‘Peaking’ for a race is an art. It involves a fine balance between training just enough so you don’t lose much fitness and resting just enough so that on race day, your legs aren’t tired and you feel fresh and ready to go. If you train too much, you’re in good shape but too tired to race well. If you rest too much, you are excited and ready to race but aren’t in good enough shape to do so. The art is in finding the perfect balance.
Unfortunately, despite my ambitions of racing on Team Sky in the Tour de France, I began school last year, and this ended up becoming a minor interruption in my normal training regimen. The lack of available training time forced my hand into swinging the peaking pendulum quite heavily over onto the ‘rest’ side. But, was this necessarily a bad thing? No…. perhaps I’d been over-training my entire cycling career and had never been able to unlock my true potential because I just wasn’t rested enough. Yes, this would explain why I wasn’t in the pro leagues yet. Maybe, … just like how others have made brilliant discoveries by luck of circumstance, I was about to stumble on to my own brilliant discovery – in the form of a genius peaking plan. That must be it. All these years I was training TOO much. With a bit more rest I’d finally be able to reach greatness in cycling. So, rest is exactly what I would do.
And no, this wasn’t just me being lazy. This was an art. I poured over charts and graphs to perfectly optimise when I should rest, how often and in what position I should be in when recovering from all the rest. I carefully mapped out my winter and spring season. It looked good. I expertly included 14 hours of on the bike training since the previous season, just to keep things ‘polished up’. I hope it wasn’t too much.
My plan was working. I could tell. By early Spring I could feel my legs resting into peak form. I could sense the racing victories that were soon to come. I also noticed I was developing some sort of gelatinous substance, mostly around my abdominal area. This I hadn’t foreseen. Was it possible that since I was finally able to recover properly, I was developing some sort of hypertrophied fast-twitch abdominal muscle? It must be. We all have heard the claims of how important the core is to performance. I was excited. I had no idea what this extra muscle would do for me but I some how knew it would be epic. Every morning was Christmas morning for me, as I excitedly examined this large growing muscle, just wondering how it would benefit me on the bike. As an added bonus, I realised the fast-twitch abdo held some aero advantage, as it helped to smooth the contour lines of my body, allowing wind to stream passed me more efficiently. I didn’t need the wind tunnel data, I could just tell. I could hardly wait to race.
As Spring came, I passed up on the normal early season races… Paris to Ancaster, Good Friday, Calabogie… My peaking schedule didn’t allow for such frivolous expenditures of energy. No doubt they would just tire me out and prevent me from reaching my full potential. No, I had decided my debut race would be the Springbank Crit – 30 laps around a twisty turny park in London, racing against the best cyclists in Ontario. This is the race where I would make my mark.
Finally, the day of the race was here. My legs were bursting with energy from all the rest and recovery. My fast twitch abdo was peaked and ready to perform. As I parked my car on the afternoon of the race I realised I wasn’t actually at the race venue, even though it looked sort of the same. I ended up having to bike for 15 minutes to the actual venue but I figured a race wouldn’t be right without some sort of mess up like this. I checked into the race, changed and began my warm up routine. What was my warm up routine? I couldn’t even remember. So, I biked in some circles. While biking in one of these circles I looked down in sheer terror as I saw my legs. They still had hair on them! I’ve made this error multiple times in the past and felt like I’d already learned this lesson. Normally in my training rides leading up to a race something just wouldn’t feel ‘right’ and then I’d notice the ugly leg hair flowing in the wind and so I would go home shave it off before the race day. But, since my training plan called for 8 days off the bike before this race, I hadn’t even noticed. I held back vomit and could tell other riders did the same when they looked at me. I’d been here before.
Twenty minutes before the race start, fellow OCTTO teammate Larbi asked if I could pin his numbers on his jersey. I obliged. This turned out to be a monumental moment in my day. Had I known that pinning these numbers on would be the sole contribution I would make to the team, I would have taken my time and done a better job at it. As it was, I ended up pinning the numbers slightly lopsided and not in the most aero position. At the time though, my mind was elsewhere. I was busily trying to decide exactly which way I wanted to win this race. Did I want to solo off the gun and lap the field? Or did I want to take the sprint finish? Or, was it better to just sort of toy with the group and break away and get caught on purpose and then break away again? The options are endless when in the type of form I was in.
The race started and for the first 1km or so my legs felt great! My breathing was in control, my HR was low and I could feel the wind streaming past my bulky fast-twitch abdominal muscles. It felt great. I couldn’t wait to win this race. Then, about 2km’s hit and things seemed to get a little harder. After the tight downhill turn at the start of the lap, we would be faced with a little headwind and the pack would surge forward. A few times early on in the race a gap opened up here between me and the rest of the pack. What was going on? My legs didn’t feel nearly as fresh as they should have at this point.
10km in and each lap was getting harder and harder. I didn’t understand why. It was early on still and I was more rested than I had ever been in my entire life. A 2 man breakaway went out at some point but some riders (not me) reeled it back in and then all other breaks seemed to be getting shut down. My legs felt sluggish and tired, almost as if I had sat my lazy ass at a computer and studied the entire off season instead of doing what I know I had really done – a cutting edge, highly scientific, taper rest recovery cycle for 6 months…. I just didn’t understand.
30km in and I had found my way into the middle of the pack and was now into full conservation energy mode. I would try and find the biggest rider in the pack and stay behind him for as long as possible in an attempt to do as little work as humanly possible. It had worked thus far. Then, just before going through the 15th or so lap, I tagged onto a rider as he zoomed alongside the pack and up to the front. I couldn’t pass up a chance to move to the front while being sheltered from the wind. So, I latched on and moved up.. Then, this little group I was following accelerated and opened up a tiny gap. I desperately tried to match their pace and stay onto the back.
Unfortunately, this one little effort to stay close to the group was all it took to be totally spent. There were no brutal cramps, no gasping for air, no struggling for KM’s on end to try not to get dropped. I was just done. I lost contact with the group in front, and then seconds later, with the rest of the pack as all the riders flew by me. .
Then, it was time for that moment in cycling that every rider has felt at some point in their sporting life. The pack is ahead and you fight as hard as you can to try and get closer to it. The pack will slow a little and you’ll get closer, but then it will speed up and will pull further away. Ultimately, you know it’s over. But, there’s always that tiny chance that everybody lets up, or perhaps they all crash and you will be back in the race. I clung to what tiny hope there was for 4 or 5 laps but eventually the pack came up behind me and I had to get off the course. I just couldn’t figure out what went wrong…..
I watched from the sidelines and the race continued. It looked like it spiced up a little now that it had dropped the dead weight. No breaks had formed. With 10km left to go, Tommy from Octto appeared to be on the tail end of a strong looking breakway that had gathered a bit of a gap on the group. But by the next lap the race was back together.
With 3 laps to go, Larbi had converted into TT mode and was charging on the front of a small breakaway pack and had opened up another gap on the field. But, by the next lap, his break was caught and the race was back together. In the end, the race finished in a bunch sprint with Larbi finishing 7th and Tommy 13th. I’m not telling where I finished.