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Coaching: How to be the very best you can in Easter stage races

Posted on: March 16th, 2016

Rás Mumhan, the Tour of The North and Gorey Three Day are major milestones in the annual road racing calendar. Ryan Connor dishes out the pain on the front of the group. The former pro turned coach won a big Easter race three times so knows how to prepare.

 


Former international rider and professional turned top coach, Ryan Connor knows a thing or two about preparing for the major stage races at Easter.

The Tour of the North was always a major target in his calendar and his results in the event demonstrate the value of learning and progression.

He was 11th overall the first year he rode it as a junior, 3rd the following year, and outright winner on his third outing. He went on to win twice more.

Now working with A1 Coaching and managing Astelas Oncology in the US professional peloton, he offers his advice to those riding the big Easter races.


By Ryan Connor, A1 Coaching

The Easter stage races are tough affairs and being ready for them involves more than the hard winter slog and the normal physiological preparation.

Rás Mumhan, the Tour of The North and Gorey Three Day are major milestones in the annual road racing calendar.

They are a big step up in standard and a rite of passage for upcoming riders. They are also key Rás preparatory events for the more seasoned riders.

The fields are big, the speed is high, the weather may be bad, and teamwork is good and the tactics intricate – it’s a different ballgame to the normal Sunday racing.

Therefore, whether you aim to just survive or to achieve top results, the following seven tips are worth thinking about.

 

1. Study the good riders

Stage racing starts to take its toll on local riders after the first stage so it can be vital to know how to position yourself in a group and protect yourself.

Some riders always seem to be in the right place at the right time and there is a reason for this – it doesn’t just happen by chance.

Therefore, in the early season races, identify these riders, study them and learn from them.

 

2. Leave no loose ends

Preparation for a demanding stage race involves more than the physical training. You don’t want to add to the stress of racing by being worried about loose ends which you haven’t anticipated.

You need to have all the angles covered: accommodation, evening meals, race food, massages, mechanical support and spares, spare race-gear, knowing the course for each stage, etc, etc.

All these things need to be sorted well in advance and you will then be able to focus better on the racing and you will also rest and recover better. Racing back-to-back days at the weekends will help a little in learning to be organised.

 

3. Have a race plan and a back-up plan

Stage races provide opportunities for riders of all levels to chase a goal, from winning a stage or jersey, to finishing in the top half of the field.

However, in the fog of racing, the plan often goes out the window pretty quickly and you should always have a backup plan to revert to.

In my own career at the Tour of the North, for example, I sometimes planned to concede the mountain jersey points because, when I was making my move for the overall win, I didn’t want someone chasing me down for those mountain points.

However, on occasions when the plan for the overall win went out the window, I would purposely loose more time on GC so that when I went for a stage win I wouldn’t be marked.

You need to have a few such options planned to get what you want out of the race.

 

4. Plan nutrition, rest and recovery

Eating, resting and recovering sound simple but are often a neglected part of stage racing for local riders. For example, it is common for some riders who are under pressure to just get their heads down and hang on throughout a stage and not eat properly.

Obviously this isn’t a good idea as fatigue will start to set in sooner than it could.

Have a nutrition plan for each stage and stick to it. Similarly, have a recovery plan – once the stage is over get some more food on board, put your feet up and rest, and have your massage (but only if you are used to it).

Start preparing your body for the next day from the moment you get off the bike at each stage.

 

5. Learn to read a GC sheet and know the race numbers

Reading a GC sheet and understanding the dynamics of the race can provide opportunities to get a result on a particular day – or just to survive.

With so many classifications up for grabs, having a good understanding of the strategies at play will help you know who will be attacking on the next stage and who will save their legs for another day.

It is easy enough that the top 5 on GC might try to do something, but those riders are generally marked.

So, knowing who is in a good position in other classifications is a good skill to acquire – they may provide you with opportunities. Don’t be afraid to call your team car up if you need information they have received from race radio.

 

6. Don’t underestimate the ‘easier’ stages

I won the Tour of the North three times but I think I could have won it twice more had it not been for the ‘easier’ stages!

These are the short, flat ones that riders don’t dread as much as the epic climbing stages. However, speeds can be very high and the race difficult to read and control.

Be alert and ready on these stages – don’t let your defences down and be caught out.

 

7. Generally be a good guy/girl

Don’t be an ass-hole on the road. Some day you will need help on a stage and you are more likely to get it if you haven’t rubbed people up the wrong way.

Similarly, look after those who look after you. Bring a coffee or beer to your mechanic, soigneur or driver.

Thank the stewards and officials at the finish. More often than not these people will be giving up their own holidays and time away from families to help you, and they end up working really long hours in sometimes horrible weather conditions.

A lot of people do a lot of work to make it possible for you to race – show them that you appreciate them.

 

Ryan Connor represented both Great Britain and Ireland at World Championship level, along with Northern Ireland at the Commonwealth Games. He also won both British and Irish U23 Time Trial Championships. Connor raced with professional teams such as the Sean Kelly Cycling Academy and Giant Asia before his career was unfortunately cut short by illness. He now coaches with A1 Coaching along with continuing his involvement in management by working with Astelas Oncology in the US professional peloton. A former Commonwealth Games Northern Ireland team member, he managed the North’s cycling team at the Glasgow Games last year.

 

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