spend so much precious time and effort developing fitness and building your capacity to produce power, and then you waste that fitness through poor decision making on the bike. To go faster you need your behaviors to enhance and leverage the power you’ve developed through training, and to do that you need make these five cycling fixes:
STOP sitting so upright!
Spend a fraction of the time you devote to interval training to address your cycling position on the bike. Not just your aero position, but also your everyday cruising position on a road bike. Your body accounts for 80% of the air resistance you’re pushing through, so relatively small changes in your position can yield big dividends. More on that here. You want to lower your shoulders, and rotating your pelvis forward is a better way to do that than merely arching your back. Bike fit and saddle choice are big parts of achieving a more aero position, and so is training. You have to ride in the drops or in a lower position more often – and during hard efforts – in order to adapt to the position. If you’re riding a lot indoors, remember this is time when you can also take steps to adapt to a new and more aerodynamic position. Work to be comfortable in a lower position; it’s worth it!
STOP riding the brakes on descents!
Descents are free speed, get off the brakes! I’m not saying you have to descend like a maniac, but I am saying that learning to descend with more confidence is time well spent. If you can descend confidently and safely you can catch up to a group if you got dropped on the climb. If you’re trying to ride a faster Gran Fondo or century you’ll gain time with no additional energy expenditure! To go downhill quickly and safely ride with your hands in the drops, keep your eyes far down the road, weight your outside foot and put that foot down at the 6’oclock position in corners. Push your inside arm into corners (while weighting the outside foot) to maintain a tight line through the apex of the corner. You can read more about cycling descending skills here. If you’re fearful of descending, seek help from a coach. You get ski lessons when you hit the slopes, why wouldn’t you do the same thing for going downhill on a bike?
STOP starting too hard!
When you were 20 years old you could probably roll out of the driveway and immediately go full throttle. It wasn’t ideal then, but you could get away with it. It’s still not ideal and now that you’re older you can’t really get away with it anymore. If you want to have a better interval workout, invest the time in a proper warmup. If you’re headed out for a 2-3 hour ride with some hills, ride easy for the first 20-30 minutes and you’ll feel better on those hills. And if you’re going out for an epic 5+ hour endurance session, take the first hour pretty easy so you can be effective on the bike for the second half of the ride. A warmup is also critical indoors, and here’s a warmup routine specifically to get ready for e-races.
STOP hanging out in the wind!
If there’s a draft available, get in it! The only good reason to be half-in-half-out of the draft is when you’re using air resistance to keep from running into the rider ahead of you. Otherwise, get on a wheels and hide from the wind until you have a good reason to face it. There is absolutely no benefit to catching more wind than necessary in a paceline or group setting. You’re just wasting energy you could better use getting up the next climb or taking a longer pull or launching an attack. Learn drafting skills from this article and paceline skills in this one.
STOP saving your water!
Athletes learn to ration water and sports drink because carrying a lot of fluid is heavy and stopping for frequent fill-ups is inconvenient (and sometimes impossible depending on your route). But here’s the thing. Your average speed and overall average power output for an interval workout doesn’t matter. What matters is the quality of the intervals, and they will be better if you consume more fluids. If that means stopping more frequently to fill up bottles, do it. Similarly, I’d rather see a rider on a long endurance ride stop more frequently and then pedal more powerfully throughout the whole ride. When you ration fluids to minimize stops you often see a more dramatic drop in power output as the ride goes on. Read more on what to eat and drink on rides of any length and the science of sports drinks.
Overall I want you to stop getting in your own way. You work hard in training and you focus and sacrifice to be your best. Your behaviors on the bike have to honor the work you’ve put in. Honor your power and fitness by minimizing the behaviors that diminish their impact on your speed!