Thinking about bike racing? Advice from my time with ex-pro racer Ryan Anderson
Since learning to ride I have used a bike in every part of my life. Socially, recreationally and professionally the bicycle has been my main source of transportation. In spite the kilometers that I logged on a bike I had never truly considered attempting to race competitively. Bike racing seemed like a selfish sport where riders compete against each other with the sole objective of winning.
This June everything that I believed about bicycle racing was turned upside down when I was given an opportunity to co-marshal a bike race with retired professional racer Ryan Anderson. Over the time that I spent with Ryan I learned that bike racing is not nearly as “individual” as I had previously believed. In fact, bicycle racing is one of the world's most complex team sports. It is a discipline where individual sacrifice for the good of the team means everything. Riding with Ryan taught me that bike racing, when done right, is about finding a group of people and doing everything to help them succeed. My time with Ryan gave me a new outlook on bicycle racing to the point that I may well give it a try. The following are some of the questions that I posed to Ryan in our time together and the insightful answers that he gave me.
Q. What got you into road racing as a sport?
RA I started racing mountain bikes as a kid but then I started watching guys like Armstrong in the tour and suddenly I wanted to try. Because I was already racing the transition to road was actually quite easy for me.
Q. Most people think about bike racing as an individual sport. How would you describe it?
RA I can totally understand this misconception. When the general public watch cycling they see the one rider winning and getting the glory but the truth is that bike racing is the complete opposite. In life to succeed you need teamwork. When you ride a race with a team each team member has different strengths and they are given a specific role in order to draw upon their strengths to make the team stronger. The ultimate goal of each member is to contribute the best way that they can to help the team succeed. Furthermore, your team provides you with support. If one person is having a bad day, the team mates having a good day can lift them up. When everyone does their best to contribute success is inevitable.
Q. What is your proudest moment in your career?
RA My team did a stage race in Norway and it seemed like we were down and out on the first day. We had missed a break and had fallen behind. Our team kept talking and riding and encouraging. Together we found a way to come back and even podium on a stage. I will always remember this team moment and the riders that I did it with.
Another time I remember is 2011 when we were racing the tour of California. The whole team got sick and we were struggling horribly. We refused to give up in spite of how felt. We dug deep and were able to win the climbing jersey. The way that we all pulled together was nothing short of amazing.
Q. What is the most important skill that a recreational cyclist should acquire before attempting a race?
RA I believe that bike handling skills are crucial. A recreational cyclist must develop the ability to feel comfortable on the bike in every situation. When you are racing you can quickly get out of your comfort zone. You must learn not to panic or over react when this happens.
Q. What is the most important thing to do to stay competitive during a road race?
RA The main thing is to stay within your routine. Remember to hydrate and eat regularly. Keep your body limber by engaging in stretching and changing position during the ride. If it’s a stage race, mind your sleep and recovery.
Q. What is the most important thing that you can do to reduce the risks of road racing?
RA Stay focussed. Even when you are tired keep your eyes up, listen and anticipate. The ability to react is key. As rider’s get tired they can make mistakes, you have to always be aware.
Q. What is the best training tip that you can give us?
RA The thing with training is not to sweat the bad days. Listen to your body. Take time away when you aren’t feeling it. Finally, find the right cyclists to train with. You want to surround yourself with riders that will keep you motivated, engaged and enjoying the process. Remember, bike riding is supposed to be fun.
Q. What is the best tip that you can give for the night before a big race?
RA I always liked to be organized. Have everything ready in advance. That includes your outfit, your food and hydration. Also, take a close look at the weather and be prepared for it. The last thing that you want is to be stressed and trying to make decisions on the morning of the race. You want to start the race with a clear head.
After spending time with Ryan is easy to understand how he built such a successful cycling career and why his memories and friends from the cycling community will last a lifetime. Ryan is a team player and his love of biking is contagious. Though I struggled to keep up with him he never judged me and encouraged me throughout the ride. Together we had a mutual goal and together we were able to accomplish it. And that is what life is all about, is it not?