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8 Little Ways to 10x Your Cycling

By Molly Hurford | July 24, 2018 | Rally Health

How does one team produce 21 podium finishers at Canadian and American road national championships in a single season? Getting faster and stronger on the bike isn’t just about following a training plan and putting in your hours — professional racers learn quickly that how well they do in races is about so much more than just pedal, pedal, pedal. The Rally Cycling team is packed with a mix of newer racers and seasoned veterans, but all of them have learned through years of riding that it takes a holistic approach to win races. This means looking at stress, nutrition, off-bike work, even when they do their on-bike training. We talked with five of the season-leading racers — including two newly minted National Champions — to find out the best changes they made to get the biggest results this season.

1. Make Sure You’re Fueling the Ride

Katherine-Maine.png#asset:84510Katherine Maine, winning the 2018 Canadian National Road Race.

“Eating while on the bike — especially on longer rides — was a game-changer for me,” says newly crowned Canadian Road Race National Champ Katherine Maine. “When I got into cycling, I didn’t know that not eating enough could be a problem. But I realized that after two hours of riding, if I don’t eat I’m really slow.” This year, she made an effort to eat gels and bars, plus focus on hydration with electrolytes, during almost every ride. But she especially focused her on-bike nutrition on long, hard days or when she knew that another tough ride was scheduled for the next day.

2. Balance Riding With Off-Bike Body Work

Kyle-Murphy.png#asset:84519Kyle Murphy after the mountaintop finish at the Tour of the Gila.

“Core work changed everything for me,” says racer Kyle Murphy, who finished third overall in the Tour of the Gila this season. And after he discovered the value of a strong core, he started to focus on his other unused muscles as well and hit the gym hard in early 2018. “Stretching opposing muscle groups like my hamstrings helped a lot as well, and I think it’s allowed me to avoid injury,” he says. In the gym, he focuses on body-weight exercises like single-leg squats to target muscles that don’t get used as much on the bike. His love-to-hate move? Side leg lifts.

3. Learn to Ride a New Way

Kristi-Lay-solo-ride.jpg#asset:83627

Kirsti Lay now loves riding solo.

For Olympian Kirsti Lay, who finished third in the time trial at the Canadian Nationals at the end of June, riding was always a group activity: That’s how she came into cycling, and that was how she loved to ride. But over time, she realized that the group sessions weren’t giving her what she needed. “I had to learn to love riding alone,” she says. “I wasn’t comfortable riding by myself and I didn’t enjoy it, but I needed to do it.” After a few months training solo, she realized that she had gotten significantly stronger by braving the elements and riding into brutal headwinds on her own. The reverse is true as well, though: Road racers need to spend time riding in groups to build pack-riding skills and become comfortable drafting other riders, so make sure your riding includes a mix of both.

4. Carve Out Personal Time

Sara-Bergen.png#asset:84521For Sara Bergen, having a life is just as important as training.

Working a full-time job and racing as a professional cyclist is enough to make anyone’s calendar look jam-packed. That was true for Sara Bergen until she took control of her schedule this year — and in June, she won the Canadian Criterium National Championship and took third place in the road race. She dropped her work hours slightly so that she could be prepped and on the bike by 3 pm for between one and three hours of training, followed by a quick recovery meal and preparation for the next workday and training session. But she also realized that keeping evenings open to “have a life” was just as important as getting her workout of the day in. “I needed time to be a human, see friends, chill out, hang out in the park — that was the best change,” she says. "I was working a lot before and rolling training into the evening and staying up too late, or compromising a personal life. Being rigorous with training and work on a schedule let me make space."

5. Hone Your (Off-Bike) Diet

Anderson-005E3009_2018_BCSW_GastownGP.jpg#asset:84504Ryan Anderson says it's all about eating the right things, and at the right time.

“I notice that if I don’t take care of my diet, I can’t ride away from that,” says pro racer Ryan Anderson, who’s finished fifth in the Tour of Alberta and spends most of his year now fighting for position in European races. “There are so many foods out there that can have negative effects on my training, but if I’m really focused on eating good, healthy food and staying on top of that, it can almost be more important than my training itself!” And Anderson isn’t afraid of trying new nutritional options as he learns more. Right now, he’s timing his macronutrients and having a higher protein breakfast, saving carbohydrates for around ride time. Anderson uses an app to track his intake and macronutrients to make sure he’s getting enough calories during these experimental phases.

6. Take a Real Break

Every cyclist needs an off-season, but a mini-break during the height of race season can also have a big impact. That’s a change that Murphy instituted last year and he’s seen serious gains this season both in terms of his on-bike power numbers and in how he feels about racing. “After Nationals this year, I took a full week off. It was really awesome: I was excited about getting on the bike after a bit of rest,” he says. During the winter off-season, don’t just hang out and binge on Netflix, says Murphy. He uses that time to explore other sports. But when you’re taking a break, make sure it’s a mental break as well. Enjoy the time off, don’t stress about losing fitness.

7. Nap Your Way to Victory

Bergen didn’t double podium at nationals by just training hard. She recovered hard as well. “Your body doesn’t know the difference between training and life stress,” she says. So her recent shift involved taking “chill time,” including a daily nap. “I’m a chronic over-booker — you always want to do it all — but it was at the expense of recovery. I have a quiet room at work that I can book, and so now I do that and have a 20-minute power nap at lunch."

8. Post-Ride Stretching

Lay noticed a major difference when she started adding a few yoga stretches to her post-ride routine after her 2017 season, and now she can’t imagine a ride without a mini-flow at the end. “Cycling is so one-dimensional that it’s easy to end up really tight,” she says. “Yoga has really helped avoid that, and now after a ride, my body craves it.” She focuses on stretches that work into her hips and IT bands, like pigeon pose and lunges, but her favorite is at the very end in savasana, otherwise known as corpse pose, lying flat on the mat and resting.  

Molly Hurford is the author of “Fuel Your Ride,” “Saddle, Sore,” and the upcoming “Shred Girls” series. She also writes for Bicycling magazine, and co-hosts “The Consummate Athlete” podcast.

Molly Hurford
Rally Health