Huntsman World Senior Games Road Cycling
Taking the Proper Approach
Have a plan in your preparation, have a plan for each race day, have a plan for each race
As I write this, we’re five weeks out from the Huntsman World Senior Games, the event that precipitated my move to Southern Utah nineteen years ago. I raced in the Licensed Division, now known as Division I. Over eleven years, I went to the line thirty-three times and had twenty-four podium finishes, including a gold, and many silver and bronze medals. They hang, unceremoniously, in a dark, dusty corner of my garage.
I trained hard for this, my favorite stage race, and after a few years, it became very clear as to what I had to do to compete. Here are some general recommendations I’ll make for preparing for the event, and some specific tips for each race. It’s the time to get serious.
Because of the short duration of each event, the most important aspect of your training must be intensity. If you experience the highest level of intensity you’ve ever felt on the actual race day, you didn’t train hard enough. Do flat-out sprints. Do hill repeats. Do both ten minute and one-minute intervals. Go hard on each short hill, and before you recover, go hard again. Wear a heart monitor, and push yourself into oxygen debt. Those of you who have raced know this. In four days, many of you will race a total of only fifty miles, so the pace will be frenetic in every race. And a month before the event, make sure you train hard two or three days in a row to simulate a stage race. Intensity in your training will be the difference between you thinking during the criterium, “Holy crap, these guys are going too hard!” and “Hey, I can handle this pace!” Taper for around four days before the first event, and don’t ride much the two days before the first event, the hillclimb. An easy 20-mile ride on Monday (the day before the first race), with two 45-second maximum efforts, will open everything up. Any hard training you do within the week before the event will only make you slower. And back off your miles the week before.
Google the competition
This makes the most sense if you’re in Division I. I used to copy the registration list from the Dixie Center a few days before the races, and Google race results of my competition. Good criterium results would tell me who the sprinters were, and strong hillclimb results would tell me who to watch in the road race and hillclimb. I was likely to respond to an early attack in the crit by a time trial specialist who might just motor off trying to steal a solo win. Nuh-uh. Not on MY watch.
Watch your diet
Starting right now, be conscious of eating good, fresh food and avoiding junk. Don’t eat anything that’s handed to you by a kid through your car window. Between now and the race, you’ll lose a few lbs., and you’ll feel better. We all race better when we’re lighter, as long as it isn’t due to dehydration.
Check your gear
Make sure your bike is in perfect condition. The brakes and derailliers should be adjusted, the chain should be clean and lubed with a light lubricant, tires should be fairly new (not brand new, because they attract road particles and glass), and all adjustment bolts should be tight. Check your stem and seatpost bolts, and don’t over-tighten them. And this is very important: Don’t make any major changes to your bike within the week before the event. Don’t change your chain and use the old cassette, or your bike will shift like crapola. Don’t change out your stem. I’ve seen people change their seatpost height a half inch, go to longer cranks, or make some other change days before a race. Just don’t. You’ll be slower, and you may hurt yourself. Experiment in the off season.
Plan each day
I used to print out a plan for each of the four days, including the time I would get up each day, the time I would leave the house, (depending upon how far the venue was), the time I would get on the bike for my warmup (the shorter the event; the longer the warmup), and my start time. Set your watch to the official race clock, and don’t miss your start time. Out of the hundreds of races I’ve entered, I’ve probably missed four start times. It’s a bonehead move. Don’t be a bonehead, m-kay? If you figure out your race itinerary ahead of time and print it out, you don’t have to worry about it and panic.
Force yourself to do a good warmup, maybe 45 minutes. Increase your intensity so you go anaerobic a few times fifteen minutes before your start time. Get to the line five minutes before your start time. Take a last drink of liquid and hand your bottle to someone. I used to take my cages off the bike for the hillclimb and not take a bottle. Hey, it’s 3.25 miles, and 14 minutes! (Okay, I can’t do it in 14 minutes anymore, but neither can you, so neener.)
I break the hillclimb into three sections of around a mile each. The first mile can be handled in the big ring, especially since most of you ride Nancy-Boy 50-tooth big rings. You can use the big ring from the start through the hilltop by the ranger station, if you stand. When you get to the top, shift to the small ring for the 2nd mile, sit and push, keeping your heart rate just below your lactate threshold. But the race will be won or lost depending upon what you do in the last, steep 1.25 mile section. You need to ride at your limit the whole way, without blowing up and slowing to 4 mph. And remember, the two steepest sections are within a half mile from the finish line. Suffer and don’t quit. I got 4thone year by .04-second.
The time trial
After a violent start, settle in, let your pulse drop back down to just below your max, and relax on the bike. Shut everything down except for HEART, LUNGS, and LEGS. You are a fnorkin’ machine! Push hard up the rises in the road, and then gain maximum speed on the downhills. Break the time trial into smaller sections. Push hard to the next bridge. Then push from that bridge to the next offramp. Push from the offramp to the crest of the overpass. And so forth. And on your computer, display heart rate, speed, and average speed. Fifteen years ago, I knew I rode a good time trial (for me) if my average speed was between 25 mph and 27 mph, and my average heart rate was between 165 and 172. Those days are gone forever, no joke. And consider not taking a bottle or cage for a 20k time trial. The added drag, plus slowing to drink could cost you 15 seconds. I’ve seen guys take two 28 oz. bottles on a 20k time trial. LOL. Don’t be “that guy.” You might as well pack a small cooler and bring some sammitches…
Sign up for the crit. Many of you won’t because criteriums are considered “unsafe.” Actually, the HWSG criterium fields are not big enough to be hazardous, and the course is flat and safe. That said, two national champions crashed right in front of me on the old Bluff Park course causing me to crash hard on my back, breaking three ribs. Hey, good times.
Be predictable. Ride a straight line on the straightaways, and ride a smooth line in the corners. Don’t cut the apex and cut off another rider, or he will curse your ancestors. Don’t hit the brakes. Flow into the corners. Don’t pedal through the corners if you’re going fast, or you’ll dip a pedal into the ground and take yourself and others down. Keep the inside pedal up in corners. If you can stay near the front (but not IN the front), you’ll stay out of harm’s way. Don’t be a squirrel out there!
The last two laps of a crit are insanity. Do what you have to do to maintain contact, and find a strong wheel to draft into the last two corners. Crits are won and lost in the last two corners.
Most of you have a distinct home field advantage. You know these hills; Mile to Go, the Dam Hill, Eagle Mountain, the Wall, and the hill out of Veyo. The Senior Games road race is mostly about maintaining contact with the leaders on these hills. If you can hang with the leaders to the descent from the top of Snow Canyon, your chances of placing or winning are very good. Stay relaxed on the descent, and use the entire road if you have to. Both lanes will be closed to traffic. If there’s a north wind on the day of the road race, watch your speed on the Snow Canyon descent. Don’t risk injury.
Once you make the right turn onto Snow Canyon Parkway/Center heading towards the finish line, don’t go to the front and pull if you’re in a group. Tuck in behind a bigger and/or stronger rider. Expect someone to attack early at the last roundabout. Be prepared to jump and go with them. In a perfect world, they’ll think they’ve broken free and they’re going to win, but with fifty yards to go, you come around them in a masterfully brilliant move and win the race! Ah, sweet schadenfreude!! What a cruel sport! HAHAHA!!
There’s a lot more I could have written about racing the Huntsman World Senior Games, but I’m already 600 words over my limit. If you have any specific questions, post them in the comments and I will get back to you. Race safely, and enjoy the camaraderie of this very special event.
Written by Paul Scarpelli
Huntsman World Senior Games Road Cycling