What if you could just think about a problem and make it go away? Great. Right? In bike racing that is possible. Three misconceptions overshadow bicycle racing and all 3 create a problem solved by correcting the misconception.
What can be done?
First, identify them.
The First Misconception
• Bicycle racing is a non-contact sport
This initial misconception creates the biggest roadblock. By viewing bicycle racing as a non-contact sport, the racer does not predict or prepare for being contacted. Let’s call our racer, Joe. Since Joe doesn’t think that contact is a part of racing, Joe doesn’t include it in his training. He trains in a well-coordinated group, never experiencing or learning the mechanics of being bumped and continuing to race. He never bumps others, never practices receiving a bump, and never practices contact, such as wheel touching. The mechanics and emotions of bumping are unknown to him.
Therefore, Joe shows up to race without the necessary mental equipment. It would be as if you showed up to a race without your helmet. You could still physically race without your helmet, but you would possibly incur a greater penalty if you fell. And usually that falling involves others.
Our naive Joe might experience this scenario. After a winter of intense training, Joe is stoked to race. However, in the aggressive start he is touched or bumped. Joe doesn’t expect this, so it surprises him. Having no clue how to respond, he stiffens in fear. This inflexibility, mentally, and now, physically, prevents or delays any corrective reaction. Joe then either wobbles around, unclips and everyone clears away from him or Joe, having accelerated in the initial dash for the first turn, jerks and over-turns his front wheel, steering into the main part of the pack and taking down 2/3 of the riders.
The Second Misconception
• Contact in bicycle racing results in crashes
As stated above, the initial roadblock has been removed and now Joe is bumping and touching wheels in training, still continuing to do intervals and sprints and still racing against his training partners. Joe now knows from his bumping program, contact, in many instances, will be benign or accidental and even if, intentional and menacing, can be fended off in a less violent way whereby both individuals continue in their race. Joe now knows that contact does not mean crash. Another change just by thinking.
The Third Misconception
• Being involved in a crash means that your race is over
This one is easy. There is a rule in your USAC rulebook that shows this as a fallacy. Rule 1Q9. Competitors may make no progress unaccompanied by a bicycle (relegation or disqualification). In the case of a crash, they may run with their bicycles to the finish line, staying on the course. (p. 63, Chap. I, General Regulations).
Even if you crash and are near the finish line, you can still win or place.
However, though, this knowledge and subsequent practice reduces crashing, ultimately, the racer will be involved in a crash. And not close to the finish line. At that time, if the racer can re-mount, the racer can still enter the race and perhaps even win or place.
To illustrate this, we review the pit and the free lap rule in a criterium. If a racer crashes, the racer, again, if the crash is not catastrophic, can get up, get a repair and continue the race–with no time or lap deficit. The racer enters the field without penalty. Then, if talented or smart, the racer may still win the race. As stated above, crashing does not mean that the race is over.
This scenario actually occurred at the Harlem Skyscraper Classic in New York City a few years ago.
Reduce anxiety by correcting the misconception
With a little time and no physical training, Joe can eliminate or reduce the anxiety and the over-reactions by simply acknowledging racing is a contact sport, at some point in a race. This change reduces the surprise of being touched or bumped. Now that bumping is an expectation, no reflexive reaction occurs. So, no panic or stiffening and twisting the handlebars. Joe neither wobbles nor crashes 2/3 of the field.
To assist further, Joe could learn contact and bumping mechanics and practice in his training. Many of these techniques require counter-intuitive decisions, which may require someone to teach to Joe. While this is more than thinking, it also is a non-fatiguing form of practice that will set Joe up to finish upright.
Hopefully, this re-framing of typical bike racing misconceptions encourages racers to explore the many options, mechanics and skills available through coaches, Club coaching programs, literature and real world examples of racing techniques aimed at keeping you “up and between the ditches.” If nothing else, hopefully, it reduces anxieties related to these faulty views.
Scot Willingham, MA, ACSM, CSCS, USAC is a neuromuscular re-educator that coaches cyclists and other endurance athletes while working as a strength and conditioning rehabilitation expert in NYC. He is a recent graduate of Teachers College, Columbia University’s Motor Learning department. Motor Learning is the field that researches human motor control and is used as the foundation for many pedagogical decisions in physical education, sports coaching, movement teaching and rehabilitation.
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