Turning up for a club run in a tatty rain shell when your mates are kitted from head to toe in the latest technical fibres can make you feel like a bit of outcast. In an age where the very best is available for today’s cyclist, we tend to want more and more.
We can measure everything from power output to what we ate for breakfast but when do the upgrades really make a difference and when are we too busy looking at numbers and figures to listen to our bodies?
Team GB have proved that by leaving no stone unturned in the pursuit of success they can achieve the absolute best in results, but for us mere mortals are we simply throwing money at our bikes and hoping the phone rings with the offer of a pro contract? We speak to the experts to find out where we should be splashing our cash in order to maximise the rewards.
First up we spoke to a man in the know, Paul Mill of Elite Cycling Performance Coaching, who reassuringly explained that it’s entirely possible to be fit and competitive in today’s race scene without crippling yourself financially.
Can we get fit on a budget?
“Absolutely yes,” says Paul. “Fitness purely comes down to the individual’s desire to want to go and do the training. In recent times I think riders have concentrated too much on data and not doing the groundwork miles that enables them to really make use of technology.
“Being fit starts by first doing foundation aerobic mileage, in which it is very easy to do using perceived exercise exertion as a guide, rather than a pulse monitor or power measuring device. It doesn’t matter what budget you have available, the bottom line is you still need to pedal the bike.”
Full-time rider James Millard of Team Corley Cycles, agrees: “I’m not really one for poring over data, I have a Garmin but that’s about it. For me the majority of training is about following the right programme, but I’ve done it long enough to only need a few figures to confirm that I’m on track and to make sure I’m not overdoing it.”
James was 12 years old when he started racing on one of his dad’s old bikes: “I had whatever I needed to compete from my parents but if I wanted the best I had to save up myself, which was great for my own development. It really isn’t all about the kit. You can compete at a high level on a £500 bike or a £5,000 bike; like the old saying goes ‘you can’t turn a donkey into a racehorse’.”
The best that money can buy
So before we start focusing on all the data available to us we need to put in the hard work, but when we’re well on our way to fitness, can we get that competitive edge with the best kit to hand and optimum data analysis? “This is a tricky one,” says Paul, “but I think certainly in some cases this can be true.
“Some riders need to know that they have the very latest kit and technology for them to believe that they have prepared fully and are ready for competition. They believe that they have an edge as they have the data analysis to reinforce to themselves that they are in good shape and can ride to their potential. Having the
very latest bike and flashy wheels can also certainly give you a mental edge over other riders who are not fully focused on their goal.”
Money well spent
While most of us have a desire to feel absolutely prepared for the day of a big event, whether that be racing, training or a sportive, we may not have the cash to fork out on the very best tools. So, if we do decide to prioritise our spending, where should we be placing our hard-earned pennies to see big results?
Following a training plan will always get you far better results than haphazard and unstructured riding. CF’s own fitness plans on page 51 have been designed to get you the best results possible, if you follow our testing procedure and follow the training zones recommended they will also be uniquely suited to your ability.
The next step on is to pay for personalised advice.
Paul Mill suggests: “Seek out a fully qualified British Cycling Coach. They will prescribe your training, taking into consideration your lifestyle and commitments.”
Millard too stresses that “having someone to guide you as you are learning is one of the most productive things you can spend your money on.” But if you don’t want to find the extra money to employ a coach, try to pick and choose the advice you take on board wisely to make the most of the resources you do have, whether that be a friend or local cycling club.
“As I’ve got more experienced, having someone that is on my side yet objective has really helped me on numerous occasions,” explains James.
Mill also notes the importance of investing in a correctly fitting bike. “This is essential, and whether your bike costs £800 or £6,000, if it fits incorrectly then your position will be compromised which may cause poor results, or worse, injury.”
“The only downside to having all the data is that it can become a little tedious having to keep hitting the numbers,” continues Mill. “For professionals this is widely expected but they also find it hard at times and their coaches will tell them just to ride on feel.
“I also think that having numbers as your guide can sometimes make riders forget that you still need to know how to win a bike race. Racing tactically and using your power at the right time is the key to winning and it’s not as easy as having the best VO2 or highest power output, as this alone will not make you a winner.”
