I live in a place where physical exercise, sport and recreational activity comprises a significant part of our lives: We have great weather, awesome surroundings and a wide, diverse and engaged cultural fascination with sport and in particular, sporting achievement. I’m sure this mirrors much of the rest of the world, but growing up where I did, you inevitably played hard, and played to win. Our relatively small country always stood tall when we competed on an international stage and this filtered down to our grassroots - from early age you took sport a little more seriously than learning ….
When the big growth spurt in cycling began to take hold in the late 80’s and early 90’s as a result of the exposure we got from TV coverage, we got sucked in. We bought a bike, found some like-minded riders and joined them on rides. As such our early understanding of riding bikes, riding them fast and then racing them derived from the teachings of the “older” riders in the groups, what little written material we were able to access, as well as the sum of the general “mythos” of methods and advices that populated our (in those days) relatively small cycling community.
It’s hard to believe, but 25 years ago mountain-biking was in its infancy and the Tour de France was a minor blip on our sporting radar. Back then we were in global sporting isolation and niche sports like cycling were minor considerations for coaching and mentoring purposes. This didn’t mean we were completely ignorant - we were blessed to have access to some local “Idols” who had, against huge odds, lived and competed in the hot-bed of professional bike racing in Europe - Euro profis (as they were known) - as well as a handful of British profis who had come here to work in the burgeoning local cycling industry.
To be honest, though, approaching riders of this stature for advice was a hugely intimidating experience and seldom done - theirs was a world of hard men, hard riding efforts, little compromise and even less communication. Much of what we learned came through struggling to sit their wheels on training rides while they calmly chatted away up front, or listening intently for throw-away comments during post-ride coffee stops.
Anyway, everyone back then understood the basics of how to train for endurance sports like cycling: We did what the pros did - lots and lots of base mileage, hill training for the more serious and generally stacking up as much time in the saddle as possible. And like everywhere else, whenever more than 2 cyclists got together for a training ride, it was inevitably a case of “Ready, Set … GO!!” Much of what we did was simply emulating what our top riders were doing.
Soon enough, the communication explosion saw us exposed to even more information and books from Ed Burke and Joe Friel became new bibles for serious cyclists. The local industry was flourishing - and this even before the Second Wave that is the more recent mountain-biking explosion - bike shops proliferated and we saw the introduction of cycling training facilities based on European indoor training practices and the growth of Spinning - The fever took hold and we saw a massive growth in cycling Clubs, bike races and eventually, a weekly TV slot on national TV!
Bearing this in mind, perhaps we might wonder why today, 30 years on, we only have a small handful of top riders competing at top level.