Written by ALP Cycles Coach, Jennifer Sharp
Deliberate practice. You can apply it to anything you're trying to learn: musical instruments, racing cars, martial arts, any newly acquired skill and of course, bike racing. But practice is more than just riding a bike - deliberate practice is a method of acquiring and learning a skill. It's breaking down movements with rigorous skill assessment, doing that movement repetitively, getting specific information feedback and working on better skill performance.
Alison put together the ALP Race Team with a goal in mind: to change the way local race teams train and race. Each ALP Race Team ride has hands on coaching and we provide the direction and skills to better each rider. The biweekly group rides build trust between riders, creating a foundation of skills that will serve them throughout the race season and their cycling careers.
Last weekend we worked on team pursuit riding around the upper half of the half gravel, half road portion of the Boulder-Roubaix course. Since roughly 20 women attended the ride, we split the group into their various race categories so they can get used to riding with their teammates: Pro 1/2, Cat 3/4 and Masters 50+. Doing so builds trust and confidence with your peers so you know that come race time, you can trust your teammates wheels and know how to communicate to each other.
Racing is about increasing your odds. Effective teamwork happens when you communicate before, during and after the race. Being on the same game plan as your teammates increases your odds and figuring out how to ride well with your teammates is critical to the group's success. How do you do that? You guessed it - deliberate practice. Not only did all of the groups work on specific skills, but we provided them with immediate feedback and post skill discussion on how to execute those skills at a high level. And we practiced, a lot.
Here are some things you can work on when you're deliberately practicing:
Where's the wind coming from? If you're bridging across to a breakaway, are you creating a draft for someone else to get a free ride? Or are you aware of where the wind is coming from and decreasing your draft by riding close to the gutter. What's the terrain like that's coming up? Is it technical and transitioning from road to gravel on an off camber turn? If so - you better be at or near the front or you'll find yourself off the back before you know it as the leaders accelerate.
Practicing these skills in a race simulation will give you an opportunity to figure out what works and what doesn't without having a number pinned to your back. Don't be afraid to fail and get dropped - you can actually learn more from those situation then if you find yourself off the front by yourself.
Ask questions when you have them and gain the knowledge and wisdom from other experienced racers, mentors and coaches. Figuring out when and why you employ certain tactics is a part of learning how to race and for some may not come instinctually. Ask a coach what they would do in a situation and then practice it to see how it works for you.
I'm already excited for the weekend where we get to do more deliberate practice (and coaching!) and hone our sprints.