Off the bike
When we’re doing everything correctly on the bike, how important is it to spend money to maintain well-being off the bike? “I will have to say very useful, bearing in mind that we are based at Crystal Palace Sports Injury Clinic!” laughs Mill, “but seriously, looking after yourself off the bike is perhaps as important as on the bike.
“It is widely known that the body becomes subsequently stronger after periods of overload in training. If this is not followed by rest and recuperation then over-training will be very close by.”
So, where specifically should we fork out? “There is no scientific data to say that massage is beneficial or not but my belief is that increasing new blood flow to the muscles regularly will help them recover and make them stronger faster,” explains Mill.
“Physiotherapy is definitely something that riders need to look into. This is like having a cycling coach but instead of looking at training principles and plans they look at the effects of these factors and can work on prevention rather than cure. This is the key in that most people only see a physiotherapist when they are really injured instead of when they first get a niggle.
Most of us from time to time get a frequent nagging ache or pain somewhere, and it is then when a physiotherapist can really help. They will also, like a coach, record the injuries and from this they can build a profile of any specific training or load effects of either the initial injury or any other related injury.”
Millard says that for him the most important post-race tool would be a massage. “I’ve got a few niggles from various crashes over the years and the amount of times that the physios have saved me by spending an hour or more sorting me out between stages has made the difference between starting the next day or being on the first flight home.”
Specific gels, powders, bars and energy drinks undoubtedly offer a simple way to get fuel into your body quickly when you’re both riding and recovering, but what about the cheaper option of good old homemade grub? “After a really long day in the saddle you can’t beat a good macaroni cheese, but if you haven’t ridden long enough it’s chicken Caesar salad all the way,” says Millard.
“The most important thing in races is your musette,” he continues, “not only does it help to give you enough energy to get through the last 70km of the stage but it really lifts you when you have something you like in it to surprise you.
There are always a variety of items in it from mini cans of coke, through to sweets and sandwiches all wrapped meticulously in a special paper by the soigneurs. My all time favourite was a brioche filled with custard, but till this day I’ve not been able to stomach Battenburg since the 2007 Tour of Britain.”
Obree vs Boardman
Associated with marmalade sandwiches and washing machine bearings, the riding style of Graeme Obree really divided opinion when he began beating the cream of the crop on a homemade bike in the 1990s. Preferring to train on ‘feel’, Obree’s riding style contrasted starkly with the more structured approach of fellow Brit Chris Boardman.
Boardman reportedly stuck closely to a meticulously mapped-out grand plan designed with British Cycling Federation coaches, while Obree came through with a more haphazard method.
Both men ate, slept and breathed cycling but while Obree infamously overslept on the morning of his Hour Record attempt, Boardman left no stone unturned in pursuit of his world titles. Both of these highly respected athletes have had their fair share of victories, suggesting there may be room for a range of approaches when it comes to this sport.
Where would CF spend their cycling budget?
Eschewing bike-related hardware we look at the places we spend most of our cycling cash
This is number one. Never skimp on nutrition, as good fuel will support your training, recovery and racing. It means healthy whole food off the bike, good quality carbohydrate drink during training and a recovery product for afterwards. With a healthy, varied basic diet you shouldn’t need to worry about expensive supplements.
Keeping your body healthy and injury free will allow you to train harder and stick to your training plan. A properly functioning body will produce more power and ensure you can ride your bike for years to come.
Taking part in races or events helps build fitness, gives you something to work towards and measures your progress. We’d rather race often than have spangly new wheels.
A visit to a sports physiologist two or three times a year will give you a clear picture of your current fitness and what areas you need to work on, plus monitoring the progress you have made.
With the right kit you can cycle all year round even in the worst of the wet and cold weather. You don’t need lots of different jackets and jerseys, buy less but spend more, particularly on outerwear such as jackets.
Even if you aren’t purchasing a new bike it’s worth getting a fitting to make sure you are getting the most from your bike.
A basic heart-rate monitor is only a few quid but can help you to keep tabs on your riding efforts and recovery. If you have more to spend look to invest in a power meter.
A good set of rollers is cheaper than a decent turbo-trainer. You’ll learn about balance, improve your cadence and the stimulating knowledge that you’ll fall off if you lose focus helps make indoor sessions whizz by.