Phill Maddocks journal: preparing for the season

Phil Maddocks Journal 2022 #01

Phil Maddocks is looking ahead to the season creaking into life in his role as a coach for Loughborough Performance Coaching. In his first journal post, Phill talks about the long off-season, training camps, why power numbers aren’t everything, and makes a plea to race organisers to be more transparent about race selection criteria…

Phew! It feels good to see the return of racing again, even if not competing myself. The winter months for a road racer can feel never ending, with that continuous question of ‘Am I going to be ready for the race season?’. The same question also crosses the mind of a coach for each one of their supported athletes. It can be a nervous time, and for sure I sometimes question myself through the months of analysing training sessions, where the only metrics to see improvement is often power data, and I’m very much someone who believes that power numbers alone do not get race results.

I believe that questioning your own theories, your own processes, is what makes you want to improve more as a coach

In my years of coaching, I have seen clear evidence of this, with riders having exceptional power numbers but not converting them into exceptional results, whilst others are the opposite. However, I believe that questioning your own theories, your own processes, is what makes you want to improve more as a coach; to understand your athletes more and really question: ‘if power numbers don’t directly correlate with results, what else is there?’

You must still believe that what you are doing is right for the athlete and is the optimal training for the individual, and I do, but sometimes asking this question allows you to develop your practices and ultimately make you a better coach. 

More to racing than just power numbers

So what else is there to winning races than just power numbers? And more importantly, what can we do leading into the race season to improve those things? This list is endless, but there are three main areas that I believe can transform the results a rider can achieve; cornering skill and bike handling ability, understanding a race situation and applying the most suitable tactics, and the recent hot topic, aerodynamics.  

Phill with some of the riders on the Talent Development Academy

On the latter, having worked with a British Grand Tour winner on their time trial position as part of my engineering dissertation, I feel I have a good understanding on the topic, but equally understand that the most aerodynamic position isn’t always the fastest if a rider cannot produce power or sustain it in that position.

Throughout the winter our riders will complete several tempo/threshold sessions, where the rider is pushed to hold their aggressive aerodynamic position for a long time. Trying to push this position whilst doing higher intensity more often than not takes something away from the session itself, whilst holding this position just on easy rides may acclimatise the arms, neck and back to the position, however, it’s not the same as holding it during an uncomfortable pace, such as at threshold. This would allow the rider to hold this position whilst in a breakaway for example, essentially going quicker for the same power output. 

Winter weekend training camps

As mentioned in my intro article, I truly believe that if any rider is to be successful, they need to be technically and tactically astute within a bike race. To help our riders improve these two aspects of racing, we run monthly training ‘camps’ over the winter, typically combining a day of high intensity efforts with a certain goal, be that break control, sprint lead out training or team time trial (TTT) work, followed by a longer ride with focus on race fuelling practice.

Although many riders may never race a competitive TTT, or be involved in an established lead out train, the technique of these two components can be placed into all areas of a bike race, from riding in a breakaway, to positioning yourself for the final sprint. These are all aspects that riders without a training group rarely get to practice and can be seen to lack in races. 

Winter training camp

In our final weekend of the winter in early March, we completed our harder session at Leicester Cycle Circuit to get the safety of an off-road venue. Here we really homed in on race tactics with several ‘coach-led races’, a term introduced by Rod Ellingworth back when he first set-up the British Cycling Senior Academy.

The idea is to really get riders to think about what they are doing in a race by giving each rider, or team of riders, a specific goal or tactic. Not only does the rider have to think about how they are going to execute their race, but also must work out what other teams are trying to do so they are able to counter that and win.

The post-effort discussion is then vital to the learning process, with input from both the coaches and the riders alike. It somewhat felt a strange time of the year to be doing this, as whilst riders from across the country were racing, we were at a cycle circuit learning ‘how’ to race, and more importantly, ‘how’ to win.

I do feel strongly about how important these types of sessions are however and believe our riders will reap the benefits as we hit the bigger targets of the year with National Road Series races or Tour Series, where good results can really progress a rider’s career. 

Race selection

I’d like to make use of these journal posts where I can, to drive discussions across the racing community on how we can come together to better support ourselves, from the riders, to teams, to the race organisers. 

With seemingly fewer race options and a potential increase in those wanting to race, getting the feared rejection email is becoming more and more common, with rarely a reason or an understanding as to why

My first topic in this area, widely discussed on social media over recent weeks, is that of race selection. With seemingly fewer race options and a potential increase in those wanting to race, getting the feared rejection email is becoming more and more common, with rarely a reason or an understanding as to why.

As a race organiser myself, and someone who has developed a selection criteria over years of experience, here’s a few suggestions to what we could do better without the intervention from British Cycling, but by just wanting to better support each other:

  • advertise the planned race selection policy on the race information page on British Cycling. This will allow a rider to gauge if they have a chance of being selected. Riders will then also understand why they were not accepted if that so happens.
  • limit team sizes in the race, on top of whatever the race selection policy is. This will promote more positive racing and give more teams or independent riders a chance of getting into races. Of course, this would only apply if the race were oversubscribed.
  • keep to your advertised entry close date unless you advertise the race as first come first served up front.
  • if the race becomes oversubscribed, reject entries to those who fall outside the criteria before the typical two week deadline. This would allow the rider to enter another race if possible and not be left with no race whilst other events haven’t filled up. 
Toby Barnes at winter training camp

It is not just on the organiser to help the situation though – certainly riders can help by not entering races last minute and not withdrawing from races in the final week without good reasons. However, I truly believe the above suggestions would go some way to at least avoiding confusion and frustration from the riders’ side, and really takes little extra effort from the organiser. 

I shan’t comment on the selection criteria itself, as I am sure organisers always have the best intentions at heart, but feel advertising this will be a big step forward.

Next month I shall discuss the off-the-bike preparation and group workshops for some of our upcoming target races, such as the CiCLE Classic and the Tour Series, and detail my account of acting as a team manager in the UCI Rutland-Melton International Men’s CiCLE Classic. 

See you all on the road.

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