I had hoped to get to do these things a bit earlier in the season, but with the half marathon and the long, long winter, May came around and I finally started the cycling season.
While I managed to stay fit during winter and even went on a spin-bike a few times in the gym, I still lack early season cycling skills (and miles, for that matter). While it is tempting to enjoy the good weather and go out hard and long, I know that this wouldn’t do me good. During the past years I’ve learned that 4 things help me get back into the cycling season pretty quickly:
Ride with High Cadence
Yes, I have strong legs from all that running, and my cardiovascular fitness isn’t too shabby, either. For the first 200-250km on the bike though I try to pedal a high cadence, the goal being to finish the rides with an average cadence of >95 rpm. I also limit the coasting to an absolute minimum. I’ll even sometimes go so far as to break on a slight downhill in order to be able to just keep pedaling.
This allows my legs to get used to a smooth circular motion with the pedals. It also teaches my upper body (again) to stay steady despite the fast movement from the legs. If I can hold a cadence of 130 for longer than a minute without getting thrown off the saddle, I know I’m halfway back.
Ignore the Big Ring
This goes along with the high cadence. I specifically ride a 43×21 or 43×19 most of the time. During this early season my big chain ring is virtually non-existent as I simply don’t use it. I get strange looks from other cyclists sometimes, but I can ignore those. I don’t give in to the temptation to push the big ring on some downhill sections just to enjoy the speed. It will wear out my legs pretty fast without getting a lot of benefits.
Sit on the Climbs
A form of pure self-torture. Of course climbing a hill is a lot easier if you just stand up and push down on the pedals. But for me – at least this early in the season – this also means bad form, something I really want to avoid. Therefore I will use the lowest gear I have and keep pushing uphill in my saddle. Ignoring the burning sensation in the quads is the hard part. I try to forget it by focusing on an effective pedaling style, distributing the force equally between pushing down and pulling up with the other leg.
Needless to say that non of my early-season courses have really steep (>13%) climbs…
Ignore the Other Cyclists
This is especially important as my season happens to start a good month later than everyone else’s. Oh I would love to latch onto the group that just passed, and I might be able to hang on by just pushing a tiny bit more. Maybe use the big ring? Or at least the 43×17? Nope, they shall pass freely as I’m on my own mission. Drafting and coasting and then sometimes pushing hard is not what these first rides are about. I know I’ll make up for it once I gained all cycling fitness back. Just give me two more weeks…
This last trick is probably unique to my situation. See, I bought a new road bike in 2012 and I loved the Oh my god this new bike is so light and awesome sensation every minute. That’s why I vowed to ride the old bike for at least 250km at the start of each season, just to be able to experience this sensation again … and again … and again. A nice side-effect is the added weight I have to move (without putting it on my body …), which makes me stronger for the rest of the season. And I know I’ll lose those 4kg in zero time once I switch bikes.
With that, I hope everyone has a successful and safe cycling season!