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road racing cycling tips right from the Volta a Portugal

-By: Tomas Swift-Metcalfe

Last modified: August 10, 2013

Volta a Portugal -road racing cycling tips

A quick intro to the Volta

I’m riding the Volta a Portugal for the third time. This is a special race, it’s called a ‘Grandíssima’ by the Spanish and Portuguese riders. It’s also called the ‘Hell of the south’ by the occasional northern European that strays this way. It’s 1000 miles, a prologue, a time trial a rest day and nine road stages covering the harsh, mountainous center of the north and cetre of Portugal. Temperatures can soar well above 40ºC at certain points. It’s regarded by some as a good staging ground for the grand tours, with teams like Garmin often attending to train up riders like Dan Martin into GC riders. Outside of the grand tours (Tour, Giro & Vuelta a España), it’s considered the hardest race on the international calendar. I hope you find some of my road racing cycling tips ueful!

Anxiety & complacency

The week before the race is important and a lot of mistakes can be made. Complacency is the usual cause. You’ve trained well, your fit, slim and everything is okay. You begin to ease of a bit. It’s important to ease of a bit, but you’re used to ‘living hard’ and begin to worry about stupid things. While it’s important not to let loose, it’s also important to relax. The best way to relax before an event (if you have the opportunity) is to do something constructive such as recointer the event course, study your opponents, plan a coping strategy. Avoid negative influences, such as nervous, negative people. Plan a training holiday or training camp.

Coping strategy

Most people used to high stress environments develop coping strategies. These can be simple, such as a countdown calendar. Habitual, such as eating times, peculiar and somewhat obsessive compulsive behaviour, such as how you’re bag is organised. Bullying; some people unfortunately project their angst onto others negatively, thankfully not on my team! Playing; an important aspect of a healthy team environment.

Personally I have divide the race into various blocks according to the type of stress I’ll experience. For example, the first few days where no real riding is done (TV interviews, prologue, travel), I know there will be a lot of people suddenly crowding round and causing stress. The first stage or two I know there are a lot of nervous riders in the peloton and things are stressful. And so on. So I’m prepared for the extra stresses, and allowed to concentrate on the race while I’m racing.

Realistic goals

My role in the race has been as a roulleur in the past two editions of the race and I’ve had a lot of success just ‘doing my job’. This year I think I’ll be let loose more often to go in break aways, so things could develop differently. It’s important not to get ahead of myself at this point and think of GC, or even stage victories, because frankly, there are many unknowns. I’ve got a specific role within the team that at least in this race, might leave the possibility of stage victories, but not GC since there are better climbers on the team that in principle have better chances.

This means accepting -for right or for wrong- the decisions of the manager. This mentality and way of working has kept me in the job for six years and made my team extremely successful.

It’s a typical mistake of inexperienced people to think they’re ‘superman’ or stronger than they actually are. The problem is a tough race like the Volta puts each in his place!

When to attack?

This is a tricky one. I attacked on stage 1 as I was free to do so. It was 50km from the end, which with the head wind at the time made the effort very difficult. Also I expected to be given the benefit of the doubt by the pursuing teams, because they had previously let several breaks get big leads. The effort earnt me the combativity prize, so reward/effort was balanced.

Surpise win for the combativity prize
‘Coach’ having won the combativity prize :-p

Attacking is based on your own strengths, opportunity and how the race is going, generally it’s not wise to attack when the race is going faster than you can sustain by yourself -kinda obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people miss this point!

More to come on the rest day!

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