Ride Like a Pro
We caught up (it wasn’t easy….) with some of Britain’s greatest cyclists to discover their top tips on how you can become a fitter, faster, better cyclist. Here’s what they had to say…
Sir Chris Hoy
How to improve leg strength in the gym
According to multiple world and Olympic track cyclist Sir Chris Hoy there is one exercise that stands – or rather stands, sits and stands – head and shoulders above all the rest. “If I had to do only one exercise to help develop my lower body, it would be the squat,” he says.
Squats can be with just body weight to start with, and weights as you get stronger – either with a bar bell across the shoulders behind the neck, or with free weights held at your sides. To do one right, stand with the feet a shoulder width apart, with your toes pointing out slightly. Move your hips back to start and bend your knees and hips to lower your torso until your hips are at least level with your knees. Straighten back up again steadily, keeping good form. Ensure your knees stay in line over your toes throughout.
Join a club
“Join a cycling club,” says former world and Olympic champion Cooke to anyone getting into cycling. “That’s where you’ll find camaraderie, encouragement and the structured riding and training you want.” For a list of clubs, see www.british cycling.org.uk. For more Cooke training advice, read her book, Cycle For Life.
Why you need to go slow
Mark Cavendish may be the ‘fastest man on two wheels’ but according to the Manx missile, the secret to winning races is going as slowly as possible. “It’s all about conserving energy,” says Cavendish. That means sitting in the right place in the peloton, keeping out of the wind and pedalling with a smooth action. “Even where you hold the handlebars matters,” he says. It’s also about not going faster than you need to. Like Cavendish, you need to focus on the goal – if you’re after a good finishing time then there’s no point in being first over a mid-ride mountain if the effort dents your ability to finish fast.
Ride with your head
“Mental preparation is vital for an arduous event or race,” says the double track world champion, Olympic silver medallist and cycling commentator. “Your body is controlled by your mind, and when you’re competing against others who are physically at the same level, it ultimately comes down to who has more mental strength.
“On a sportive you need to use your head too – plan your ride, then have the mental discipline to stick to your strategy. Don’t start too fast. It’s better to have more to give at the end than hitting the wall in the final few miles.”
Riding in fast groups
“How you ride in a fast group depends mainly on how well you know the other riders and their level of competence,” says pro cyclist Yanto Barker. “If you don’t – and that goes for most sportives – then I wouldn’t recommend riding too fast and tight.
“Don’t get quite as close to the wheel in front as you would with clubmates. Check which way the wind is coming, and sit just to the left or right behind the wheel in front to give yourself a couple more inches if there is a sudden deceleration.
“Assess the riders around you for reliability and smoothness. Move away from erratic riders. Always pay attention. It’s obvious advice, but don’t enjoy the scenery if you’re very close to other riders.
“Make sure your bike works perfectly with no creaks or rattles, and that your bottle comes out and goes in cleanly. One of the most common reasons for crashing is looking down at a rattle, slipped gear or sticky bottle.
“Be smooth yourself. Moving your body weight can change the position of your bike and cause trouble for people around you – especially when the road rises.
“Always shout loudly and point or indicate when communicating dangers, cars, potholes, other riders and turnings. Keep commands simple like ‘left, right, up, out, in’ – anything longer then single syllable words will sound garbled when spoken at speed with wind rushing in everyone’s ears.”
“A tough early season challenge sets you up for the season,” says the Olympic gold medal winner, “and makes the bigger, more important goal events of your high-season more doable. The 2011 Giro was my first full Grand Tour and it was tough. But then a lot of the following races which were normally quite hard felt easier.”
“I’m not known for using technology and there was no computer or monitor of any kind on my bike for my 541-mile record ride,” says Andy ‘Wilko’ Wilkinson, the 24-hour time trial champion and world record holder. “But although I compete on feel, a heart rate monitor is great for training – especially for reining me in on long, six or seven hour ‘fat-burning’ rides.”
“Don’t tense up and don’t brake in the corners – stay flexible and brake before you turn in,” says Team Raleigh’s national criterium champion. “That’s my best advice for descending. The same goes for tight corners: stay flexible and wipe off excess speed in a straight line before you turn in. Braking mid-corner will just make gripping all the harder for your tyres, and risk sliding the bike out from under you.”
Big day dinners
“On a big training day I fuel on the bike every half an hour,” says the Team GB paralympic and national champion. “We usually finish at about 4pm and the first thing I do is down an energy drink and eat a late lunch. But my metabolism is so fast, I eat another dinner at about 7:30.”
“Don’t forget your post-race or training protein,” says the Team Sky pro and Olympic champion. “After a big ride or race you need at least 50g of protein within half an hour of getting off the bike to help start your recovery.” That’s the equivalent of a chicken breast – but a prepared whey protein recovery drink is more convenient.
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