A good kind of tired…

I am tired. Since the end of September last year I have done more than 900 hours of training and racing, and my body really feels it. But despite the physical tiredness, I have an incredible feeling of accomplishment after a year that has exceeded all expectations. So I welcome the tiredness.

So what was the season tally? A total of 14 race and stage wins and 23 podiums in Belgium and internationally, including overall victories in the Giro Sardinia and Viking Tour of Norway, 2nd at the Tour of Cyprus and 3rd at the Tour of Good Hope, South Africa where I also took the King of the Mountains jersey. I had three race wins in Flanders, and several podiums at races in the Ardennes. In addition to the podiums, I had around a dozen top ten finishes including 4th in the Tour of Brussels. Two of my wins were from solo breakaways, while the rest came in sprint finishes.

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Stage 1 – Tour of Norway – 1st Place

One of my biggest goals for the year had been the 155km UCI World Masters Championships in Albi, France. But the 27th of August was just not my day. Despite being positioned at the front of the race right from the start, I was caught up in a crash at around the 45-kilometer mark. From being positioned with the front twenty guys, I suddenly found myself at the back of more than 270 riders and expended a lot of energy to get back into contention.

Despite making it 100kms into the race with just the best 30 or so riders still in the front group, the earlier efforts saw me starting to cramp. Not just little cramps, but the kind of agonising cramps that bring you to a complete standstill. I stopped by the side of the road, stretched and then got back on my bike and hobbled home in 32nd position, about five minutes down on the overall winners.

It’s funny, but I really did not feel disappointment after the World Championships. I had so many condolence calls and messages from family and friends, many of them expressing their sympathy for my misfortune. But my perspective was completely positive – despite the bad luck in Albi, I was still very proud to be the best placed Australian rider.

Doing well in France would have been icing on the cake to my 2017 season, but even without the icing I still had an amazing cake!  So my family, my coach Allan Davis and I still celebrated. Just getting to the World Championships was a victory in itself, and the very fact that I had worked so hard to make it had been the reason for all of my other triumphs throughout the year. As my ten-year-old son Charlie said after the finish, “You still did good Pappa. You can’t win all the time.”

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With Ries, Hannah and Charlie after finish, World Championships Albi France

At the end of September I travelled to Varese in northern Italy for my final races of the season. I competed in a 22km Individual Time Trial (ITT) and the 135km “Tre Valli Varesine” road race, both qualification events for the 2018 World Championships.

I did the fastest ITT of my life, finishing 9th overall and just seconds behind some of the best Time Trial specialists in Europe, including former German, Italian and Ukrainian national champions. My top ten result automatically qualified me for the ITT at next year’s Worlds.

The road race was almost a repeat of Albi, but this time I crashed on a steep and slippery descent about half way into the race. I smashed myself up a bit, but got back on my bike and battled on to the finish with a chase group. I knew that I was way down on the leaders, but decided to contest the sprint against the ten or so guys with whom I came to the line. I knew that only the top 25% of finishers would qualify to race the 2018 World Championships, but I had only a rough idea of how many riders were in front of me.

I was first across the line from that small group, and in doing so ended 54th out of a total of 216 finishers – so I was the very last guy to qualify! Despite the cracked frame, torn clothing and gravel rash, I had another reason to be happy.

So I am tired. But it is a really good kind of tired. Because it is not tiredness brought about by work stress or anxiety or lack of sleep. It is a tiredness that comes from pushing your body to the limit, by physically doing the work that has to be done to reach your full potential as an athlete. The tiredness that I feel reminds me that I have achieved things this year that I never imagined I could accomplish. So I welcome the tiredness –  I embrace it.

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On Being a Champion

On Being a Champion

Allan Davis is a champion in every sense of the word. A former professional cyclist, he has just had one of his most successful openings to any cycling season – seven victories and more than a dozen podiums. But there has been something special about these results, because in 2017 it has not been Allan throwing his arms in the air as he crosses the line – it has been the riders that he has mentored and coached. And I have been one of them.

Known for his strong work ethic and sprinting ability, Allan started competitive cycling at the age of 10, and turned professional in 2002. Over the following twelve years he amassed more than 30 professional wins, with podiums in the World Championships Road Race and Milan San Remo. To put these results into context, more than 85% of cyclists in the professional peloton never stand on the podium in a major UCI World Tour event. A champion is someone who has, in their own right, achieved great things and Allan has certainly done so.

