06 Jul, 2015

Race your heart out, laaitie!

Racing is hard, but it develops skills quickly.
An excited group of junior Saffa cyclists line up for the start of their first race in Europe. Ready to show the world what they can do.

They set off and the Saffas move to the front. It looks promising. We are sure to dominate this 80 kilometre race held over 10 laps of an eight kilometre circuit.

As the laps go by, our boys are spat out, one by one, out of the back. No-one finishes the race.

Strange comments of sore lower backs, hands and necks dominate the post race comments. Feedback is strange.... Our boys have the same lab numbers as their European counterparts, so why aren't we in the sharp end of the race?

That last sentence, the words "lab" and "race" hold the answer. In football and other ball sports they call it game time.

How much "game time” do our youngsters have compared to say, Belgians, when we meet to race each other for the first time?

For the purpose of this article, I am going to compare a typical under 16 six month season of a Belgian and Saffa youngster.

A typical Belgian youngster will line up in at least 50 races of around 80 kilometre per year, total "game time" of 4000 kilometres.

In these races, mostly held on tight twisty circuits, they will learn to corner at least 3000 times per season and accelerate at least 4000 times in attacks and out of corners. On top of that, they will have to hold positions and tactically outmanoeuvre 60-odd other youngsters per race.

In South Africa, our under 16s will race an average of three races per month and often these races will be no longer than 50 kilometres as current regulations don't allow them to race over 100 kilometres, even though our race terrain and stress is way under that of a European circuit race.

Thus "total game time" would be around 2000 kilometres at the most. Then on top of that, the bunches are smaller and also not playing the exact same game as they would typically corner a maximum of 10 times in a fun ride of which only two of those corners will be under stress conditions. Major accelerations would add up to 20-odd per race.

This adds up to 200-odd corners learnt and 400-odd major accelerations.

We are sending our young soldiers to war with the best guns, but with no war games practice. The select few might adapt quickly, but many others who should've made it, won't.

Youngsters, race more. Proper circuit racing like criteriums. More track races to add skill. More mountain bike races to add depth.
Barry Austin

Barry Austin

MD LEADout Sport |

Barry is currently the sport director at Bonitas Pro Cycling Team but has had an incredible career in professional cycling, coaching, finding new talent and promoting cycling in every way possible.