Getting on Track for Next Season

by Adrian Hegyvary

Winter is often the time of year when cyclists take a step back from their training, think about the season, and plan their approach to the following year. During this time it’s important for athletes to determine their strengths and weaknesses, and figure out how to structure the following year to address those skills. For many riders, one of the most beneficial modifications to their season is to integrate track racing into their training regimen.


There are three crucial skills that track hones more than any other type of racing: pack positioning, leg speed, and maximal power output. Many track races can be thought of as the key parts of road racing without all the filler—the final minutes of a race, the crucial splits, etc. without the miles leading up to them. And considering that each night you go through these scenarios multiple times, race skills and tactics get pounded into your head like no other discipline.

Three events that can improve your racing are scratch races, points races, and miss-n-outs. A scratch race is the simplest of all—you race for a set number of laps and the final sprint decides the race. But what’s special about this type of race on the track is that everything happens so quickly that there is little time for thinking and immediate decisions and responses are crucial to success. There are also different ways to win—waiting for the sprint and keeping the race together, attacking and sprinting from a break, or lapping the field (sometimes multiple times) to ensure a placing.

Points races are similar in that they demand constant attention to pack position, but differ in that a wider range of tactics can be employed to race successfully, sometimes simultaneously. Points races are over a set distance but also have intermediate sprints—usually every 5 or 10 laps. The first four riders across the line at those sprints receive points (5, 3, 2, 1) and the person with the most points at the end wins. Because there are several “finishes” throughout the race, you have numerous opportunities to try different tactics and catch your competitors sleeping, but consistency is still rewarded.

Miss-n-outs are the most tactical and difficult races to ride at first. In this event the last rider across the finish line is pulled from the race each lap until only three remain. After one neutral lap, the three riders sprint for the win. Miss-n-outs demand constant attention to what your competitors are doing, and racers frequently have to anticipate one another’s moves in order to remain at the front of the field. Though this skill doesn’t have a parallel in other types of racing, it teaches quick thinking and rewards riders who can “read” a race well.


Finally, the physical demands of track racing compliment any training regimen and create strong, well-rounded cyclists. Because you have just one gear, leg speed is a crucial skill for a track racer. Simply putting on a huge gear doesn’t make you race faster, because it becomes so difficult to accelerate that you won’t make it to the front of the race for the finish. Thus, track finishes are frequently decided at cadences well above 140rpm, a number most road riders would never even consider racing at but does great things for coordination, and ultimately your overall sprinting ability. Similarly, because most track races last just a few minutes, riders build their maximal power output with frequent race efforts lasting between 30 seconds and 3 minutes. These intervals are the ideal duration for developing VO2 max, and that fitness translates perfectly to the important parts of road racing, mountain biking, cyclocross and triathlon—the start, the short hill, the crosswind, the crucial field split, the final laps, etc.

The best way to start track racing locally is through the Marymoor Velodrome’s introductory track class and Monday night racing. Information can be found at www.velodrome.org. For riders who are interested in pursuing track racing at a higher level, or those who already race on the track and wish to further hone their skills and training, Cycle University will offer intermediate-level track classes designed to take your riding to the next level. Information can be found at www.cycleu.com, or email adrian@cycleu.com for details. If you’re ready to take your riding to the next level, be prepared to get on track this coming season.


Cross Focus: Refining Your Cyclocross Skills

by Adrian Hegyvary


The end of the cyclocross season is in sight, which means it’s time to buckle down and refine both your skills and fitness. Because there is little time left to make any drastic changes to your form or technique this season, we’re going to focus on three very significant aspects of cyclocross racing: tire choice, cornering, and top-end aerobic capacity.

Depending on what tires you’ve been using this season, you could see a dramatic boost to your handling abilities by switching tires. For clinchers, few tires have the reputation and palmarés of the Michelin Mud. It’s tread pattern is great for muddy, technical northwest courses, and the supple sidewalls provide excellent response. If the course is flat or more time stands to be lost cornering than climbing, try using thick, “thorn-resistant” tubes in your clinchers. They are heavy, but allow you to run ultra-low pressure (into the 30s, even for 170lbs+ riders) without pinch flatting. For those running tubulars, look into the super-swank Dugast or Challenge tires. They run about $100 retail, but are considered the best on the market. And for the ‘cross racer who has everything, look into the Dugast/Michelin fusion tire: a handmade tubular ride with the proven Michelin tread.

