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24 cycling tips from Team GB's Olympians

Nick Soldinger
25 Aug 2016

With the Rio Olympics being so successful for Team GB, we discover some tips from its cycling stars to improve your riding.

The Rio Summer Olympics may be over, but there was a triumphant haul from Britain’s track and road cyclists. So how do the riders representing Team GB prepare themselves for podium finishes? Here Froomey, Cav, Wiggo and co explain what keeps them going, both physically and mentally, to compete at the biggest sporting event on earth. And in doing so offer up some pretty solid advice that the rest of us cycling mortals can apply to our slightly less glorious endeavours!

Refuelling 

We all know how important diet is to a top-level cyclist’s performance, but what do the gong-chasers munch in the hope it might to give them the edge in Rio? 

1. Try low carb rides. Chris Froome: ‘I sometimes do what we call a low-carb ride where I’ll have an omelette in the morning with a bit of avocado or something but no carbohydrates, and stick to that at least for the first few hours of the ride. In theory, it teaches your body to be more efficient and to burn fat as fuel so that when you do come to race day and you fuel up well with carbohydrates before the race, it’s almost like you’ve got a second source of energy that you didn’t have before.’  

2. Eat to train. Geraint Thomas: ‘Nutrition is massively important if you want to train at your best. On a training day, I’ll have porridge and yoghurt in the morning. During the ride I might have flapjacks, rice cakes and maybe a caffeine gel at the end. When I’m finished I’ll have a protein drink and some rice with fish, then in the evening some salad and soup with pasta and chicken.’

3. Breakfast is important. Sir Bradley Wiggins: ‘I start the day off with a good quality muesli or porridge, as they release energy and carbohydrates slowly. I also add a teaspoon of goji berries [which are crammed with vitamin C], flax and sunflower seeds [for added omega-3 fatty acids], which taste good and are easily digested.’

4. Make sure the tank is full. Adam Yates: ‘On race day I’ll have a bowl of cereal, like some muesli, and a big plate of rice for breakfast. It’s not enjoyable and it doesn’t taste good, but you just have to do it and get it down or you’ll bonk when you’re out there racing.’

5. Don't skip meals. Lizzie Armitstead: ‘I make sure that I have three main meals a day. I never skip a meal. I have seen so many riders who get into this cycle of putting on weight and starving themselves and you can only do that so many times before your metabolism is totally knackered. So I make sure
I have three meals, and then it’s about eating consistently healthy.

6. Avoid sugar spikes. Ed Clancy: ‘Gels have a purpose for racing and if you time it right you can get a good hit when you want it. But for day-to-day training, the last thing you want is a sugar spike 20 minutes into your ride. Low-GI real food is the way to go for long rides. On training camps we get the soigneur to make batches of rice cakes, and porridge in the morning, rather than sugar-happy cereal. There’s no point having that and blowing up in the first half hour!’

7. Train to eat. Laura Trott: ‘I know I can’t have really sugary sports drinks as I have an acid reflux problem and they just make me ill. So I always stick with food that I know agrees with me. Getting used to what you will be eating and drinking before and during an event should be part of your training. For me, it’s normally pasta and meat the night before a long ride, a breakfast of Weetabix Minis and toast, and a few bars during the ride itself. I normally aim to have a mouthful of something every 20 minutes. But everyone’s different so see what works best for you and then stick with it.’

8. Go natural. Mark Cavendish: ‘Instead of  concocting recovery shakes all the time, I find it’s better to pick a snack that’s packed with good stuff. I’ve always loved pistachios, which have a lot of protein – more than 12g in a typical 150g serving – and tonnes of vitamins and minerals like potassium, so I eat them between race stages. I even had my nutritionist create an energy bar with them. Now practically the whole cycling world eats them. Never go completely synthetic – your body needs real food.’

In the saddle

9. How to climb part 1. Geraint Thomas: ‘I attack a climb on the steeper parts, the harder parts. That way I stay on top of it. Then I use the shallower gradients to have a bit of a breather. Also I try to stay in the saddle, only standing to break up the rhythm or on a particularly steep section. Treat a climb like a time trial – it’s you against the climb!”

10. How to climb part 2. Chris Froome: ‘Aerodynamics aren’t such a big factor on a climb so you don’t need to be huddled over your handlebars. I like to sit up, open up my chest a bit and have good leverage with my hands.  I don’t want my upper body to be moving from side to side, as that’s just a waste of energy, so I try to keep my upper body motionless if I can, and let my legs do all the work. 

11. How to climb part 3. Sir Bradley Wiggins: ‘Don’t just use the highest gear you can. You may go a little slower on a lower gear, but if you’re pedalling more quickly and more smoothly, you’ll go further and faster in the long term, with happier legs. When you arrive at a hill, don’t attack it in the highest gear you can manage unless you’re utterly confident you can turn the gear all the way to the top. Instead, select a lower gear to start with, remain in the saddle, and change it up if you’re comfortable.’

