Cycling Skill: A Secret to Speed

By Coach Dustin Drewes

When I competed in my first triathlon, I had already spent several years racing bikes before I decided to branch out into another sport. My first race was a sprint distance event with an open water swim. Having no experience in open water, it quickly became clear that I was racing for survival and not placings. When I finally came into T1, nearly all the bikes were gone.

Out on the rolling and rainy course, I settled into my element and ended up passing riders at an almost constant rate which put me back into the front group of racers by T2. Along the way, I noticed many of the other racers losing speed to the elements. Many were surging up the climbs only to coast down the other side. It was raining so there was likely a general fear of speed and turning in the rain amongst the racers. Having spent years riding and racing in large groups, the rain, hills, and turns, these were all parts of the course I was now using as an advantage. The time I was gaining to the elements plus the power output of a veteran bike racer got me into T2 with almost no bikes there. 

Skill-Based Advantages Can Add Up

This isn’t making a case against training and being strong; however, the longer distance your race, the more skill-based advantages add up. These skills include but aren’t limited to:

  • Turning
  • Riding rough roads
  • Pacing in hills
  • Handling at high speeds

And then doing all those things in the rain! There’s hidden speed all over every bike course, and the skilled riders will know where to find it.

Things You Can Do To Improve Your Cycling Skills

Work with your coach to see where in your season you can find opportunities to improve them.

  1. Ride Outside: If you spend 100% of your time on the trainer, you will struggle to transfer all that power you’ve gained on a real-world racecourse in the elements. Can’t get outside during the week? Prioritize an outside ride on the weekend.
  2. Ride in Groups: It’s hard to quantify the value of spending time in groups, but every veteran cyclist knows it’s essential to getting better. Group rides will offer you the opportunity to push the pedals harder than you might on your own and learn from other experienced bike riders. See our other blog post about the types of group rides if you’re not sure what type of group ride would be best for you. Some group rides may require a road bike, so check with the rider leaders beforehand.
  3. Change up the Bike: Do you need a new bike? The answer is always YES. If your only ride is a tri bike, consider purchasing a second bike that is a different style before dropping big money on upgrading your tri rig. Having additional bikes that aren’t your main tri bike opens up a world of opportunities for you to get better. Road bikes open the door to more group riding and competitive cycling events such as road races, criteriums, and Gran Fondos. A mountain bike could greatly improve your bike handling if you get out on the trails. A track bike can improve your pedaling efficiency and condition you to higher speeds. Gravel/Cyclocross bikes also open the door to unpaved adventures. All of these skills will directly transfer when you do climb back onto your tri bike.
  4. Race your Bike: Road, Track, Mountain, Cyclocross, Gravel, Gran Fondo. In the world of competitive cycling, there’s something for everyone. If you want to improve your skills as a triathlete, enter a bike race (a real one not a virtual one). Not only will you become more skilled, but you will also become more powerful. If you want to find out about what cycling events are happening in your area, you can check out usacycling.org, bikereg.com, or LAMBRA.org

In the world of competitive cycling, there’s something for everyone. The intensity of bike racing will help you reach more new heights in power than you are unlikely to achieve training alone.

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