Once your tires are up to speed, it’s time to review proper cornering technique to be sure you’re conserving every ounce of speed through the turns. Regardless of the conditions, your outside foot should ALWAYS be down and fully weighted when cornering hard (if you aren’t pedaling through it, you should be railing it). Your upper body should be low and forward, both to lower your center of gravity and to put as much weight as possible over the front wheel. Bend from the hips to position the bulk of your mass forward, and bend the arms to absorb shock and hunker down that much more. With whatever mental attention you have left, concentrate on getting through the apex of the turn quickly and preferably before the half-way point. Since you are always dealing with compromised traction in cyclocross, it’s better to get through the apex of the turn quickly (and back on the gas fast) than go into the turn hot and either crash or have to scrub speed by swinging wide. To this end, try waiting longer than you think to dive into the corner, then cut sharp all the way to the inside of the turn so you have ample room to run-out the exit.

Finally, the most significant gain you’ll make to your cyclocross engine will come from focusing on your top-end aerobic ability. ‘Cross races are not decided on endurance and rarely in a sprint (if you’re sprinting for top-3s already, keep up the good work!), so where you stand to gain or lose the most are during the hardest portions of the race—when you are well above threshold and trying not to over-cook it. To hone that high-end strength, do 3-5 intervals of 3-5 minutes in length during the week. If you have been doing this type of training until now, try keeping the recovery intervals short—1:0.5 or 1:1. If these intervals are new to you, recover fully between efforts to maximize the quality of the interval. Be sure to taper going into the last events of the year, and allow adequate recovery time before and after weekly races.

Cyclocross racing is the epitome of a proper balance in fitness, equipment and technique. By focusing on these three aspects of the sport, you’ll finish the season strong and faster than you’ve been all year. For information about Cycle University’s cyclocross classes and training programs, visit www.cycleu.com or email service@cycleu.com.


Need It: Motivation and Goal Setting

by Adrian Hegyvary

Do you know your primary goal for cycling in the next 3 years? Do you consciously know the dreams that fuel your cycling addiction? I have worked with 100’s of riders of all shapes and sizes over the last 7 years as a full time coach, and while many of them know what fuels their ambitions whether it was beating a certain benchmark or turning their lives around through dedication to a healthy discipline, some of them weren’t conscious of their choices. Watching Lance and company this year might give you the feeling that there is more to rocking the world than just rolling over after surviving cancer and deciding to get healthy again…and that the goals you consciously and subconsciously adopt are perhaps the most important element in achieving your cycling dreams.

Right now you are probably thinking “I know why I ride, I like to eat pasta and drink wine!” or it might be “it keeps me healthy”. And those are fine goals. But those are goals with mediocre levels of energy and emotion to them. You might also like to sit around in your pajama’s watching cycling on TV and eating ice cream (like I do) and that might be just about as compelling! However if you think about how the 2 hr ride you have planned will: lower your blood pressure, relieve stress from work, make you a better partner or parent, help you lose a few pounds and enhance your self image, boost your energy level at work to make more of a contribution, or give you the opportunity to think of the next breakthrough in your field…then you are on to something. And if you think about how each of these “little” benefits might lead to you making a larger positive change or attracting a substantially better life and you actually get excited about it ?! Then you are really on the verge of making your goals not only clear, but energizing and motivational as well.

For instance, a number of professional cyclists in the last few years have pulled off very compeling victories fueled by intense emotional stress. Alexandre Vinokourov’s win at the 2003 Paris-Nice came after vowing to take the victory in honor of his friend and countryman Andrei Kivilev who died in a freak accident on the second stage. Similar cases, including Lance Armstrong’s stage win at the 1995 Tour de France following his teammate Fabio Casartelli’s death, Chris Wherry’s victory at the 2002 Saturn Classic three days after his father’s death, and even Tyler Hamilton wearing his beloved dog’s ID tags while winning the Gold Medal at the 2004 Olympics in the TT, all exemplify the role motivation and purpose can play in boosting an athlete’s performance. And then there is Lance’s incredible feat, only a man thinking about all the kids in hospital beds, and the importance of his riding to others could achieve what he has done.

