A lot of people call me up and say they want to win races, ok, we go over their last couple of races. "I was dropped in the beginning, or "I finished with the group, but I wasn't able to sprint for the win."
I hate to be the one to tell them Santa Claus isn't real, but the truth is they aren't ready to consistently win races yet. Cycling isn't as black and white as people make it out to be. Where you just add more power to your FTP and boom, you start winning. There's a path you must follow to get from where you are now to the results you want. The problem is that the road map hasn't been defined until now.
One framework I like to use when working with my athletes is, The Seven Stages of Race Success. These are the seven thresholds you must pass and exceed to eventually reach the end goal, which for many of us is a race result. Each stage requires a different focus and skillset that you need to master to ascend to the next level.
The Seven Stages of Race Success
Stage 1. Distance Completion - You can complete the distance on the event using your current PowerTrain Zones. This isn't just about only being able to ride the distance but do so within the competition context. For instance, in a criterium, do you have the explosive needed out corners, threshold zones to move up in the peloton, and medium zones to hold your position and carry momentum and complete the race?
Stage 2. Race Opening Selection - You are able to stay in the peloton for the first decision selections, but fall off the group in the middle of the race. In the race opening, everyone is trying to find their legs and see who the players are. A lot of people are throwing attacks and pulling hard, really driving up the pace. This is where riders often give up mentally or physically; they can't maintain the pace. Eventually, riders that are left will call a "truce" at this point the race slows down dramatically. Stage 2 is just about making it this transition phase, even if you have to sit up after.
Stage 3. Race Flow Selection - You can make the mid-race selection but fall off when the pace picks up in the Race Close. The "race flow" is just like it sounds riders are focused on riding smoothly and working together to move the peloton along. There are usually fewer attacks and riders. This section of the race serves as a reprieve from the race's initial efforts and ramp-up to the race's close selection. However, when the pace picks back up you are dropped.
Stage 4. Race Close Selection - You can stay with the final selection in the Race Close and make it to the finish. The end or crucial section of the course. The key in this section is to make that final group despite the surging pace and accelerations thrown by the other riders. Many experienced riders are stuck here, unable to be in the mix. This stage was frustrating to me and I found a key mindset shift that is pivotal to progressing from this stage, “ownership.” Riders who get stuck here are in limbo BECAUSE they make excuses. “I had bad legs.” “I was unlucky.” “The course isn't for me.” Heard these before, maybe even in your own head? Well, don’t let these voices creep in. Own your shortcomings in Stage 4 and you will quickly progress as you know that these shortcomings are what will take you to the next level, Stage 5.
Stage 5. Race Close Animation - You can make the final selection in the Race Close, and you can attack, cover attacks from the group, and or sprint in the last. However, you are unable to get a result. I remember this for me being a key component that launched me into the winner category. You see, feel, and taste the strategy, skills, and ability needed to win. You see you are there, now you just have to work a little harder to improve specific things. This is the appetizer you need!
Stage 6. Race Close Result - You can make the final selection in the Race Close, and you can attack, cover attacks from the group, and or sprint in the final. Now, you can get a result, but not yet the win. I call this stage the “00:00:00.” This is what I remember most about first coming up on a fresh finish line that no one yet has crossed. The clock shows “00:00:00” below the finish line because it measures the time you are behind the winner. So you see with your own eyes what exactly it looks like to win, even though you just fall short with a good finish right there with the winner.
Stage 7. Race Close Win - You can make the final selection in the Race Close, and you are able to attack, cover attacks from the group, and or sprint in the final. You can get the win. Yes, finally, that victory you have dreamed of! If you followed these seven Stages to get to this point you are likely going to repeat more victories, or more commonly, move up to a higher category and start the Stages again. It is important no matter the path you take that you commit to the sport, to the mastery, instead of obsessing over the result. Mastery will always bring fulfillment along with results. Obsessing over results has little substance and more often than none will lead you away from continued success.
Before you get started in this process reflect on each of these things and figure out what needs to improve. Where are you now? Are you able to complete the distance, but when the gun goes off, you find yourself off the back of the peloton? Or are you finishing with the pack every race but unable to compete for the win?
Think about the races at your level. There's an apparent reason you are in the stage you are in. Figure out the cause and craft your game plan around getting to the next stage.
As you will see, real race success based on these stages takes focus, hard work, and time. You must focus on these seven at your current level and concerning your Rider Type. For example, you may be competing in a mass start gravel race. In this case, the "Peloton" is your age group or category, not the entire 5,000 person field. Focus on finding other riders in the same group, and then this becomes the peloton where your seven stages begin. A good strategy is to choose events that fit your Rider Type to go through these seven stages. While you still can eventually master all seven steps in all types of events, you will find a faster, more fun path focusing on activities that suit your genetic abilities.
Once you reach the top level of your category, you can start the process over again. For example, I have taken one of our coaches, Quintin, through the 7 Stages within USA Cycling for Category 5,4,3,2, and 1. Now he is on a pro-team hovering in Stage 2, but I have no doubt the will get to Stage 7 because he has done it five times before. This framework works for any type of race and for any ability of rider.
It's been my life's mission to define the sport of cycling. Which I believe is the first stepping in teaching people of all levels how to master it. Frameworks like The 7 Stages of Race success that you can use to crush your events and master the sport of cycling.