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But I believe that a true champion is more than someone who wins in their own right – a true champion is someone who is capable of developing other champions. And that requires some special abilities – something that Allan Davis has demonstrated again and again.

A champion is generous with sharing their own deep experience and knowledge. I have been coached by Allan for the past year, and I have been impressed by his willingness to give. He has tapped into his deep knowledge of cycling performance and crafted me a training plan and nutritional guide that has seen me reach the condition of my life.  The plan is not just a cut and paste of what he has done in the past. Because a true champion has humility, and is willing to listen to the aspirations and challenges of others.

Allan has talked to me about my goals, about my family and work situation and has crafted an approach that is pragmatic and achievable. Recognising my own ability as a sprinter, he has encouraged me to do more gym and power training work to develop an ‘edge’ at the end of tough races. And it has worked – five of my seven victories this season have come from sprint finishes.

The sharing of knowledge has gone far beyond the physiological aspects of racing a bike. With a pro career that stretches more than a decade, Allan’s insights on race craft and tactics are second to none. In March I raced the five stage Tour of Good Hope in South Africa, and each evening I was in contact with Allan discussing the following day’s stage profile.

On the third stage, a tough day with a mountain summit finish, Allan saw an opportunity. I was racing as an individual, sitting 8th overall, and all of the other contenders were racing as part of teams. He said that I should try a solo breakaway just before the base of the final climb with 6km to go, with the belief that the leading riders would be too busy watching each other to follow a guy far down on GC. I followed the plan, and won the stage – and in the process jumped to third on the General Classification. I finished the race on the podium.

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Being a true champion is also about having the ability to give others a sense of self-belief, and to let go. Physiological condition and tactical nouse is nothing if an individual does not have the confidence to get things done. Allan travelled with me to the six stage Giro Sardinia at the end of April, and followed me on every stage. And he literally followed me – riding a motorbike with spare wheels, water and food.

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Allan was able to communicate through an earpiece or, when I was in the breakaway, by talking directly to me from the moto. He would tell me when to move up in the group before a climb, where to position myself to avoid strong side winds, and to keep my cadence high to reduce fatigue. And his message was consistent – whether in the individual time trial or the final kilometres of a gruelling mountain stage. The voice in my ear would be telling me “Mate, you can do this.”

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By the final stage I was winning the Masters General Classification by a comfortable 1 minute and 20 seconds, and sitting 8th overall. I had made the day’s split, and was with a front group of about 30 riders. I could have just rolled into the finish and safely secured the Category GC win, but with 10km to go Allan rode up beside me and said “You can win this. Just use your head, and you can win.” He then dropped back and let me get on with it.

I didn’t win the stage, but I did come 3rd in the sprint against a fast finishing bunch of riders, many of whom were at least 15 years my junior. There were no words in the earpiece in the final few kilometres because Allan knew it was up to me – his job was done. You can see a video of the sprint finish here.

For me, a true champion is not just a winner in their own right, but someone who develops that winning spirit in others. A true champion is generous with sharing their knowledge, who gives others a sense of self-belief, but who is also able to let-go. Because it is not about them, it is about the success of the other.

Allan Davis has helped me to be a champion. But he also triggered the desire in me to help others to achieve their cycling dreams.

So maybe that is the ultimate definition of a champion: A true champion develops champions who aspire to develop champions.

Jamie Allan Beer

Living Like a Pro

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Training in the Basque Region, Spain

It is just one week to go until my first race of the season – The Tour of Good Hope, South Africa. The last half year has been amongst the most fulfilling time of my life, as I have embraced my commitment to prepare for the World Masters Cycling Championship in Albi France in August. In my last blog post I talked about my willingness to “live like a professional cyclist” and over the past six months I have done so. So what does “living like a pro” actually mean?

Since September I have been training under the mentorship of my coach and ex-professional cyclist Allan Davis, completing somewhere between 12 and 20 hours of training per week, split between time on my bike and workouts in the gym. Approximately half of my on-bike work is done indoor on my stationary trainer to allow me to completely control my efforts, and of course to deal with the Belgian winter weather.

