This is a guest post from Ben King, a professional cyclist for Team Dimension Data. I highly recommend looking at his other blog posts on benkingusa.com.
Junior Cyclist Q&A
August 4, 2016
Encouragement and mentorship from an army of supporters paved the way for me in cycling. My dad played the biggest role in my development, although he and I both took advice from more experienced or educated coaches and athletes. I never outgrew my support system and still seek wisdom in a constant effort to be the best possible. Even the grittiest, toughest, most talented young athlete is at risk of missing out on his or her potential without the right direction. Yet, there is no universal road map that leads to cycling success. Each athlete will respond differently to the same training, diet, lifestyle, races, or environmental factors. Keep a training diary, accept feedback from the people who know you best, work hard, rest hard, be specific, trust in your training on race day, ENJOY WHAT YOU DO, and little by little learn what works best for you.
I might not have the best answers to all of your questions, but I can speak from my experience and add one opinion to your arsenal of information.
Most juniors can’t afford a power meter. What drills would you suggest for juniors like me who don’t own one and what did you do as a junior? – Joseph Doherty
I did not know what a watt was until I was an under 23 rider. A power meter is a useful tool to measure training. I base most of my workouts on power now, but a power meter does not pedal the bike and doesn’t account for many other variables. Learning to gauge your own feelings and train based on perceived effort is so often overlooked and such a valuable skill. You learn to race with guts and how to get the most out of yourself on a given day instead of staring at your stem while the competition whizzes past. As a junior I used heart rate and did the same type of intervals. For example, 5×5 minutes with ten minutes rest between each. I made myself a 15-20 minute time trial course near home (before Strava existed). Week by week I brought my time down in the build up to my first junior national championships victory.
2007 Time Trial 17-18 Nationals podium. Not only did I not own a power meter, I wore jeans on the podium.
What were the things that you did as a junior cyclist that had the biggest impact on you becoming a pro? – Logan Jones-Wilkins
There is no shortcut to becoming a professional. All the little things add up. As a junior it was never my end all goal to become a professional. Rather, I rode my bike and raced because I loved it. I set challenging but achievable short term goals, which allowed me to live in the moment, assess my performance, and focus on improving. The opportunities followed.
Taylor Phinney went on to win 17-18 TT Worlds.
Did you ever have a demoralising injury and if you did how did you manage to overcome it? -Tom Evelein
Learning to deal with injuries and other setbacks is part of the journey. When I was a junior, cycling injuries never set me back long, but two years in a row I had third degree stress fractures from running. When my shins hurt enough to send me to the doctor, I was told not to run, so I swam instead and waited for my shins to recover. Respecting the recovery process takes patience but could prevent permanent damage. Controlling anxiety is one of the greatest challenges for super motivated athletes. Try to see it as a chance to focus on something else and grow in other areas of life. Fitness comes back faster than you think.
Your attitude is often the only thing you can control, and how you confront adversity is a choice for better or worse. It’s up to you.
How many hours did you train when you were a junior? -Elijah Shipp
Fall cross-country and winter indoor track and swim team provided months of alternative training. They were great cross training. They kept me mentally fresh and physically balanced. Now there are a growing number of programs like MSA Endurance (msacycling.org) which facilitate a full year focused on various cycling disciplines.
I recommend finding a coach who will take out the guess work and design a program specifically for you.
Visit with the Miller School of Albemarle High School Cycling team.
I put in over 150 hours of training specific to my first block of european racing and crashed out of my first belgian kermess with a dislocated and fractured shoulder and stitches. I’ve been off the bike for almost a month. How do you deal with something like that emotionally and mentally, let alone physically? I want to believe I’ll race again but right now I can’t lift my arm. -Greg Goldstein
In January this year, a week before my first race, I broke my fibula and had to stare down the barrel of over a month on the couch while my competition was building full speed into the spring classics. I couldn’t even walk for a month. I suffered a lot in training and then got throttled in my first races. At times I was discouraged, but I kept plugging along. I won a race in May and set personal power records in June. Take your time and don’t give up!
What advice would you give to parents so their kids have fun, don’t burnout and maximise their potential?– Kelly Feilke
For me the key was balance. I still have escapes like guitar, fishing, archery, and swimming, plus a great community of friends and teammates which give me the stability to get the most out of myself. Being part of a team and plugging into local group rides and races is fun and provides intensity while alleviating the cost of psyching yourself up for endless intervals. Knowing when to rest is potentially more important than knowing when to push through fatigue. It is always better to be 10% undertrained than 5% overtrained. There were times when my dad had to hide my cycling shoes from me to keep me from digging myself into a hole. Other times he motor paced me until I was dry heaving beside the road, and then motor paced me more. Pushing yourself, exploring your personal limits, and your surroundings is part of the beauty of cycling. My parents never pressured me to pursue cycling as a career. They supported me the same whether I was winning or losing as long as I practiced good sportsmanship and competed with integrity.
What did you do to keep yourself motivated (even without getting good results)? -Blake Wilson
When I was 17, I took my first trip to Europe with Hot Tubes Development Team. We had won everything in the USA, and thought we would roll up and crush the European races. I will never forget how it felt suffering just to finish far behind the leaders. It was eye opening and humbling. I determined to make the difference over the winter, and used that painful experience as motivation. The next season was very successful.
Goal setting is very important. When I first started riding at 14, I would get dropped every week in the local group ride. I remember thinking, “next week I’ll make it over this hill to the next one.” Every week I’d make it a little bit further until I was trading pulls with the fastest guys at the end of the ride. Having those markers to measure progress against myself kept it satisfying along the way.
Don’t forget what hooked you on riding in the first place.
What is the best way to first get your name out to pro/U23 development teams? -Brendan Bengtson
Cycling is a team sport and from the inside it feels like a small community. Directors are real people. They respect athletes who value education, show character, ethics, intelligence, initiative, and teamwork. Results and future potential will put you on the radar and give you the chance to make that personal connection.