Absolute Beginners

October 14, 2006

Absolute Beginners


When I were a lad millions of people rode bikes every day. There were only a million cars on the road, and the Mini hadn’t yet been invented. When it came it would bring affordable motoring within the reach of millions more. Ten years after the end of the Second World War the bicycle was still, for many people, their principal means of transport. They were primarily utility cyclists. This meant that there was a huge base of cyclists for whom it was only a single step from riding to work to going out on the recreational club-run. This got you into a club, and then there was a fair chance that sooner or later you’d get into some kind of competition.

The weekend and midweek rides offered a basic introduction to the mechanics of cycling. You had to be fairly fit, able to sit on a saddle for six hours or so in the day, and able to handle the limited range of gears then available. Some club-runs were very strictly policed by the club captain – he would blow a whistle if you passed him. But many could develop into a free-for-all at any time – sprints for 30 signs and town boundaries, eyeballs-out efforts up big hills, a long line doing bit-and-bit over any stretch of rolling road.

When you came to enter and ride a race, therefore, you had some idea of what to expect. You were used to making an effort, used to riding close to other riders in a group, able to ride steadily for many miles, or to accelerate to twice your cruising speed in a few seconds.

I suspect that the route into cycle sport is rather different nowadays, and that relatively few new riders, of any age, serve this kind of basic apprenticeship. For a good many a mountain bike race may be their first competition. You can turn up for your first evening criterium at a special off-road circuit, or airfield, without having much idea what to expect.



It goes without saying that you need to be fairly fit. To get fit you have to train. The amount of training you need varies according to your natural ability and your age. If you’re 16, then you might manage on three or four one-hour rides a week for starters. If you’re forty, you’ll probably need two or three times as much. You’ll also need a certain amount of basic skill. You’ve got to get round bends quickly, accelerate and brake safely, climb a bit, change gear at the right moment, be comfortable riding in a group with other riders. Practice it all on your training rides. Let’s assume that you’ve got fit enough to ride a 30-minute, or 1-hour circuit race on a course of around a mile in length. Cyclists usually call these events ‘criteriums’: most of the language of cycle racing is French in origin.


The event

Prepare your bike thoroughly. Wash it and clean it. Polish it if necessary. Lubricate the chain and points like the brake pivots. Check the tyres for wear and cuts. If they’re damaged, replace them. Changing a tyre is painless; falling off isn’t. Check that the wheels are true and that there are no loose spokes. Make sure all the nuts and bolts are as tight as they need to be, but don’t overtighten them.

Eat a light pre-race meal high in carbohydrate (three pieces of toast and jam or honey, for instance, and a mug of tea) two to three hours before the event. Take a bottle of sports drink and/or water with you. Avoiding dehydration is important – take a swig of water every half hour or so.


Turn up at least an hour before the start with everything you need. Don’t forget your shoes, helmet and licence. And your bike, of course. Take a few basic tools and spare inner tubes. If you go by car take a spare pair of wheels and your track pump. Pump up your tyres to optimum riding pressure, probably around 100 psi, 7 bar.



Your first events will be a learning experience, but there’s one basic principle you can’t avoid: you can’t race at the back of the field. You have to be near the front. Watch the more experienced riders. Among the things you should learn: how to ride safely in a line, fairly close to the wheel in front and slightly to one side; how to shelter from the wind, and how to use it to your advantage; how to share the effort of the group; how to take part in a breakaway of a small group; and how and when to make your own effort – to attack or sprint.


The chances are that all this will take time. But by taking care over your training and preparation, by paying attention to detail, and by learning from your experience, you’ll get there. Good luck.


Ray Minovi


Training Principles

October 14, 2006

Training Principles

When you train hard you make an effort that is just too much for the various systems of your body and overloads them. The heart has to beat fast, the muscles fill up with lactic acid (which is what makes them hurt), the muscles and liver give up their stored glucose to provide energy. When you rest and eat, the body begins to recover. In order not to be caught out again the body prepares for future efforts by over-compensating for the effort you made. It does this by repairing micro-damage to muscle fibres and making them thicker, enlarging the size and quantity of mitochondria in the cells (they’re what make the muscles ‘fire’ and are sometimes called the ‘powerhouses of the cells’) improving the ability of your heart, lungs and blood vessels to carry oxygenated blood, eliminating lactic acid better, taking on even more glucose for energy.

