Sunday, 22 November 2009

So when is the cycling off-season?

The last women's road race took place in early October. Time to hang up the bike, take things easy and then get back into training. No racing, no really intense training. Just taking things easy for a couple of months.

Err, not really. That might have been the case 5 years ago but it doesn't seem to be the case now.

Back in 2004 there was a road racing/time trialling calendar which ran from April to late September. Then everything stopped and you went into hibernation for a few weeks, re-started training and then came out to play again in mid/late March. Some people used the time to do running, some did completely different sports like hockey. A couple of hardy souls did cyclo cross or duathlons. But in the main, people didn't do any cycle racing between November and March.

Now, it all seems to have changed. There has been a noteworthy increase in the number of women taking part in cyclo cross races - many of them coming straight off the back of a road racing season. Where only 3 or 4 women turned out to race a London league event, it's not uncommon now to have 10 women present on the start line. And that's not counting the women who do cyclo cross racing in the neighbouring leagues that cover the London area - Eastern and Central.

Track racing at Calshot velodrome has begun, and there is a winter league - although the venue is a good 2 hours' drive away, many Londoners still make the trip over there. Furthermore, there are winter road racing leagues at Hillingdon (in West London) and Redbridge Cycle Centre (aka Hog Hill, East London) which get a sizeable attendance. Of course we mustn't forget the roller racing national series and winter leagues!

So, with all these events taking place, when does a London racing cyclist actually get the chance to rest up? It appears that the answer is "You don't"! There's so much going on, and a combination of wanting the buzz of racing, being a racing creature of habit and even peer pressure means that you can very easily get roped into racing 52 weeks of the year!

Maybe this trend is also being driven by our professional/semi professional counterparts. After the final protour race - the Tour of Lombardy, some road racers turn to racing the World Cup events at the various velodromes and the 6-day events. There's road racing to be done Africa, Asia and South America over the winter months. And of course there's cyclo cross.
While the top racers don't necessarily take part in all of these disciplines, there is still enough to keep the attentions of the amateur cycle racer who would want to emulate their heros in each of these disciplines and,before they know it, it's all about racing, racing and more racing!

The trend of the never ending season can definitely be seen in other sports like football, rugby and tennis. A number of top tennis players have complained at the demands made on their bodies as a result of a punishing competition schedule. They've probably got a point.

There is a more sinister side to all this racing - so much racing means so much training (in theory), which means the body never really gets properly rested. This results in a greater tendency for illness and injury. I don't have figures but just looking around I see more and more cases of illness due to overtraining/over-racing and even chronic fatigue syndrome.

The message is, while the cycle racing calendar may be jam packed full of events that we can take part in nowadays, it is still worth dosing the amount of racing done. And as I sit here with a strapped up ankle after a nasty sprain, I realise that by having this (albeit enforced) break, I may actually be doing the rest of my body a favour!
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