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My Coach, Allan Davis

So how about balancing training, work and family? September through November was pretty steady with one or two days of work per week, typically a keynote talk or day of teaching. I did not take on any commitments involving long-haul travel at this time, so all of my work projects were in Europe avoiding long flights and jet lag. I tried to align my gym sessions with days that I needed to travel, as most hotels have decent gym facilities and/or a pool.

Four or five times a week I have started my day at 6.30am with an easy one-hour session on the indoor trainer, before joining the family for breakfast and doing the School commute. After the School drop-off I have headed out on my bike to complete my specific training activities, or gone to the gym or pool. This has typically been followed by shower and lunch, and then an afternoon of emailing, conference calls, writing and other work activities.

From December until end of February I have had very few work commitments in terms of keynotes and teaching – just one day a week or so. But this is typical as this time of year is always less busy, especially with regard to conferences and events. March and April has been almost completely blocked out in my agenda for racing – something which my speaking agent has been wonderfully understanding about.

After racing the Giro Sardinia at end of April, I plan to take it relatively easy in May and first half of June to allow time for my body to recover from a very intensive nine month period of training and racing. So I have told my speaking agent that I will be available in this period to ramp-up my speaking commitments – which also corresponds with the busiest time of the year for conferences and congresses.

My family have been very understanding – and I definitely have the most amazing wife in the world! Training at this level takes a huge amount of energy and focus, but I have been mindful about contributing to the household and spending quality time with Anne-Mie and the kids. There have been moments of frustration and annoyance, but I think that is normal in any relationship. But the family completely understands what I am working towards, and that makes a huge difference.

With regard to training, September through November involved a lot of time on developing muscular power and core strength, with three sessions per week of about an hour in the gym and a weekly swimming session. Training on the bike at this time involved three to four hour rides twice a week, interspersed with shorter sessions after the intensive gym workouts. December included a big training “block” in India where I participated in the Tour of Nilgiris, covering more than 1100kms in just eight days.

From start of January I shifted from gym sessions to on-bike power and intensity training, starting a number of new protocols introduced to me by Allan. The emphasis of these sessions has been on dramatically increasing my neuromuscular power, building on the weight training and core work done during my base building phase. The biggest shift for me was to introduce twice weekly efforts using lower cadence and higher power output through short interval work. These sessions resulted in a lot of fatigue, and were interspersed with easy “brew” rides to allow my muscles to recover.

On top of this, I have maintained two or three sessions per week of three to four hours on the bike, varying between easy riding and high intensity tempo riding. From middle of February we have included one or two Time Trial specific training sessions per week, very intensive but short efforts at high power using varying cadence to simulate race efforts over mixed terrain. And finally, I am just back from a four day block of training with Allan in the Basque region of Spain where we did climbing efforts and motor pacing at race speed.

In addition to the physical work, I have been focusing a lot on my diet, and Allan and I have introduced a regime of vitamin and mineral supplements to help my body cope with the intensive training load. I have provided a list of my supplements below, and it is identical to the regime used by a current World Tour professional team. I have a good diet, but it is difficult to meet all of the body’s requirements for branch chain amino acids, iron and other minerals – thus the supplements regime. I have found that my general feeling of health and wellness has improved with this approach, and I have not had any issue with colds, flu or illness over the winter months.

Although I have not focused on weight loss specifically, my weight has declined from 68.5 kilograms at start of September to 66kgs by end of February. I plan to lose another kilogram during March as I prepare for more mountainous race events in Cyprus and Italy, and this will involve dieting.

Figure 1 – Dietary Supplement Regime

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So what have been the results of “living like a pro” under the guidance of Allan Davis? I can objectively say that I am currently in the best condition of my life, purely on the performance metrics that I have been tracking over the past three years. I train with a heart rate monitor and power meter, and have been collecting and analysing my performance data since start of 2014. My current level of performance is somewhere between 5% and 10% better across the board than for my highest numbers in 2016 – for 5 minute, 10 minute, 20 minute, 30 minute and 60 minute functional threshold power.

Figure 2 – TrainingPeaks Performance Management Chart

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I have provided some of my data for the cycling nerds out there, and you can clearly see the steady progression of my fitness (blue line) in the above TrainingPeaks chart (Figure 2). I have also accrued a lot of fatigue (pink line), which I will now steadily reduce through tapering to see my race “form” (orange line) peak just in time for the Tour of Good Hope.