· Training should be planned

· Training should be progressive

· Training should be specific: that is, most of it should be done on the bike.

· Training should be differentiated

· You must allow enough time for recovery.


Before you can plan your training you need to know what you’re training for. The first part of your planning, therefore, is to decide on your goals for the season. Competitions: what type? what duration? at what level? with what result? Will you be satisfied with setting personal bests or do you want to beat other people, i.e. to win? Go through the calendar, identify your goals and pencil in a competition programme.

Don’t include too many events: most racing cyclists race too often. You can only expect to peak for about four important events. Other events will therefore have secondary aims, therefore. When you’ve planned your season, write it down.

When you’ve got a fairly clear idea of what races you want to compete in, then you can develop a clear idea of how you should train in order to maximise your results in those events.


If you went out every day and rode for three hours at 15 mph you would get used to doing it and find it easy. But you wouldn’t develop the ability to race at 25 mph, to accelerate rapidly, to maintain a strenuous effort for several minutes. As you get fitter your body gets more able to withstand strenuous efforts and therefore your training has to get more demanding – either longer (increase in volume) or faster (increase in intensity).


Some people think that all exercise of any type is good for any athlete (‘cross training’): according to this theory, cyclists will benefit from running, swimming, rowing, skiing and so on. It’s a good idea to do other things from time to time, especially in the off-season, to introduce variety and stop yourself getting mentally stale. Other activities will also work your heart-lung system hard, which is good. However science has shown that cross training doesn’t actually improve your ability in your specialist sport. What’s more, it takes up time you ought to be spending on specific training. If you regard yourself as a specialist racing cyclist, once the season starts (and it starts with pre-season training and preparation) all your training should be on the bike, except for daily stretching and a few free exercises.


You shouldn’t train always at the same level. If you always try as hard in training as you do in races, you’ll exhaust yourself and become chronically fatigued. If you always ride at a steady pace you will find it difficult to cope with sudden changes of pace. If you always potter in order to save energy and avoid hurting your muscles, then you won’t overload your system and the body won’t overcompensate – in other words, you won’t be working hard enough to cause a training response.

Therefore each ride has to have a different purpose. The intensity (how hard you try) and volume (the time you spend) will differ. Long, steady rides will be the foundation of endurance and will encourage the body to use its fat reserves for energy. These will be done in the early part of the year, but you will continue to include a longer ride say every ten days throughout the year.

Short, fast rides will overload the heart, lungs, and oxygen transport system and the body will make them bigger and stronger. You will do one of these per week in the off season, about 20 minutes. When you’ve got in the foundation, then you will do more shorter, fast rides, while at the same time you cut down on the long rides.

Very short, fast rides (1 – 2 minutes) repeated a number of times during a training session are called intervals. You need to be very fit before you can benefit from this kind of training. Fairly short, very slow rides will be used for recovery – keeping the body working very gently helps it to recover quicker than just sitting about because it stimulates blood flow. A road-racing cyclist will need a great deal of variety: long, hard steady stretches, climbs, sprinting, etc. The ‘Four Levels of Intensity’ developed by Peter Keen are a useful guide, and a heart monitor is helpful but not essential.


It is vital to allow enough time for recovery. Doing too much day after day will result in fatigue, and you will arrive at the competition day tired out. Depending on the intensity and volume of your training you will almost certainly need one or two days off each week. One way to organise your training is to work on a four-day cycle: a day’s easy training, a day’s hard training, a long ride, and then a day off. If you feel tired, don’t train. Always do a little bit less rather than a little bit more. However, if your training is organised properly, you shouldn’t need more than two consecutive days off except in special circumstances (e.g. after a very hard stage race).

Here is a list of Cafes & tearooms in the Midlands that we know about.

Time For Tea – 40 Castle Hill, Kenilworth.

Hill Top Farm Shop – Norton end of the Ridgeway

Little Chef – Evesham Bypass near Alcester

Ferry Cafe – Evesham Centre by the river

Jenny Ring – Hanbury craft centre