Thankfully, the same mental strategies these cyclists used to turn emotional stress into physical strength can be adopted without suffering personal tragedy. Knowing how to tap into your mental reserves through positive mental exercises like goal setting can help you both in your training and on the day of your peak event. The first step in this process is to take a step back and evaluate yourself in the broadest possible terms, for now limited to cycling: what is your ultimate cycling dream? It could be winning a certain big race, completing a big ride, even beating a certain person or riding a certain bike. Forget about the how, the when, and the why for now.

Now take a step back and think about what dreams you have for five years out. Again, think big and don’t worry about logistics. Now think about where you want to be in 3 years… in one year… by the end of this season…and now think about what it would do for you to achieve these things…what would it give you. Feel it, imagine it, believe it.

I have found that the more intense you are connected to the outcomes you choose to focus on, and the benefits they will give you and those around you, the more likely you are of making them happen. Cycle University puts on goal setting classes in the Spring and Fall, look for our next Goal setting session in October. It might be the best 2 hours you will spend on yourself this year.


The Art of Descending

Do you fear going fast downhill on your bike? Is 30 miles per hour on a downhill with nothing but your lycra and a lightweight foam helmet to protect you too fast? Would you like to learn the secrets of going faster downhills?  Because I started my racing career in Colorado where the big mountains are part of every good ride, I developed my downhill skills more than most Seattle riders. When I returned here I won races by being able to descend better than others, and since becoming a cycling coach full time in 1997 I have taught people with histories of crashing how to regain their confidence, new racers how to corner for criterium wins, and new riders descending fundamentals that make cycling fun and safe.

At Cycle University we teach the three basics of good descending.  First, learn to stop quickly so you have confidence that you can quickly bring your speed down if you need to. Second, in corners, place all your weight on your outside leg–really stand on it. Third, keep your head up and look where you want to go, not at obstacles. Since # 1 and 2 are a bit technical for this article, let’s start with #3, which really has nice meaning beyond cycling as well.

One of my favorite cycling metaphors is what I call the “Clear Path”. It is a proven fact that what we focus on grows in size and importance our minds. It is the same when we are riding a bicycle; where we look and whatever we focus on is where our tires will go. There are many obstacles that try and grab our attention, the little rocks, the big poles on trails, the sticks in the bike lanes, manhole covers, cracks in the pavement, cars. We need to identify these obstacles, but our focus must change from the obstacle (the problem) to the Clear Path through the obstacle (the solution). Many people get stuck looking at the rock. They see the rock, guardrail, car that pulled out and say “oh no!” and keep staring at it as they run into it. It goes against human nature, but now is the time to begin placing your focus on the CLEAR PATH leading you safely through any danger or fears on the roads.

A related challenge is in the high mountains where there is a large drop off at the edge of the trail or road. Obviously there are dangers from riding fast with exposure to big falls, but you will be safe if you put the blinders on and only focus your gaze on where you want your tires to go (with a little practice). Look more ahead, as far as your sight will allow, then alternate your gaze back to the ground in the next 10-20 feet ahead to check for small obstacles to maneuver through (further ahead if you are going faster) and back up. The specific way you want to do this is with your head UP, and your eyes moving up and down scanning the road for the Clear Path instead of your head bobbing up and down. Let me explain.

I learned this key piece of good descending as a pro mountain biker. In my first 24 hour race in Capitol Forest, Olympia Washington in 1994 I was on a 4 person team and we were battling to stay in first place, each riding about 1 hour before the next one went with only a 3 hr recovery. I had a headlamp for my night rides (24 hours means you see how far your team can ride in 24 hours non-stop) and the descent was slick and rutted with a slippery clay surface. I had come from road racing and was still crashing a lot and learning how to ride off road at race speed, and there was a section of slick switch backs. Because my single head light gave me only about 3 feet in diameter of vision and I was forced to keep my gaze ahead and up to anticipate the big turns, I was totally in the dark about what was going on right in underneath and in front of me. I had to FEEL the trail and learn to trust my ability to stay upright.  It was amazing! I rode this part of the trail faster than I had during the daylight, and at the time I thought it was because I was getting too tired from using the brakes (pre- V-brake days) and was in the “what the heck” kind of mood just letting the bike go a bit and not trying to micro manage my treads. I was only partially right.


