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
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