Whether crushing the competition on a brutal Belgian cyclocross course, or overcoming all odds to launch a spectacular comeback following catastrophic injury, cycling’s crème de la crème pull off some truly impressive feats. These moments of greatness do not occur in isolation, however: They are the products of hundreds and thousands of purposeful, planned, and practiced moments repeated over weeks, seasons, and years. They’re the kinds of moments we each can emulate to achieve our own personal bests. Here are a few of those key daily habits that fuel successful cyclists.
Stay Connected to Your Bike
The Rider: Ned Overend, 60, brand ambassador with Specialized Bicycles
Why he’s awesome: The storied cycling phenom has “been there, done that” from the beginning. He’s a multi-time National Mountain Biking Champion, a Mountain Biking World Champion, multi-time Xterra World Champion, Masters Cyclocross World Champion, victor of various prestigious hill climbs, and most recently—just earlier this year—he was crowned USA National Fat Bike Champion.
His secret awesomesauce: Overend doesn’t explicitly say that maintaining a relationship with the sport is like a marriage, but when he talks about his career, there are unmistakable similarities. Staying on top of your cycling game is all about remembering why you love the bike and what it’s capable of doing in your relationship with it—something he says he is mindful of before each and every ride.
“The connection with the bike is an important part of my longevity and my continued passion for riding,” he says. “When I choose what type of riding I will do on a given day, I look at the bike and I envision the performance it’s capable of. If I’m going out on my aero bike, I think about pinning it on the flats at 30mph in a low, aero position. When I take out my trail bike, I envision the exhilarating steep descents, rolling over big rocks and over drops. Before a ‘cross bike ride, I’m focused on pushing the limits of traction in a muddy corner.”
A bike puts off a vibe, it’s own unique energy, Overend says. “So when I look over a bike before I ride, I take a moment to appreciate the experience the bike enables.” That appreciation extends to the care he gives his bikes before each ride. “I don’t want rattles, squeaky chains, flats, or poorly tuned suspension to detract from the ride experience,” he says. “So before every ride, I give the bike a quick once-over. I start by pumping up the tires and, if I’m doing a long ride where I will be somewhere remote, I will take extra care and inspect the tread and sidewalls for wear or bulges. Then I put tension on the chain and tap it to see if it sounds dry. If it does, I put some Squirt wax lube on it. Finally, I will give the bike a couple of small bounces, which can quickly tell me if its got stuff making noise, maybe a loose headset, water bottle cage bolts, or a noisy seat bag. The whole process only takes a few minutes. But it’s a ritual that keeps me appreciating the bike and the ride to come.”
Start Each Day Answering the “Why?”
The rider: Evelyn Stevens, 32, professional cyclist for Team Boels-Dolmans
Why she’s awesome: Stevens famously left a high-paying investment banker gig with Lehman Brothers to become a professional bike racer. She saddled up for her first bike clinic in Central Park in the spring of 2008. A year later, she went full-time pro and hasn’t looked back since, taking multiple global wins, including two USA Cycling Time Trial National Championships; two Philly Cycling Classic wins; and most recently, a first place at the Amgen Tour of California women’s time trial earlier this year. She has her sights set on winning a UCI World Championship and bringing home Olympic Gold from Rio in 2016.
Her secret awesomesauce: Stevens sets aside a little chunk of time every morning to plan what she’ll do with her day, and more importantly, to remind herself why she is going to do what she has planned.
“I take a little time at the start of the day to myself, be it spinning on my rollers, taking a stroll around the neighborhood, or simply meditating while I’m still in bed, to clear my head and focus on the day ahead,” says Stevens, who views every day as an opportunity to learn and improve—no matter what the day holds. “Even if it means taking the day to rest. I reflect on how I’m going to rest and why it will help.”
The same goes for daily curveballs, like unexpected rain. “It’s easy to get distracted and complain and lose your focus on the ‘why’ if you don’t make time for it,” she says. “Yeah, riding in the rain can be yucky. But the fact that I have my health and time to ride in the rain is a plus. And of course it makes you better at riding in the rain, which you have to do as a pro cyclist. You need some clouds to appreciate the sun, but if you don’t take time to focus on the positives, you don’t see all the opportunities you have right before you every day.”
