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How to Get Ready to Ride

By Ian Dille | June 27, 2016 | Rally Health

At a race or team camp, the men and women of Rally Cycling don’t need to concern themselves with many of the tasks that go into prepping for a bike ride. Team staff members swirl around the racers, taking care of details so that the riders can focus on the day ahead.

Team mechanics are busy prepping the bikes. Meanwhile, the team’s soigneurs are hard at work as well, preparing bottles with sports drinks or water and laying out a pre-race spread of energy and protein bars, gel packets, and gummy Shot Blocks. (Soigneurs are massage therapists employed by the team, who also help keep the riders fueled before, during, and after races.) They also, importantly, always offer the riders sunscreen.

All the riders need to do is get dressed, get on their bikes, and get pedaling. (And maybe snap a selfie for good measure.) But between races and other events, they must fend for themselves, and they all have their own methods of getting mentally and physically prepared for a day on the bike. From time-saving tips and pre-ride fitness routines to route planning, how the pros ready for a ride can offer helpful insights for even the most experienced amateur riders.

The Dreamer

Canadian rider Pierrick Naud, 25, lives a romanticized version of a professional cyclist’s life. In preparing for the 2016 racing season, he bought an ’84 Volkswagen Westfalia camper van, and road-tripped with his girlfriend (who’s also a professional bike racer) from Montreal, Quebec to Southern California.     

Pierrick Naud, on the road.
Pierrick Naud, on the road.

 He spent last winter waking with the sunrise in an idyllic cycling locale — often overlooking the ocean or in a majestic forest — and casually preparing for training. “I travel with an AeroPress coffee maker and my own grinder,” say Naud. “How many cups of coffee I drink depends on how far I need to ride that day. If it’s a short ride, that leaves more time to drink coffee.”

While enjoying a perfectly crafted espresso, he plots a route on Strava, a social app for tracking rides, and curates a playlist to match that day’s training.

“If I have a certain interval workout, or efforts I need to do during the ride, I’ll incorporate specific terrain or a certain length climb into my route,” he says. “I use this time before my ride to mentally prepare for whatever workout I have that day.”

The Dad

Veteran racer Tom Zirbel, 37, represents the opposite end of the spectrum. As the father and caretaker of a 2-year-old, Zirbel balances his job as a cyclist with the hectic bliss of parenthood. That means coordinating with his wife on when his ride will begin and end, and sticking to the schedule. The time required to prepare for a ride is what riders like Zirbel (that is, people with obligations outside of their bike ride, i.e. most of us) jokingly refer to as “transition time.”      

“I’ve learned to get things ready as the morning goes along. If my son’s occupied playing for a few minutes, I'll get my bottles and food ready to go — even if I'm not leaving for a couple of hours,” says Zirbel.

Planning ahead helps Tom Zirbel get on the road, despite a toddler at home.
Planning ahead helps Tom Zirbel get out the door, despite a toddler at home.

“I try to know exactly what I'm going to wear well before I the ride, so I'm not like 'Hmm, should I wear the thermal jacket or just the vest today?' and waffling for another five minutes. If bike maintenance is required, I do it after my ride because it's not going to happen when I'm scrambling to get down the road. I’ve definitely gotten on my bike and the tires are only pumped to 70 psi. But I don’t care, I’ve got to go.”

The Old Timer

Rally Cycling team director Eric Wohlberg was formerly one of North America’s top pros, a small and muscular rider known for his tenacity in races. Today, even in retirement, he maintains the fitness to occasionally join the men’s race team on training rides, tagging along for five mountainous hours of riding.

Eric Wohlberg does 300 pushups a day!
Eric Wohlberg does 300 pushups a day!

His secret? As a professional racer, Wohlberg began every day with a core exercise regimen, and at 51 years old, he still religiously adheres to that practice. He does five sets of basic core exercises, totaling 300 leg raises and 200 crunches. Between each stomach exercise, he knocks out five sets of 60 pushups. “By today’s standards I’m doing it all wrong, not using any rubber bands or stuff like that,” says Wohlberg.

There’s only one difference between his current morning routine, and when he raced professionally, says Wohlberg. “Now, I do more pushups.”

The Captain

While competing in some of the world’s most demanding bike races, Heather Fischer rides with the weight of the Rally Cycling women’s team on her shoulders. As the team’s designated road captain, she’s responsible for coordinating the team’s strategy during a race. Fischer, 27,  orchestrates her teammates like chess pieces on a board, gauging how they are feeling and what they can contribute. When a dangerous rival surges ahead, it’s Fischer who must ask her teammates to sacrifice themselves and chase down the attack.

Preps pays off for Heather Fischer.
Prepping pays off for Heather Fischer.

“I’ve always sought out leadership roles,” says Fischer. “Before races, I study the route extensively, and I always try to pre-ride the course if possible.”

But away from the races, Fischer prioritizes flexibility over a single-minded focus, incorporating camaraderie and adventure with her responsibilities as a pro. That approach guides her pre-ride rituals, says Fischer.

“I’ll look at my training schedule and figure out how I can turn it into a fun ride,” she says. “I always prefer a loop to an out and back, and I like to go off-road and explore little dirt paths.”

If it’s a sprint heavy day, she’ll join a fast group ride on flat roads. If her training calls for climbs, she seeks out a friend who flies up hills. And if her ride that day is a casual spin, she’ll connect with one of the younger female racers she mentors.

“That’s the nice thing about living in Boulder, Colorado,” jokes Fischer. “No one has a real job.”

Ian Dille is a freelance journalist based in Austin, Texas. He has written for Outside magazine, Bicycling, and Texas Monthly, and is the author of the The Cyclist's Bucket List (Rodale, 2015).

Ian Dille
Rally Health