For the cycling novices, the main thing to appreciate is that my current performance numbers in terms of watts per kilogram of body weight (Figure 3) now equate to what is typically expected at the domestic professional level, also known as “Continental Professional” level here in Europe. So not too bad for an old guy.

Figure 3 – Peak Power Output

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Now it is all about converting this incredible feeling of fitness into some race results in South Africa in a little over a week’s time.

I can’t wait!

Am I good enough…?

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One of the realities for anyone who has big dreams is self doubt. That nagging feeling that big achievements are for other people, and that one doesn’t have what it takes to reach those bold horizons. But I think we also have another fear – that we will reach the end of our days and regret that we gave-up too soon, and that we did not fulfill the potential that we all have inside of us. That is something which really drives me – I would hate to come to the end of my life thinking that there was something left undone.

I had a great season this year – nine podiums in races in Belgium, South Africa and Italy. So now I am thinking about 2017, and I have a big goal – I plan to race the UCI World Masters Championships in Albi, France. The 150km road race will be held over an undulating and very tough course, peppered with steep climbs. But I have to ask myself – am I good enough? Am I really good enough to win a World Championship?

I would really love to get on the podium in Albi. But the first consideration in preparing for a race of this level is to take an objective look at the physiological requirements. So to do that I have spent time analysing the performance of some of the top Masters cyclists in the world.

In this endeavour I have been helped by the social media platform Strava. You see, many of my competitors upload their training and racing data to Strava so I can analyse the physical performance of these guys in a way that has never been possible before. Not only can I see how many kilometres of training they are doing – I can also see their physiological parameters, such as power output per kilogram of body weight over different time intervals.

And make no mistake – the performances of many of these middle-aged amateur cyclists compare to riders in the professional peloton. The reason for this is because these amateurs live like professional cyclists – many of them ride over 20,000 kilometres per year, averaging upwards of 20 hours a week on the bike. But I am okay with that – Albi is a big goal for me, so I will make time to do whatever training is needed. I can live like a pro for a year.

To help me on my journey towards competing in Albi I have enlisted the coaching support of Allan Davis, an Aussie former professional cyclist with an impressive palmares. As part of preparing a training plan, we have looked at the results of the 2016 Masters World Championships that were recently held in Perth, Australia. Some of the guys who finished on the podium for the M4 (45-50 yo) category in the road race in Perth have uploaded their race and training data to Strava.

I have shared my insights with Allan, and we have both come to the same conclusion – without some kind of chemical enhancement, I am very unlikely to be able to produce the kind of raw numbers on show. I am not suggesting that the guys who made the podium in Perth are dopers – I know the Aussie winner Sam Smith and I trust 100% that he races clean. It is just that physiologically many of the top Masters riders seem to be able to do stuff that I have not been able to do up until this point in my cycling career.

So what are my thoughts for Albi? In Perth, three very strong guys won with a long-range breakaway that was formed with more than 85km remaining. Could that tactic work again next year? Given that many of the same guys will race in France, I am hoping that the peloton will be more reactive in chasing down attacks. This would mean that a larger group of guys survive into the final stages of the race.

The average speed of the race will be somewhere around 40 kilometres per hour, so I will need to be able to sustain a high average power output for roughly four hours. The actual wattage number I have calculated is about ten percent less than the power produced by the gold medallist in Perth, but I am smaller and lighter than him and do not intend to lead a breakaway or drive the pace at the front of the pack. So training goal number one will be to train my body’s ability to hold that high average power for four hours.

ALBI WORLD MASTERS COURSE

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Training goal number two will be getting over those climbs. The hills in Albi are not especially long, and not especially high. But they are steep and there are lots of them – ranging between three and ten minutes duration at race speed. The biggest challenge will come at the 55km mark, and if I am unable to hang on to the strongest guys on that first major climb then my race will be over. So I will need to train my body to produce a lot of power for the ten minutes or so of that climb. To help me fight gravity I will also need to lose weight, and should be down at around 64kg by race day, about 2.5kg lighter than I am now.

Positioning will also be crucial on those climbs, and I will need to be near the front of the peloton at the foot of each ascent. This will allow me to conserve energy by dropping back as we ascend, while staying in touch with the leaders as the accordion of riders strings out. I will arrive in Albi at least two weeks before the race, and will ride the climbs and descents.