The rider: Taylor Phinney, 25, professional cyclist for BMC Racing
Why he’s awesome: Since pinning on a number and racking up over 20 victories in his first season for Team Slipstream’s Junior squad at just 15 years old, Phinney has carried expectations that come with his family name with great grace, under what could be perceived as a lot of pressure. At 18, he scored a seventh-place finish in the Individual Pursuit on the track in the 2008 Summer Olympics. In the years that followed, he was making a name for himself in the road pro ranks, winning the prologue of the Giro d’Italia in 2012; winning Stage 2 in the Tour of Qatar and placing third in the Overall GC in 2013; and then capturing the US National Time Trial Championship in May 2014.
But soon after that, he suffered a horrendous crash on the descent of Lookout Mountain in Chattanooga during the US National Road Race, which left him with a compound fracture in his left tibia and a severed patellar tendon in his left knee. The road back was slow, painful, and dispiriting. With the help of art and some non-cycling pursuits, Phinney kept his calm and stayed centered during his rehab and comeback, which he recently cemented with a commanding win in the opening stage of the 2015 USA Pro Challenge in Steamboat Springs, and of course, Team Time Trial gold in Richmond this week.
His secret awesomesauce: During his time away from racing, Phinney was able to chill out instead of freaking out by channeling his creative side though art and painting. Now back on the circuit, he’s left his palette behind, but another art form remains—music.
“My music is very important to me,” Phinney says. “I tote around a little speaker system to help me chill on the bus before the start or while I am getting massages.
“People always ask me what I like to listen to,” he says. “It really depends. If I am at a race with Manuel Quinziato, he’s the guy who decides. He definitely is the maestro of music on the BMC Racing Team. I’ll just play whatever my mood is at that time.”
A sampling of Phinney’s go-to tunes:
Pearl Jam, “Unthought Known”
Foo Fighters, “Pretender”
The Black Keys, “Lonely Boy”
Respect Your Sleep
The rider: Katie Compton, 37, professional cyclocross racer for Trek Factory Racing
Why she’s awesome: For one, because she’s Katie “F’n” Compton. Compton is the most dominant female cyclocross racer in the world. She has amassed more than 20 World Cup wins; four medals at the Cyclocross World Championships; and astonishing triple-digit UCI wins that have made her the most successful US Cyclocross athlete, male or female. She has won the USA Cycling Cyclocross National Championships Elite Women’s title every year from 2004 to 2010, and 2012 to 2015.
Her secret awesomesauce: Pillows! No, seriously. Pillows. And a good mattress. “Invest in both!” the queen of ‘cross says. “They’re worth every penny.” Compton credits proper recovery—especially eight-plus hours of sleep every night—for much of her longevity and success in the sport.
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To accomplish that, she is vigilant about healthy bedtime habits. As a rule, she doesn’t eat dinner late, so she has a few hours to digest before trying to rest. She also hits the sheets well before she plans on shutting her eyes, so she can read and let her mind unwind, which makes it easier to drift off at the desired time. When traveling, jetlag, and pending races make sleep elusive, Compton isn’t shy about employing a little assistance. “If my mind won’t shut down or I have jet lag, I’ll take a Benadryl or tryptophan to help me sleep. I’d rather wake up a little groggy than lie in bed awake.”
Make Every Ride Count Toward Bigger Goals
The rider: Joe Dombrowski, 24, professional cyclist for Cannondale-Garmin
Why he’s awesome: Dombrowski proved a natural in cycling since discovering the sport in his early teens, when he started riding as a competitive mountain biker and ‘cross racer in 2006. He then hopped on the road and, in 2010, made a name for himself by winning the Virginia State Hill Climb Championships by two minutes and signing with the Trek-Livestrong development team at the Tour of Utah. He was following a steady trajectory of improvement and results, signing with Team Sky in 2013, when he started feeling what he thought was a knee injury. Turned out, it was a blocked iliac artery in his left leg that would render him chronically injured for the next two years. Then in 2015, he eclipsed the darkness by competing in his first major stage race, the 2015 Tour of Utah in Park City.
His secret awesomesauce: Dombrowski’s main aspiration is to discover exactly how much he is capable of. To that end, he makes sure every ride has a goal. “Some days I’ve got super-structured interval workouts, and other days are pretty much just general riding. But regardless, there is always a goal. I think that’s important: Going out and having a real objective in your training each day, even if that means a cruisey coffee shop ride. It’s important to have a plan each day that ties into the plan for the big picture. I still don’t really know what, exactly, my limits are, but what motivates me to keep going is to keep exploring those limits and seeing what’s possible.”
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