(Ed. Note: Cyclist Kim Geist is a member of the Pretty Tough Team)
I think cyclists are one of the most interesting types of athletes in the world. This is because not only is skill very important to the cyclist’s success, but it is vital that he or she must be in the absolute best physical shape one can be at the time of the big event. It is not like other sports where a good majority of the time is spent in “practice.”
I will admit I am prejudiced, but most of our American stick and ball sports have their athletes spend their time “practicing” how to dribble the ball more efficiently, how to scan the field for the open teammate, or how to implement the best new formation. Cycling is not without its practice, but it rarely comes in a controlled environment. A cyclist never says he or she is going to “practice.” Cyclists go to “training.”
Cyclists definitely have to acquire skills like the ability to place a front wheel just inches away from another cyclist’s back wheel, the ability to change gears properly with varying terrain and speed, and the ability to make the best decision on during which part of the race it is smartest to spend energy. It is just that these skills, unlike typical American sports, simply can’t make the whole game.
Unless the cyclist is fit enough to maintain the pace of the other cyclists whom he or she is racing with, skills acquired during “practice” will never help the cyclist to win the race. So, right off the bat, being a good cyclist becomes almost all about training and the “practice” becomes all about covering up where training is lacking! We cyclists ride in the draft behind another rider and shift gears at certain times – we use our skills – to make riding as easy as possible until the moment comes in a race when we can use the strong points of our fitness to make the right move at the right time and to win.
It did not take me long to figure out why many people call cycling the hardest sport in the world. It is all about the question: just how hard can you push yourself? And, if a cyclist can answer that question in training, competing becomes just another day in the saddle.
Finding an answer to that question was the point of my latest venture. I recently returned home from a national training camp held at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. There were six of us female cyclists invited. We each had different goals we were working towards for the near future such as competing in the road world championships or the elite national track championships (that’s me), but our common goal was to push each other as hard as possible in training in order to bring out the best in each of us individually. The group was perfect for the task; among the resumes of the riders were an Olympic gold medal and multiple world championship and world cup medals. We obviously were a group of competitive women!
So, needless to say, I can describe our week together as training. Was there practice of the nuances of team pursuit, an event that requires pure precision in exchanging in and out of the draft of other riders to cover a distance of three kilometers as fast as possible? Sure there was. But it was done at mock speed. The quickest way to learn the finer points of the event is to make a mistake when you are already on the rivet physically. Mess up and it is curtains. You won’t make that mistake twice!
It helped to be at the training center where the athletic lifestyle is on center stage and all the external stresses of life are already taken care of. Comfortable and convenient housing, tasty and healthy food (there are labeled nutrition facts for everything) and a great medical and recovery staff make concentrating on the training as easy as it can be.
Then after a week of training that would leave most people in bed for the week after, we cyclists ask, “When’s the next camp?” We keep coming back for more.
You can follow me at my next major race, the elite national track championships at the ADT Event Center at the Home Depot Center in Carson (Los Angeles), CA September 30-October 4. Then, yes, I will be back for more at the next national training camp in October.