If I am still at the front end of the race with a group of riders in the final kilometres, then attacks will certainly come. The guys who cannot sprint will try to breakaway and whoever is left will have to follow. These attacks are violent, explosive efforts of half a minute to a minute just to hold on to the guys in front of you. So goal number three will be to work on those explosive high-lactate efforts. This will involve a mix of on the bike interval work, power training in the gym and of course Kermis racing here in Belgium.

For me, the ideal finale for the Albi race will be to come to the line with a small group of riders – anywhere from five to fifteen guys. I can produce a big burst of speed at the end of a long and hard race, and I can keep a clear head. So the final piece of the training puzzle will be sprint work, done mostly on the indoor velodrome in Gent.

A look at raw data suggests that I am not good enough to win in Albi – there are so many guys out in the cycling universe that are stronger than me. I’ve seen their numbers.

But a look at raw data would have suggested that I wasn’t good enough when I competed at the World Masters Games in Torino three years ago…And I came home with a bronze medal.

In 2012 Simon Gerrans won Milan San Remo. A fellow Aussie who is almost exactly my height and weight, Simon finished ahead of Fabian Cancellara, Vincenzo Nibali and Peter Sagan. In his words: ““Without question Fabian was the strongest, I can’t deny him that…But it’s not always the strongest guy who wins the race. You have to play a little smart and be there.”

I am good enough to win in Albi. Because winning bike races is not just about numbers – it is about tactical nous and riding to your strengths. It is also about having a little bit of luck.

And most importantly it is about self belief.

Link to My TED Talk: Click Here

Post-Race Interview

CTCFinishI recently returned from South Africa where I competed in the four day Cape Rouleur Pro-Am Road Race, and the one-day Cape Town Cycle Tour (CTCT). I finished 1st Master and 3rd Amateur Overall at the Cape Rouleur, and 1st Master and 6th Overall in the Top Seeded Amateurs Group at the CTCT.

While in Cape Town I also gave a talk about work, life and cycling at the University of Stellenbosch Business School. After the event I was interviewed about my experience in training for and racing the CTCT by Brian Taylor. Below is the transcript of the interview.

Q. Were all the riders in your Top Seeded Group at the Cape Town Cycle Tour amateurs, or mixed with the pros?

The Professionals and Elite Amateurs (typically young guys who hold a UCI Elite racing license) headed off first, about five minutes before us. The guys in my 1A Race Group were the Top Seeded Amateurs and Masters (40+ years old). To make it into this group, riders must qualify by riding specific events throughout the year, in South Africa and abroad. There were around 200 guys in the 1A Group that I raced with.

Q. Were you racing in a team or individually? I am sure that makes a difference if you racing against competitors in a team and you are on your own?

I raced as an individual, which is why the final few kilometres were so difficult as I did not have teammates to lead me out, and I hit the front too early in the final 300 meters or so. But for my main event in Europe in April, the Giro Sardinia, I have a team of four guys riding for me. This means that I am sheltered from the wind, helped to close down gaps, and have a ‘train’ to lead me out in sprint finishes.

Q. What were your tactics for the Cape Town race?

In such a large group you need to make sure you stay amongst the front 20 or so guys throughout the race or you risk missing a split, especially on the tougher climbing sections like Chapman’s Peak and Suikerbossie. For these two climbing sections, I moved right to the front of the group at the base of the climbs, meaning that I could save energy by dropping back somewhat as the pace increased, but still keep contact. The riders tend to string out on these climbs. So if you are still in contact with the string of riders and do not lose contact, then it is kind of like an accordion as the long line of riders comes back together on the descents and flatter segments. This tactic worked perfectly for me, and after Sukerbossie I was with the front forty or so riders remaining – the rest of the starters had been left behind. I then worked my way towards the front ten riders by the 5km to go mark.

Q. You finished as 1st Master and 6th overall, but you said you found yourself at the front too early in the final 300 meters. When should you have launched your sprint?

