Repost: Don't Crack

Jul 31 2009 Published by under Conduct of Science, Cycling

This post originally appeared on Sep 13, 2007.



BikeMonkey Guest Re-Post
"I was hanging with the leaders until the second climb when I cracked about halfway up."
"I just kept to my pace on the climb and passed three guys who cracked trying to ride with the front group."
The use of "to crack" in cycling is different from "blowing up" in that it implies, to me at least, a psychological component. "Blowing up" just means you rode yourself beyond your sustainable level of effort, roughly speaking over into the anaerobic side of the power station. In contrast "cracking" is applied to situations in which the going is tough (generally climbing) and a racer (or rider) just stops maintaining the pace which is otherwise sustainable. There is a slowdown in speed, of course. A loss of cadence and of pedaling smooth circles. A dropoff of HR from the max sustainable threshold for aerobic activity. The rider drops a gear and just plods on at a survival pace. In other words, quits. It's subtle because after all you are still technically riding up the hill or finishing the race; the difference is that you aren't really trying anymore. You aren't at maximal (or targeted) sustainable effort.


In bike racing you spend a fair bit of time trying to crack the other guy. To make him give up. Or, at least I always did. For one thing the benefits of drafting mean that racers stay together more, unlike running or nordic ski racing. Which means that putting your competitors out of competition isn't a simple equation of ride-as-hard-as-you-can. Also, the bike is a great equalizer in some ways. So there you are, suffering like a dog with a pack of other racers. Who comes out on top? Well, often enough it is the one who can tough it out, keep on sustaining the effort until the competitors have given up. It is also the one who can out psych the opposition. Remember all that talk about Lance's "The Look" in the 2001 Tour? I think most non-cyclist probably though this was pretty dumb, sketch or some media invention. Not so. Always a rule in cycling to never to let them think you are suffering.
Train your strengths. Duh. Climbers like to go out and climb hills. Big guys like to hammer the flats. Most coaches (even beyond cycling) have a constant mantra to train your weaknesses. They are right. This is to keep others from cracking you. But never neglect the one that brung ya! This is the tool you use to make the competition suffer to the point where they might crack.
Attack. In cycling the "attack" is when you are going along with the pack of riders and a given speed and you decide it isn't fast enough. So off you go at a higher speed and see who comes with you. Sometimes, the whole pack is right on your ass. Sometimes they let you go and you decide, "er, I'm not riding 50K on my own hook" and come back to the pack. But sometimes, part of the race comes with you and part of it decides their race day is over. You've cracked 'em.
It applies to the more recreational riding too, from training to cycle touring. It's kind of a rule of cycling that it is going to hurt at times and part of the satisfaction is in sustaining performance despite the discomfort. This is how we get faster, how we ride those hills we've never made it over, how the data nerds make their usual ride with a 0.5 mph improvement in average speed and how we manage to finish that century ride. One of the life lessons of cycling (as with other sports) is that your mind is a Big Fat Liar! In other words, you learn a lot about just what your body is capable of doing when you shut down that little voice saying "but it hurts....wah". (No, I'm not talking about riding with actual injury people.)
In my on-again phase of training, I am reminded that this is a skill, just like any other and it atrophies without practice. I use this as an explicit training goal. The point being not to climb the old training hills at the old speed. Rather it is quite simply to ride them without cracking. A modest but necessary goal. I did a couple of Soledad repeats today, that's why I'm thinking about cracking.
There's a lesson for research careers in here somewhere.

2 responses so far

  • Ross says:

    "you learn a lot about just what your body is capable of doing when you shut down that little voice saying "but it hurts....wah"."
    I found this while running track in high school. My biggest improvement in the 1600M came when I learned to give it all I had until the point where that voice kicked in, and then keep going. The first 3 laps are tough. The last one is blood and guts, but it is where the winners and losers finally separate out.

  • becca says:

    "you learn a lot about just what your body is capable of doing when you shut down that little voice saying "but it hurts....wah".
    Also good for this- 400meters of butterfly.

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