Cycling is a to-do-list person’s paradise. From “oil chain before tomorrow’s ride” to “win Tour de France by age 25” cyclists can amass more boxes to be ticked and action items to action than there are gallons of crude headed for the Gulf Coast.
Lists aren’t exactly sexy, at least, not like a Campy C-Record crank or Brigitte Bardot circa 1968. But they are an indispensable part of preparation, the process of being ready.
Boy Scouts are taught to “be prepared.” In my mind, that’s thinking of contingencies. In racing that means training for each of the elements you’ll find in a race. You must do interval upon interval, sprint until your quads request a retread, learn to descend like you are pursued not by the peloton, but by cops.
The bike wash, followed by the bike inspection is as much a part of the arc of a week’s training as the riding and eating. As your miles go up, so does—hopefully—the bike maintenance. Seeing your bike dialed and ready before event day can do a lot to inspire confidence for the coming day and help you visualize a successful ride, no matter how you define it.
What we do to deliver on schedule is writ both large and small. After all, training isn’t as simple as some intervals and a sprint or two. Those are built on base miles which were planned well before the winter solstice.
And of course, there’s the day itself. For most of us there’s a kind of comfort that comes with the arc of the day. The routine has its elements and its timing. Alarm, breakfast, the odd extra cup of Joe, chamois cream, bibs, chest strap, base layer, sun screen, embrocation, arm warmers, jersey, socks, shoes, helmet, glasses, gloves. (Damn you, Theodore Dreiser.)
But after all the physical needs of preparation have been ticked, we are left with that most difficult apparatus—the mind. Mental preparation can do or undo a day more fully than any flat. If someone says he was unprepared for the difficulty of a race, rarely does he mean he hadn’t trained enough or didn’t have the right clothes on. No, he is saying that in his mind, he simply didn’t believe the day could be that hard.
And that’s the trick. Preparation is belief. Believing that you have done the correct training, that you are wearing what’s necessary, eating what works and have what it takes. Done well, you give yourself the confidence to ride to your fullest potential. But belief can trump the elements of preparation, and render them as irrelevant to your ride as the day’s news. There are days, special days, where for no obvious reason you feel good and know you’ll ride at the front.
The irony is, only the greatest champions are prepared for that sort of confidence on a daily basis.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International