Conehead: Down Time

Taking it easy...

When a gap appears in the race schedule, inevitably the question is, how should an athlete use that time. High Performance Manager Darren Roberts takes up the story.

Photos: Ben Winder

Racer’s schedules tend to be pretty packed out these days, and not just with the main championship or series they’re racing. There are various nationals, one off events like Crankworx, sponsor commitments and of course testing the bike and its various components – so down time can be a rare thing. However there are times when a gap opens up between races presenting the athlete with two or three weeks to do as they please. This can present a number of challenges for the athlete, do they take actual time off, have a complete break and if so how long for? Should they train, and if so what training should they do and where? Should they stay in Europe between races or head home?

Josh Lewis and Mark Scott… flat out.

You can imagine a rider struggling to find the results they want probably feels the need to train even harder in the time they have – when in fact they may need a break, equally you might think a dominant athlete should have a break when in fact they may well need to push harder in any down time. In the past this has been a haphazard approach, but the top riders have access to bespoke performance coaches like Alan Milway, so any gaps or potential down time between races will have been well planned for in advance. So the question isn’t whether they should do something or not, but all the factors that have to be taken into consideration relevant to what they’re trying to achieve. It’s rarely about ‘what’ they should do, but ‘how’ they should do it.

Obviously the best thing to do when you have a little downtime is relax, take it easy and prepare yourself for the next race... Al Stock taking the plunge!

I’ve managed plenty of athletes through this process and this is where having a comprehensive understanding of what’s happening with the athlete and why comes in, as I’ve written about before (Learning from Failure). Having this global understanding of where you are as an athlete physically and mentally is key to guiding what happens in these breaks, and as mentioned it’s not the ‘what’ but the ‘how’ and ‘why’. If they are going to have a break this in itself needs some guidance so it’s a structured break crafted around getting maximum rest and recovery. It also needs to be built around them and what they feel they need to do, so everything is a balance.

Letting them stay in Europe to shred with their mates for three weeks won’t be great for their body, but if managed properly will be very good for their mind. It’s important for them unwind and get away from the pressures of racing and ride for fun, but it does need some goal posts i.e. don’t blast yourself for three weeks solidly in the mountains. Getting them to a good location with good facilities and resources for both on and off the bike, allowing them to do mobility work, pool (or lake) for some fun recovery work and access to good food.

Casey Brown has the right idea: stretch, focus, relax.

This helps them tick the mental box of getting away from racing and riding for fun, whilst in fact keeping the body fresh – you can further steer that towards the next race by adding structured runs towards the end of the break or even meeting the team early to get back into ‘race’ mode. Or you may take the view that the athlete is best placed at home during a break, where they can recover and train in familiar surroundings, see friends and family which then becomes a break from being constantly on the road as a pro athlete. The athlete might not want to admit it, but the comforts and familiarity of home count for a lot in a long season living out of bags.

So like I’ve already said, it’s not ‘what’ they should do, should they train or not, should they rest or not – but the ‘how’. How should they train, how should they recover and managing that process with them so it gets them the desired outcome both physically and mentally. A happy athlete has fun. A happy athlete having fun also tends to cope better with the demands and pressures of racing over a long season.

Of course 'pro' riders need to let their hair down every once in a while...
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