It is difficult to go into the final kilometres racing guys you don’t know. In the final five kilometres I gradually worked my way towards the leading riders, and you will see from my on-bike video that in the final one kilometre or so I am in a great position, sitting in 4th or 5th position. But then in the final 350 meters the three guys to my left do not open-up their sprint and accelerate! And suddenly I am at the front, but with no wheel to follow. I am in the wind and I know it is too soon to go full gas. That’s not good. Then the three guys jump past me on the right. Of course, it would have been better if I was behind those guys – ideally I would have followed their lead, and then came past in the final 100 meters or so. As it was, I had to do a full 250 meters on my own, and you can see I fade towards the end as one guy comes past me on the line.

Click here to see my on-bike video of the final few kilometers: Video of Sprint at CTCT

So a bunch sprint is kind of like a very fast moving game of chess, as you need to keep a clear mind and predict the moves of your competitors. That is not easy when you are doing around 60kmh – sometimes you get it right, and sometimes you don’t. But I was still very happy with the result, crossing the line as 1st Master for the Top Seeded Group.

Q. Considering you are 45 and riding at the Masters level, the other chaps in front of you looked several years younger. So you did remarkably well?

I am not doing too badly for an old guy, especially since I train and race clean – I do not dope. My belief is that it is all about how far you can push your body as you age. Cycling performance is basically a function of power output, body weight and aerodynamics. Then comes self-belief, tactical wisdom and an ability to suffer.

I focused on weight loss over the winter, and my current race weight is at around 63.5 kilograms, which is the lightest I have been since returning to racing six years ago.  Body weight is especially important for climbing, as the heavier you are the more power you need to produce to overcome gravity.

As I am only 168cm tall I can ride an aerodynamically efficient position, and I race with quite narrow handlebars to reduce frontal drag. For the race I used an aero one-piece body suit and aero helmet, which combined can save 3 to 5 watts of power at race speed. That basically means that because you are cutting through the air more efficiently, you need to produce less power to hold a given speed. Over three hours of racing, those energy savings can help to give you that little bit extra when things get tough.

When in top condition, my power output (the amount of power my body can produce by pushing on the pedals and measured by a Power Meter in my crank set) is around 5.3 watts per kilogram of body weight for a 20 minute threshold effort, and I can produce a peak power output of about 1200 watts in a sprint. While those numbers would not win me a Professional World Championship against Peter Sagan, they are certainly within the range of domestic-level professionals and in the upper end of performance for elite Masters road cyclists.

For a discussion of typical power outputs by different levels of cyclists see: Watts/kg on the Power Curve

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Q. Is your bike purpose made for you or off the shelf?

My race bike is off the shelf – a 6.5-kilogram carbon fibre LOOK 695 with Shimano Components and Zipp carbon wheels. It is a special edition painted in the style of the artist Piet Mondrian, which I think is pretty cool. I talk about the intersection between art and business in my keynote speaking, so it’s nice to ride what I preach.

Q. How often do you train for this sort of race? 

I train between ten and fifteen hours per week, but I only aim to be in top condition for around eight to ten weeks each year – March–April and late August-first half September.  So when I am building up to a big event, it is more like fifteen hours, including a few hours a week in the gym for power training and core strength. I do more than eighty percent of my training alone, as each of my sessions is planned to develop specific areas such as strength, power or endurance.

In the ‘off’ months when I am working more, I train about six hours a week. In the ‘old’ days trainers talked about the need to do lots of slow and steady ‘base’ miles in the off season, but modern training approaches challenge this, especially for Masters athletes who need to work harder to maintain muscle mass, strength and power. So my emphasis during the months when I ride fewer hours is on maintaining power and strength, mostly on my indoor trainer and in the gym, not riding hours and hours of endurance.

Q. What kind of other special training do you do?

The important thing is to train for the hardest part of the race that you are targeting. It is pointless to do lots of six hour rides at a steady pace, if the race you are targeting is just three hours long, will be raced very fast and has half a dozen short and steep climbs. If the race has short, steep climbs then you need to train your body to do repeated explosive efforts over short, steep climbs. If you are racing events in the mountains or time trialling, then you need to train your body to hold high-power output for longer durations, say between twenty and forty minutes. In this case, explosiveness is less important.

My training program is based around a four-week cycle, with three weeks of increasing intensity followed by a one-week rest period in which I hardly touch my bike. I have found that as I age, recovery is increasingly important so I monitor my resting heart rate every morning. If my heart rate is ten to twenty percent above normal when I wake, then this is usually a good sign of fatigue.

