5 things Irish cycling coach, top rider wished he’d known starting out

Posted on: July 9th, 2019
When you get into your cycling properly you learn a lot quickly but you often don’t recognise how much progress you’ve made. If you can have a word with your beginner self, what bits of advice would you impart as you start out cycling?

By Jamie Blanchfield


Sport is great. It opens the door to new relationships, teaches you discipline, keeps you healthy and in general is a very productive way to spend one’s time. But, sometimes, sport can be tough; physically and mentally).

It can disrupt relationships, cost a lot of money and cause you to become very “one-dimensional” in your life.

I’ve participated in a few sports over the years. But my main hobby, passion and competitive pursuit is cycling. When I started cycling I was a complete newbie – a Fred if you will.

My family had no history in cycling; I didn’t know where to start. I was afraid to wear lycra and in general had no real guiding hand to show me what to do.

This blog post is going to be a sort of self-reflection or journey into the mistakes we make as we’re beginning, what they teach us and how we can learn from them.

Here’s 5 things I wish I’d known when I started cycling (or any sport really).

1. Joining a club, get a mentor

Or, at the very least find a mentor. The things you learn on your local group ride are vast and varied. These range from riding pacelines, to bike handling, to fuelling on the bike, what to wear, how to change a tube. I could go on and on.

You’ll also go further and longer with a group due to energy saving and the friendly competitive environment. I rocked up to my first ever group ride in shorts and a jersey when it was close to freezing out there.

I was quickly told how to dress and offered old kit and every week I went back and learned something new. Leave your ego at the door.

2. Pitfalls of a strong athletic identity

Athletic identity simply put is the degree to which an individual identifies with the athlete role and looks to others for acknowledgement of that role1. Are you basing your whole social circle, life and general day to day activities around your chosen sport?

Don’t get me wrong; balanced in the right way this can be very indicative to success in sport. But when you go to the extreme it leads to isolation from friends and family.

It can create difficulty about dealing with times when rest is enforced – due to injury, for example – and general sacrifice of more important things in your life.

Keep in touch with your non-cycling friends, take a break from racing and do things with them. Go to family events – this last can be expanded on for every individual and we’re all guilty of it in some way.

This struck home to me when I was out injured for over three months and I had nowhere to turn – my whole social circle depended on me racing and training.

3. Support your local shop

It’s the day before a race, you’ve snapped your rear mech cable, you have no spare and you don’t know how to do it yourself.

But, thankfully, you’ve been supporting your local shop for the last four years and they’ll gladly dig you out of this hole.

If you haven’t; well, tough luck. You should also learn the basics. Ask mechanics or experienced riders in your club how to do the small jobs, some day this could save a race for you and even a few quid.

As an aside to the youth riders; you don’t need the best of equipment to compete. A good frame that fits, a helmet and some kit is all you need. Don’t look to the riders beside you with the best of kit and think you’re already beaten.

Why not look at it as a challenge and use your tactics and strength to compete. Think of how grateful you’ll be when you save up for those wheels or get a Garmin. For now, they’re ‘nice to haves’ rather than ‘need to haves’.

4 Don’t specialise too early.

Cycling is great, there’s so many ways to do it. Road, BMX, mountain biking, track, cyclocross and variations of them all. We could all benefit from mixing up disciplines.

Changing it up helps mentally; teaches fundamental skills that transfer across to our favoured disciplines and is generally fun. For youths, this is even more important.

Taking it a step further; don’t commit to one sport from a young age. Research has extensively linked early specialisation to burnout in youth sport.

If you play football, love swimming and cycle then for sure keep them all up just vary your commitments in differing phases of the year.

Having a diverse sporting profile builds resilience, creates a more rounded athlete and ultimately helps in retaining participation once a “favourite” sport has been chosen.

5. Like what you’re doing

Intrinsic motivation is something we’ve chatted about before. It’s the motivation that comes from within, an internally driven process. Of course, we all love winning and comparing ourselves others and of course do this, but in small doses.

Your real reason for participating in the sport needs to be one of love, joy and satisfaction. It doesn’t always have to be fun, but it sure does help.

We want to be in sport for life not just a flash in the pan quitting when results don’t go our way. Dropout is massive in certain transitions such as junior to U23.

The reasons for this are many but having a love for your sport and understanding the rest of the points outlined here really helps to retain longevity.


Brewer, B. W., Van Raalte, J. L., & Linder, D. E. (1993). Athletic identity: Hercules’ muscles or Achilles heel?. International journal of sport psychology.