12. Feed your speed. Laura Trott: ‘As you progress and try to improve your speed, you can try a drill called “20-40s” – sprint for 20 seconds and then rest for 40 seconds, and repeat that sequence four times for one set. You can do as many sets as you want. It’s a good way to improve your speed and fitness in quite a short amount of time.’

13. Sprint train the smart way. Mark Cavendish: ‘I like to get to the bottom of a slight downhill where I’m just rolling. Not pedalling much, just rolling at about 40kmh. Then when I hit the flat, boom! I hit it hard, and I go 70kmh and I try to hold that for 300 metres. I always die. And it’s all about dying and just trying to sustain that effort for 300 metres. If you can do that distance then you can sustain 250 metres, no problem.’

14. Build your fitness. Lizzie Armitstead: ‘I do a lot of 30-second max efforts, with minimal recovery (about 30 seconds), and repeat those intervals as often as I can. It’s tough but really good for fitness. Another good session is to do two 20-minute threshold efforts at close to your maximum effort. I really struggle with them but I know they make me better.’

15. Test yourself. Adam Yates: ‘For me, the harder and more difficult the race, the happier I am. The hillier it is, the more it suits my strengths as a climber, so I will try to get stuck in. I don’t like easy days with lots of flats.’

16. Cadence is king. Ed Clancy: ‘When you learn to ride at a faster cadence you will find that you start to pedal more efficiently. If you use a low cadence, it’s easy to stomp up and down on the pedals. But if you are pedalling quickly you naturally learn how to release power throughout the full 360-degree turn of the pedals. Think of your cadence like the revs of a car – if you want to go faster, you have to rev your engine.’

Mental preparation

17. Have role models. Adam Yates: ‘When I first started getting serious with cycling, I remember seeing Joaquim Rodriquez on a stage of Tirreno-Adriatico and one of the stages finished on a steep climb which he won in emphatic style. Ever since then, I’ve wanted to win races like that and turn myself into that kind of rider.’

18. Concentrate on commitment. Ed Clancy: ‘The secret is to focus on commitment. Motivation comes and goes but commitment is different: either you commit to a training programme, or you don’t. It’s as simple as that. So on days when you can’t be arsed, accept that you’re not motivated and concentrate instead on your commitment. You might not enjoy training that day, but commit to it and in five hours’ time you will feel an amazing sense of satisfaction.’

19. Break the ride down and make it manageable. Geraint Thomas: ‘A lot of cycling is mental. I’d say it’s half mental and half physical. You go through so much in your head. That little voice is telling you to stop: ‘What are you doing?’ It’s a big battle but you learn to break the ride down into smaller sections and keep going.”

20. Don't make excuses. Lizzie Armitstead: ‘I get out for a ride every morning at 9am because if you make training a routine or a habit you will always get out the door straight away. If I sit around thinking about it I start to make up excuses, especially if the weather is not good. It’s also good to have somebody to meet because you won’t want to let them down – even if you’re not feeling up for a ride. I meet my friend, the Australian cyclist Tiffany Cromwell, every morning so we keep each other on track.’

21. Enjoy yourself. Laura Trott: ‘I find it more stressful in the velodrome than on the road because it can just be you in front of the crowd, but for me it’s just about enjoying it. By going out with a sense that I’m going to enjoy what I’m about to do, I find that stops me thinking too much about what I’m about to do!

22. Failure can drive success. Chris Froome: ‘I think motivation is an interesting topic. On the back of disappointment, sure, in the moment it is hugely frustrating and you feel as if you’ve lost months and months of training and preparation– just gone straight out the window – but actually those disappointments are fantastic, that’s what picks me up, that’s what motivates me, really. I go home and I analyse why things went wrong and I really feel as if that gives me a lot of motivation to come back even stronger the next opportunity I get.’

23. Deploy your imagination. Mark Cavendish: ‘I get in the zone by visualising the race. Sports psychologists actually teach this technique, but it’s something I’ve done my whole life anyway. When I was a kid, I wasn’t out riding the roads around the Isle of Man, I was imagining riding the roads I’d seen on telly. I still do that now.’

24. Have a word with yourself. Sir Bradley Wiggins: ‘You have to keep your chimp in the cage – your “chimp” is your emotional side, and in a pressure situation you have to react with logic, not emotion. Develop a mantra like “Cool and calm” when you’re in a good place, to reiterate to yourself when things get serious. You can practise something a million times – like a footballer with penalties – but when it comes to the crunch, you need to transform into a ruthless robot or you’ll choke and miss your chance.’

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