Using a power meter during training is also very important to monitor fitness and fatigue. For example, if I do a warm-up, followed by five minute effort, and see that my power output is more than five percent below what is expected at a given heart rate, then this is a pretty sure sign that my body has not recovered from a previous training session. So I simply get off my bike, and shift that training session from the morning until the evening, or even the next day. It is amazing that sometimes an extra five or six hour of rest is all the body needs to be prepared for the next training effort at full intensity.

Q. How do you balance your work and sport?

I am constantly juggling three balls – my family, my cycling and my work. I fully believe that it is impossible to balance things equally all of the time – at certain times of the year I am a very good cyclist and (I think) a good Dad as I am home a lot. But at those times I am not working too much. At other times of the year I am very focused on work, a bit less of a good Dad in that I away from home quite a lot, and not at a top level as a cyclist.

The main conference periods In Europe are May-June and September-November, which is when I earn more than seventy percent of my annual income. During the other months when I am focused on training and racing, I work a bit but not as intensively. I might give one talk a week, or a day of teaching here and there.

During my peak training months, especially from December until March and in July and August, I do not do long-haul travel, and I don’t do multi-day workshops as this disrupts my training too much. I am able to do this as I am self-employed, but the speakers’ agencies and Business Schools with which I work also understand and respect this.

So I plan my year around juggling my cycling and work. And of course, I try to be a good husband and dad most of the time. Although, a few weeks ago I was shouting at my kids at the end of a long day on the bike, and my eight year old son Charlie said: “Pappa, you’re tired and hungry. Maybe we should not be having this conversation right now.”

Q. What are your next goals?

I will now take a week of rest, and then do a heavy ten day training block to prepare for the Tour of Cyprus, a three day Pro-Am stage race at the start of April. Then at the end of April I will race the six-day Giro Sardinia. Both races are quite mountainous, so I am hoping for some good results given that I am climbing well at the moment.

You can find my talk at USB here:  What is Success, Really?

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On Being a Cycling Dad

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A few days ago I sat on the sofa together with my wife Anne-Mie and my children, Ries, Hannah and Charlie. In my hands were four hand-written messages of love and support, wishing me success for my first races of the season in South Africa.

Eight-year-old Charlie had drawn me his dream aeroplane, with a cycling training track, gym and Jacuzzi. Hannah, who is eleven, had drawn a colourful mountain with bikes on top, and a winners trophy boldly standing forth. My big boy Ries had simply written ‘Our NR 1, Always.’ And from my wife, cut-out pictures of my face stuck on winning Orica GreenEdge riders, with funny remarks about podium girls.

How many opportunities do we have in our adult lives to receive such expressions of unwavering support? Of course, as kids many of us experienced encouragement for our youthful endeavours. But it seems that the older we get the fewer chances we have for people to cheer us on in living out our dreams. Sure, we might get complemented and rewarded by our colleagues for our  work achievements. But for me that is nothing like receiving sincere encouragement from those we love, for pursuing the passions that bring life meaning.

For me, this heartfelt expression of support from my family gives me such motivation. Because my wife and my children are telling me that this dream to realise the potential that I have as a sportsman is something for all of us to celebrate. They know more than anyone how hard I work, how much I suffer when I crash, and the discipline and sacrifices that are required to get on to the podium at the international level.

I understand that this sporting journey is far from a solo undertaking. A few years ago I remember crashing in one of those crazy and fast Belgian Kermise races in East Flanders. I shattered my left collarbone, cracked my pelvis and was sent by ambulance to the nearest hospital in a town called Dendermonde. My wife and then five-year-old son Charlie came to visit me in the hospital after the surgery on my shoulder, and I could see the worry in their faces. It was mid 2012 and about twelve months before the target event of my biking comeback – the World Masters Games in Italy.

As I lay in the hospital bed, my little boy took my hand and stared into my eyes. He asked, with worry in his voice, “Pappa, when will you be able to ride your bike again. Will you still be able to do the World Championships.” I smiled back at him, and said “Yes Charlie, it will take a little time for my body to get better, but I will be ready.” A few minutes later he managed to accidentally press the button on the bed remote control, almost catapulting me across the room.

And in August 2013 Charlie and his Mum, brother and sister cheered me on to a bronze medal in the road race at the World Masters Games in Torino. As I crossed the finish line, they were all waiting with outstretched arms.

