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The Noob’s Guide to Cycling and Speed: How (and WHY) I Save My Good Legs for the Big Rides


August 2018

I went for a ride with a buddy of mine last evening. Just a twenty-mile loop, nothing special.

The club ride, what will likely be an abject lesson in cycling suffering due to the 90°+ heat and the double-digit wind for 30-ish miles, rolls out this evening.  It’s not going to be easy.  It never is easy riding into what feels like a furnace.

Wednesday will likely be an easy day, or even a day off for rain. Then we leave for DALMAC. Four days, 385 miles (give or take) and an average north of 19-mph. In other words, we’ve got some big days ahead.

With that table set, I rode over to that buddy’s house at a leisurely pace (18-ish mph). He was finishing getting his bike ready and we rolled shortly thereafter. We rode alongside one another for a couple of miles, then he took the first turn up front, into the wind. He took the pace up to 20-ish. Then I took a turn and kept the pace steady but a little slower. My friend took over again and cranked it up to 22. Then I reciprocated, holding the pace. Three miles later and we’re flirting with 25-mph but with a tailwind. Then, 22-mph into a headwind. And that’s when I sat up.

My friend eventually let up when he realized I wasn’t there anymore (I’d have let him go all the way home at that pace, even though I could have easily stayed with him).  When I caught up to him at 18.5-mph I said, “Your idea of a recovery ride and mine are two very different things”.  He responded that he just goes by how he feels and he felt pretty good, so he was hammering.

That’s when I realized I needed to write this post, so here it is in all its simplicity…  How, and more important, why, I save my good legs for the big days.

That friend of mine rarely has his good legs on the big days (at best he’s 60/40, maybe even 75/25), and that response right there is exactly why.  Rather than take it easy on the days meant for taking it easy, he hammers whenever he feels good, which is quite often occurs on the days he should be taking it easy to get ready for the days when he’ll be needed.  Not to put too fine a point on it, his thinking is entirely wrong.

There is no benefit, zero, to pushing it hard on what should be an easy day.  There is no physical gains to be had, there will be no improvements realized within that week.  None, zip, zero, nada.  The downsides, however, are enormous.  So you ride hard on Monday.  Then Tuesday.  In 24 hours later you’ve got the biggest tour of the year where you’re going to be required to do more than your fair share to get the group up north because you’re one of the strong, young bucks.  That one extra day pushing it “because I was feeling pretty good” could be the difference between you struggling to hang on for the second day and doing your part for the group over the four-day weekend.

Is that assessment a little hyper-dramatic?  Probably, but not by much.

The reason the good riders ride at the level they do is that they save the good legs for the big days.  Everything you read, from pro interviews down to this blog, will suggest that if you’re going to ride daily, you have to pick and choose your good days.  You never saw the Jensie off the front two or three days in a row.  He picked his days.  Fabian Cancellara, same story.  How about Sagan?  Even being the freak of nature he is, he’s got his days at the back of the pack (usually when things go up) and he’s usually hiding mid-pack until there are points to get… and they’re all vastly superior to what we weekend warriors can do.

I know when I need my good legs; Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday or Sunday.  In the case of this week it’ll be Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.  Going hard on Monday would be, to put it bluntly, silly (possibly ignorant) – no matter how good I feel.

This is the difference between the successful cyclists, at any level, and those who have to hide at the back and suck wheel when they should be up front pulling the group down the road.  There is no greater pariah in cycling than the guy who sucks wheel at the back when he’s one of the strongest riders in that group.  If you want to lose friends and influence people, go hard when you should be saving it up because “you go by how you feel”.

Nobody in the group cares how you felt Monday.  They care how you ride when you’re with the group – when it counts, and if you think it won’t be noticed that you’re making excuses to hide all day, you’ve got another thing coming.

***Now, I want to take a moment at the end of this post to make an important clarification.  In any good group, you’ve got stronger and weaker riders.  The stronger do more than their fair share and the weaker do less.  There’s nothing wrong with this, and a good “stronger” cyclist will understand that some people are there to be helped.  Those people add something to the group, or they spent their decades up front doing their service for the group.  Now it’s their time to hide.  This is the natural order of things and they are not the subject of this post.  It should not be taken that way.  As long as each cyclist does their best, under normal circumstances there should be no hard feelings.

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