I later learned what a coach in California had discovered working with mountain bike students. When you look down, your inner ear cannot balance you. This coach has students ride over logs looking up the whole time with chin parallel to the ground and has had great success. Your inner ear will help keep you upright, so keep your chin up to let your body naturally help your balance and control. I still use this technique to this day, and teach it in our most popular road class, Road 201. Here are some other hot tips for better descending.

-Relax, breathe and stay loose. Elbows bent, butt slightly off the saddle. The bike responds better to a relaxed body.

-Start wide and turn in toward the apex of the corner, all the weight on the outside leg.

-Don’t go faster than you can safely brake in time to avoid what is out of sight.

-To stop fast lean way back behind the saddle and hit the brakes hard.

We recommend you join us for a class or private lesson to see these skills taught by a trained coach who can give you specific feedback to improve your technique.


What it Takes to Finish STP in One Day

by Craig Undem

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So you’ve already completed the Group Health Seattle To Portland (STP) Bicycle Classic. You’ve endured the 200-mile trek, earned your finishers patch (no medals for completing this event), and discovered that the once daunting goal is within the realm of your abilities. While completing the ride is a feat in and of itself, perhaps you’re ready to step up your training and try a new challenge: complete STP in a single day.

Read on to learn what it takes to tackle this challenge and join the 25 percent of riders who will leave Seattle on Saturday, July 16 and roll into Portland later that same day.

Developing a Training Plan

The most important part of any cycling training plan is figuring out the number of hours or miles you will ride on a daily and weekly basis. These training rides are the building blocks that will prepare your body and mind to ride long and hard on the day of the event.

The mileage chart provided with this article is for riders who want to finish STP in one day. However, depending on your conditioning and riding experience, you may need more or less miles than this program presents. Feel free to consult Cycle University to outline a program that fits your level of riding and athletic background. Before starting any training program, consult your doctor – especially if you are over the age of 30 and new to cycling.

Keep in mind that every person is different and no single training program will work for everyone. To prevent from becoming overwhelmed, keep a light-hearted attitude – remember that you are doing this for fun!

Advice For the Long Haul

#1 Ride with others. Take a cycling skills class and join a community like the Cascade Bicycle Club or the Portland Wheelmen to learn the language of group cycling and become comfortable riding with other people.

#2 Take your time and work at a level your body will allow. Don’t ride as hard as you can on every training ride. This is the most common rookie mistake. Start your training with easy miles and add an occasional hard day once every week or two. The rule of thumb for any long ride is to gradually build your endurance until you can complete 75 percent of the mileage of your longest day of your ride. For one-day STP riders, that’s about 150 miles. It’s OK to push yourself harder some days, but most of the time, go easy. At the end of your training ride, you should feel like you could have gone a little farther.

#3 As your miles increase, also increase your speed. On normal training rides, slow down when you start breathing hard and if you can’t say a 10-word sentence at a normal tone. Halfway into your training plan, however, start recording your average speeds during your midweek and Saturday rides.

Try to increase the pace of your midweek rides, moving toward your target average miles-per-hour pace. (i.e. to complete the 204-mile STP in one day under 12 hours, you will need to average 17.5mph and take only one 30-minute break). Learn to ride in a paceline to further stretch your endurance and speed.

#4 Take a practice spin. Use the Flying Wheels Century as your final rehearsal. Test out the energy foods, equipment and clothing you will use during STP. At the end of this ride, you’ll have a good idea of what you need to change before the big day.

#5 Take care of yourself. June will be your hardest training month. Between rides, try to eat right with an emphasis on carbohydrates for recovery and endurance, stay hydrated and sleep at least eight hours a night. Two weeks before the event – after your last big ride – focus on recovery. Your mileage will decrease, but keep your cadence high and your effort at or above your target STP speeds to help ensure a one-day finish. During this last 2 weeks ride hard every 3rd day, and rest the other two.  Remember: by this point, your training is already in the bank. Resting up will get you fresh for the big day.

Craig Undem has been a full time professional cycling coach since 1997. He completed the STP in one day in 1985, and went on to race at the elite level internationally for 10 years. He started Cycle University to help riders achieve better health and safer riding. He and his team of coaches offer indoor classes in the winter and outdoor classes April through October. He can be reached at (206) 523-1122 or craig@CycleU.com