By Peaks Coaching Group Master/Elite Coach Earl Zimmermann
Racing your bike is a blast especially on a team: weekend team rides, racing together, training with others instead of just by yourself. Sounds great! If it only worked that way in real life. What really happens is that sometimes teammates won’t join a team ride because it doesn’t follow their coach’s planned workout for them. Then due to work/life schedules you may train solo, but are you sure you are spending enough time in each zone to improve race fitness? Ultimately, the race strategy doesn’t go as planned, with only one or two finishing the race in the top 10. What’s the alternative? Having a team coach. A team coach can make a huge impact on increasing the success of the entire team.
For the past three years, I’ve coached a team out of Northern California while living in Seattle. Yes, remote coaching does work. Prior to team coaching, these guys had been through it all. Constantly training too hard thinking if their legs didn’t hurt after a workout they didn’t train properly. This led to legs blowing up during a race and having to be off the bike. Letting race anxiety get the better of them by putting out their best numbers in the first 20 minutes, and not having any legs to contest the finish. Most experienced some type of cramping while racing, but most of the time not while training. By the second year of team coaching, they were firing on all cylinders with more teammates on the podium, winning Best All-around Team Cat 4 35+, and this year they won the Red Kite Ominum Top Team award!
There were some challenges during the first 90 days of team coaching adapting to a “different” way of training. We were working with a core group of six, and sometimes up to 10 athletes. Each of them use a Training Peaks Premium account, receiving four key workouts per week to develop specific physiological systems. With their first race in February, I added more intensity during the winter training phase, reducing the frequency of long base miles. We discussed how and why they could move a workout during the week to fit their life commitments. At first, it was hard for some of them to really do a recovery workout, while others found it difficult to stay in Vo2 max for at least 3 minutes. Using Training Peaks turned out to be a better tool than expected, as the teammates at the extreme ends of training and racing could see the charts in the Dashboard showing them what was limiting them from making progress. Now the whole team is doing similar workouts during the week, and the team rides on the weekend are more beneficial for everyone.
For the monthly videoconference calls, the team contributes to the agenda. We allow time to address their immediate concerns, then move on to cover the coach’s topics. Skype allows up to 10 users at a time, with the ability of sharing the coach’s screen with the group. We watch race videos together, so not only could we discuss what was happening during the race, we could also see if one member was really staying out of the wind. Then we review the race file to see who was using more matches chasing surges than others. Watching the videos together also allows the coach to suggest proper cornering techniques to maintain speed through the turn, and to see them on their bikes while racing. Watching the video can lead to bike fits to eliminate leg cramps and other posture issues. For some, the saddle was too high, while for others the stem was too long. These corrections stopped the leg cramping. We spend time discussing various charts in Training Peak’s Dashboard and drilling down into workout and race files. This makes a huge difference in their understanding as to why they were doing the workouts.
Everyone likes competing against others on Strava. In the past, teammates were very competitive to get Strava segments, or KOM, and get bragging rights. These “wins” during training didn’t always transfer very well to races. Now it’s a tool to monitor one’s progress.
As everyone’s fitness improved, the level of competition rose to new heights during the team rides, with more teammates contesting at the sprint zone. Everyone went into the team camp feeling strong, and these guys didn’t hold back. Over the years, the team camp has now grown to 20 teammates, which are broken up into three separate groups. This allows athletes to push themselves and test their limits. Rather than some teammates getting frustrated from not being able to stay with the lead group, the bond amongst the teammates grew. Each of them really got to know their teammates strengths and weaknesses on various terrain: the longer climbs, the rollers, and the flats. This proved beneficial in developing team strategies during the race season. The team was coming together in perfect time for the spring races.
The strategy was laid out for the first few races, select a protected rider, and have multiple teammates covering any breaks. A very common race strategy that is not always easy to pull off. Teammates with a few seasons in their legs were now getting on the podium. Others with less racing experience and mind were doing awesome, placing in the top 10, and just missing out of a podium. The team was learning how different racing in the top 10, and being in the proper position to sprint for the finish can be. These were perfect topics for the team call, along with watching the race video. After just a few more races, everything fell into place. Teammates were less distracted by outside influence, gained more confidence in their racing skills, and dealing with the chaos during the final kilometer. By mid season, there were numerous mark riders. The competition didn’t know whom to cover because they had so many riders that could contest the win.
Having a team coach allowed for each member to gain their own strength and speed, but also allowed them to truly be part of the team, all reaching for the same goal. A team coach coaches each athlete, while coaching them all in how to be a team, race like a team, and most importantly win as a team.