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

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  2. Mellow Velo

    Excellent post.

    It’s why my husband can’t get into cycling. He prefers to run – something he says is far more pure because it just requires a decent pair of shoes and can be done anywhere at any time. Needless to say, he’s not what you call a “details person,” (I manage our finances) but I very much am, which makes cycling the perfect sport for me.

    I love the physical ritual of getting ready to ride on any given day. It’s part of preparing my mind. Throwing on shoes and bolting out the door would be too fast. I need the private time with my bike to shed the thoughts and feeling of the work day. I need the few minutes to pull on my gear to get my mind out of the office and into cycling.

    I come out of the house calm and refocused. I still might be in a bad place mentally and end up having a poor ride, but the time to prep gives me a good head start at winning the mental battle.

  3. Souleur

    Thanks for this Padraig. You continue to bring things to the table that are timely.

    Can one have enough preparation? I cannot. Where as the belief is a brilliant point and absolutely essential, I still find with the good days and desire to have done ‘a little more’.

    Preparation the day of seems to me to be a thing of ritual and methodical. As you mention, the alarm (as if its needed), the espresso, the oatmeal and honey, the folding of clothes to the backpack, and yes, packing a couple of chairs for my wife and daughter.

    Faith in oneself is perhaps the greatest part of the preparation in ones own mind & yere I am a 40 y/o coot now figuring all this out. Do you have too much faith and become deflated in failure, or do you become paralyzed by fear and do nothing or do you simply man-it-up and go for it. Its simply a choice. Some however choose nothing ambivalently and do nothing. I have always appreciated the recognition we do give for all who do and who do ride because for some it is reward enough.

    and you dead on, the PRO that does it daily is indeed very special.

  4. SinglespeedJarv

    Preparation. Race day, or rather the night before. The bag was always packed the night before, it meant for longer in bed. Sometimes though, I found that I raced better when totally unprepared mentally. It seemed to take any pressure off, I didn’t expect to do well, so it freed my mind and my legs followed.

  5. Lachlan

    ahh.. is that one from Greg’s yellow note-pad when he was 15? (win the tour by 25)

    Preparation is a moving target in my cycling life since kids. And definitely more mental than for a long time…

    On one hand, it is more about having stuff in the right place to get out the door at 5am unheard, or immediately as they are in bed at night, and more making sure a pair of shorts has been washed between loads of nappies, bibs etc

    On another level something more interesting has become part of it… more preparation to love pain and mentally preparing to climb 10% grades for a hour when you know you’ve barely done 3 hours a week training for months on end.

    I don’t think I’ve had the mental preparation and mind-over matter belief (or desire) element as strongly as I do now since I was 20 and doing hill climbs and TTs where you had to remind your self of the kind of advice that said: “if you dont throw-up, get a blinding migraine and struggle to walk for 2 days then you didn’t ride hard enough.”

    So, here’s to the days when your body says: “Pain coming!” and your yet your mind says “bring it, I’m more than ready.”

  6. Lachlan

    also reminds me of what I often tell people about racing:

    Its not necessarily he/she who is fittest that wins, but rather he who is prepared to suffer more.

    In all senses.

  7. Randomactsofcycling

    Great post. I must admit to prefering routines in life. Change is not always a holiday for me. And when it’s time to go for the early morning ride or race, nothing starts my day better than knowing I’ve done everything the night before. Same stuff goes into same pockets, bottles are already full and on bike, preparations for weather have already been made and off we roll. The question mark that is a constant though is whether the training I have done is sufficient for the race. I don’t mind not winning (you get used to it!) but not being able to animate the race and just string in seems pointless to me. Oh and the burn, quads and lungs,…..I’m sure training burn is less intense than race burn

  8. SinglespeedJarv

    @randomactsofcycling – great point about the same things go into the same pockets. Always dislike it the occasional times I’d get a new jersey and find that the pockets are in a different arrangement to the usual.

  9. Lachlan

    seem to remember a great Jens Voigt quote went something like : “after training as hard as we do, the racing seems easy.”

    I love that partly as its something I find very, very hard to achieve! (to build on Randomfact’s point about race-burn vs training-burn.)

  10. Lurpy

    Great post! I also find comfort in the routine of ride prep. My recurring bugaboo this year has been remembering that I need to my saddle bag on training rides, after removing it for race day. Somehow the puncture probability always seems to rise when a spare tube is not available!

  11. wvcycling

    Some of the components and groupsets that I have bought over the years have exponentially increased in price/value as compared to what I paid for them when they were released. For this reason, when my saddle time increases, so does my maintenance time. Preparation will help me not only in the here and now, but five years down the road when I need to stretch another season out of my shift levers or saddle or something…

    Also, I should have a damned checklist because I always tend to forget one of the following:

    *HRM strap
    *Garmin 500
    *Water Bottles
    *Co2 pump
    *Spare tube/lever
    *To inflate my tires

    Somehow everything goes off without a hitch. I have no clue how…

  12. david A

    Breaking everything down to its simplest form, as the father of Dirk Vankerkhove, the guy I lived and raced with in Belgium said to me once:” Bike racing is sweat and pain” I don’t think people realise just how much sweat and pain you must endure to reach the top, the mind numbing hours on the bike and the careful attention to details that are involved. I was lifted off my bike more than a few times after a kermis, thinking that I couldn’t do it again the next day and ride a prize….but I did….somehow.

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