One day I woke up and realized that I had become what is known in the cycling world as a ‘Sprinter’. “Surprise!” Did the magic cycle fairy visit me the night before and sprinkle ‘sprint dust’ on my quads? No, sorry to dampen any dreams there. This did not occur by focused design or conscious training on my part either. By the time it dawned upon me that I had unintentionally achieved something quite good – I then had to figure out how it happened.
I’m a little backwards like that.
After some thought, I realized that I had become a better rider because I struggled for so long. For many years, you would find me hanging on the back of the ‘A’ Group on Tuesday and Thursday nights until I popped off and made up part of the ‘A2’ Group. I would feel like I was constantly gapping, trying to catch on, or working really hard to stay on the back. At that time: I didn’t like to get too close because I was nervous about the unpredictability of the other riders (I still am). If someone jumped at the front I was victim to the yo-yo after-affect and already behind the ball by the time I could go.
In short: it was hard as heck.
But I kept doing it. Every week I would ride what is best described as an unofficial interval race from stoplight, to sprint zone, to the next stoplight. It was hammer like mad from the green light (“GO!”) and can be considered generally insane. I would get dropped all the time at first. Then, slowly I got better and could stay with the group longer. They say you are a product of what you do (who is “they” anyway?). I suppose my current modest abilities are because I held on and struggled through what is basically excellent training for sprinters.
I got where I am now because I STRUGGLED. I failed a lot. I got frustrated at myself and told myself “you can’t do this!” But I did it anyway. In the failing (and being stubborn) I became stronger. Think of it like this: if you are always in the pack and enjoying the draft, you are not achieving anything. The only way you get better is by pushing yourself. Constantly struggling to stay up with a group that was stronger than I was slowly built up the strength to where I could hang on. Now: I see if I how long I can stay at the front! It might not be long, but the point is – I am trying really hard and I’m pushing myself.
Trying really hard isn’t always pretty and it doesn’t photograph well.
So, if you are more worried ‘looks’ and would rather play it safe, don’t expect many gains. I remember a girl getting mad at me once because I was struggling to close a gap that had formed after an attack and she was ticked because she had to go around me and work. I told her “you should thank me!” because she would be stronger for it. Just sitting in the pack, enjoying my ample draft, and everything going perfect doesn’t a racer make. If you race to race (as opposed to training to race) then get out there, blow up, get dropped, make ugly race faces, catch the group, and work like crazy. You might not win, but it will make you stronger.