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Eight tips for steady improvement at the races

Are you upgrading too quickly, or do you wish you could improve more consistently? Here are some ways to race better next season

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Editor’s note: This article was originally published in the January 2014 issue of Velo magazine. In it, Trevor Connor talks to Garmin-Sharp’s Alex Howes and Frank Overton of FasCat Coaching about how to improve without moving too quickly. Connor is a long-time cycling coach and researches both exercise physiology and nutrition at Colorado State University.

Know where you are in your cycling

Initially, power output is king. As you become more developed as an athlete, Overton said, success comes through tactics, strategy, and consistency. “As you get up to the pro level, it’s all of the things you read about on the Internet, like recovery, being on the right team, having the right team schedule, equipment, clothing, and sports psychology.”

Be consistent

For Overton, consistency is critical to raising your level. “Riders that have other things going on in their lives — they may have three or four weeks of really good training, then a week of bad training, or a business trip. They go up, they go down, but they never really get anywhere.”

Get to the finish

Endurance training and base work should be the focus for new cyclists. “Earlier on [in your racing career] you just focus more on getting home. From there you figure out how to win,” Howes said.

Train at a higher level

“A great technique is riding with the next-level group ride,” Overton said. “If you’re a Cat. 3, join the Pro-1-2 group ride. If you’re a masters athlete, ride with the stronger masters.”

Gain race experience

“Know the races, know the course, certainly know the competition,” Howes said. “You don’t just wake up knowing those things on the first day. You have to be there, and learn in the trenches.”

Learn how to win

Winning is a key skill, said Howes. “A lot of times guys never learn how to win. If you learn in the Cat. 3s by winning 15 races in one year, they kick you out of the Cat. 3s. And then, when you get to the Pro-1-2s, you have a pretty good idea of how to win a bike race. If you jump straight into the Pro-1-2s, you never really learn how to be a champion.”

It’s all feel

“It’s a sport where it’s hard to quantify improvement. Most of the time you finish in the pack,” Howes said. He looks at how he feels in those races. “Last year [2012] there were a number of races where I was really on my hands and knees getting to the finish line. Just finishing the Tour of Catalunya was a big achievement. This year [2013], it was quite a bit better and well rounded. I was able to go into the Vuelta with no doubt in my mind that I’d get to the end.”

Be patient

“If you’re moving up a category every two years,” Howes said, “you’re doing just fine.”