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To hold back or give it everything, in bike racing or life

January 30, 2013
Kristin Weber in second after start of the 40-44 race at 2013 CX nationals

Kristin Weber in second after start of the 40-44 race at 2013 CX nationals

Different opinions exist on the topic of energy conservation in cycling. Many say riding smart is all about knowing how to dose out your energy, when to spend it versus when to conserve it. Sometimes reporters will ask road riders during a race if they’re “saving up” for the next and perhaps bigger event. That could mean saving energy, or playing it safe, which could be the same thing.

When asked if he’s “holding something back” for another event, a rider might say, “There’s no holding back.” So maybe the rule of thumb – if there is one – is when strong and going well, a rider won’t conserve. He or she goes for it. And when a rider’s building up to peak or his target race lies ahead on the calendar, he plays it safe: don’t attack, ride on another’s wheel, control the heart rate tightly.

But there are only so many chances to win in bike racing where the number of first places determines a cyclist’s value; no one remembers second (unless it’s a perennial second that becomes legend). That being the case, why would anyone ever hold anything back?

The answer to the energy question likely varies by cycling discipline. But with the Masters Cyclo-cross World Championships taking place this week and many age groups commencing with qualifying heats before racing the final on a subsequent day, this event seemed like a good testing ground for asking this question: In your heat race, will you be full gas the entire race or, if you see you are doing well enough to qualify, will you “hold something back” for the finals?

Here’s what some masters riders said.

Kristal Boni, Rapid Racing, category 35-39: “I don’t have a heat but if I did, I wouldn’t hold back. My feeling when you are in a race is that you give it what you’ve got. Plus, all season we’ve been racing back-to-back days so 2 races in 3 days (one being really short) shouldn’t be a problem.”

John Bliss, Team Kappius, category 55-59: “No reason to hold back: 1 day to recover; course isn’t treacherous (to date); and THIS IS WORLDS!!”

Russell Stevenson going for it in the 2013 cyclocross national championship 35-39 race

Russell Stevenson going for it in the 2013 cyclocross national championship 35-39 race

Russell Stevenson, Boulder Cycle Sport, category 35-39: “No holding back. The better you finish in the heat dictates your finals start position. I’d hold back only in the final 200m and only if I was guaranteed to win. No other circumstance.”

Kristin Weber, Boulder Cycle Sport, category 40-44: “Agreed, nothing to lose everything to gain, a day to recover and it opens you up for the finals.” Weber’s comment reflects something that helps her to race well – she’s better and faster if she’s been racing as opposed to racing after a break in competition.

Current Masters World Champion and ‘cross sage, Pete Webber, Boulder Cycle Sport, category 40-44: “Agreed with the above. Also, you want to test yourself and see how your level is. As in any cross race, you can’t ride over your head, meaning you can’t go 100% full gas the whole time or you risk blowing up, or more likely, crashing or going off course or breaking something on your bike. You need to ride at a level that you can manage and stay smooth and in control.”

So while situational and personal reasons factor into how these riders will use their energy, and micro-conserving that energy at the highest level of effort factors into finishing successfully, they all agree. No holding back.

Refilling the tank, in racing and life

Now that these high-performing masters cyclo-cross racers have answered the energy question above, another question surfaces.

Assuming there’s no holding back whenever they race, and chances are the result of giving it all they’ve got won’t always be winning, how does a bike racer maintain the desire and discipline to lay it all on the line race after race, emptying the tank again and again? The same could be asked of a single person looking for a mate, a salesperson, or the parent of a special needs child.

It goes without saying that staying in the game satisfies a need. That could be a need for competition, love or recognition, nourishment, to help another become their best, or to make the most of gifts received. So recalling the reason for being in the game is crucial. And beyond that?

For a start, taking care of self, training and eating well, to be strong and ready for every challenge.

Then replenishing the tank by doing things that feel good. And that includes rewards for showing up on the start line, whether that’s on a cyclo-cross course or at the start of a new day. Because no one wins if he doesn’t try.

From → Cyclocross, Essays

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