But perhaps what made me proudest about standing on the podium in Torino was the fact that we had already started to see in our children this courage to dream big, to believe that anything is possible if you have energy and focus and self-belief. It’s part of why I ride my bike, to show my children that life is for living.

I am sure that the future will give us many more reasons for celebration. Not just through my own sporting adventures, but also in celebrating whatever dreams my wife and my three children aspire to achieve.

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A day with Alexander Kristoff

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In my last blogpost I talked about how life sometimes knocks you down. Isn’t it funny how life can also give you wings – I just met my cycling idol Alexander Kristoff!

I had just left the small apartment where I was staying with my family in Puerto de Mogan on Gran Canaria, and was heading up a narrow rural road towards the centre of the Island. I had planned a long and steady day on the bike, and was enjoying the sun on my back when a small group of cyclists caught up to me. As I glimpsed over my shoulder, I recognised several guys in the Norwegian colours of blue, red and white and then I saw the two in red. They looked different – lean, and tanned and relaxed on the bike. And then it hit me – they were wearing the new colours of Team Katusha, with names down the side of their jerseys – Kristoff and Bystrøm. I could not believe it – what were the odds of meeting these guys on my training ride!?

Alexander Kristoff is one of the world’s top classics riders, and has won Milan San Remo, the Tour of Flanders and a bronze medal at the 2012 Olympic Games. Sven Erik Bystrøm was under 23 World Champion in 2014, and joined Katusha as a professional in 2015. And here they were, riding beside me on the road to Mogan and the mountains beyond. As is etiquette in cycling, I asked if I could join the small training group and was welcomed into the fold. I introduced myself, and met each of my six Norwegian companions. As it turned out they had not started the day together, but had formed the group along the beach road on the way from Puerto Rico.

We held a steady tempo as we headed up into the mountains, and chatted away as the gradient was not too steep. Kristoff told me about his trips to Australia and the Tour Down Under, and how he had decided not to go this year given his focus on the Spring Classics and defending the Tour of Flanders. I learned that the other Norwegian guys were out for a short ride of just a few hours, but Kristoff and Bystrøm were planning a big day of six or seven hours. So I asked if I could tag along, and the two professionals said “sure, no problem.” A grin spread from ear to ear as we reached the top of the climb and three of us turned left and the other guys turned to the right. It was just me and team Katusha!

To say that riding with Alexander and Sven was exciting for me would be a big understatement. I was ecstatic! When I first got back on to my bike more than five years ago, I sought out and trained with young elite level guys in the area where we lived near to Brussels. Some of those rides almost killed me, but I told myself that if I wanted to race at the elite level again, I would also need to train at the elite level. I found it so motivating to be training with the elite guys, many of whom were at least twenty years my junior. But I never imagined that one day I would be out on the road with Alexander Kristoff and Sven Bystrøm.

When you ride with guys for six or seven hours there is no need to rush the conversation. So we chatted in a relaxed way as we headed further into the centre of the island, talking about how we came to cycling, about goals for 2016 and our families. I felt a bit self-conscious talking about my plans for competing in South Africa and Italy in the Spring, especially considering the races that they will be doing at that time, but the guys listened and wished me luck.

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Sven told me that they were working to a four-day training cycle – three days on the bike, and one day of rest before the next cycle. Today was the day for long steady distance after a day of interval work, which suited me just fine. We stopped for a short lunch of cheese sandwiches and coffee, topped-up our water bottles, and enjoyed the view to the peaks surrounding Tejeda. On the way back down the valley, I saw first hand how fast professional cyclists can descend, even on a training ride.

All in all I spent almost seven hours with Alexander and Sven, and we covered around 170kms and more than 3500m of climbing. It is a day that I will remember for a very long time, although not because there were any flashes of insight or golden nuggets of training advice. In fact, I was struck more by the ordinariness of a long day in the saddle with two guys who have chosen cycling not only as a passion but also a job. I had the pleasure to meet two very open and sincere human beings, who despite their fame and achievements were happy to share their ride with me.

I am a lucky guy, and I am sure 2016 is going to be a very good year – for me, for Sven Bystrøm and for Alexander Kristoff.

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HAVE YOU SEEN MY TED TALK: What is Success, Really?