Cycle racing is a tough sport, both physically and mentally demanding. For most spheres of the sport (e.g., road racing, road time trials, MTB, and cross) it is a generally aerobic, endurance sport. However, to borrow a well-known phrase, it's a game of two halves! Thus, cycling is not only endurance based; it also requires oodles of top end power.

For all levels of racing cyclist, there's one common thread: performance gains. Whether cyclists want to engage my services (, use another trainer/coach, or do it them self, they all want to improve their performances. Having a trainer/coach can seriously improve you, as not only will they provide you with a training programme (which should be specific to your needs and goals), they should also be able to see the whole picture…which frequently the athlete can't.

Performance can be split into many components and, therefore, I like to think of performance as either a huge jigsaw puzzle or a bicycle wheel. With the jigsaw, if a piece is missing the picture (performance) is incomplete and with the wheel a missing spoke means poor performance. However, you look at it, improved performance is what we're all after.

For the self-coached and for those wanting to see more of the picture, here are the major pieces of the jigsaw (just remember that all these pieces can be broken down again into smaller ones):

· Dedication
· Mental Preparation
· Nutrition
· Outside influences
· Recovery
· Self-assessment
· Training

In writing this article, it was inconceivable (to me) to prioritise these components.
Simply, each piece was just as valuable as another, and without one the "overall picture" was incomplete. Therefore, in case you're wondering, I ordered them in an alphabetical manner! If for instance, you think I'm wrong and that, for example, you believe training to be of more importance than say dedication… how will you do the training if you're not dedicated? How can you train optimally if your self-assessment is wrong and you don't know your strengths and weaknesses…?

As Roy Castle so eloquently used to sing "if you wanna be a record breaker, dedication's what you need". He was spot on! You need dedication to get out and complete that 4-hour training ride. You also need to be dedicated and committed to your training, so that you can [occasionally] forgo meeting with friends and colleagues. No good having a training plan waiting to be read, if you're always out partying…

Mental Preparation
Cycling is tough. It's pointless training for hours on end, if you don't know what you're training for. Therefore, you should be mentally prepared, by setting goals. You should endeavour to set your goals carefully though. They need to be specific. Don't set a goal as "be faster" (why not just ride down a hill?) or "to beat my arch rivals" (what if your arch rival falls off on the first bend?). Accordingly, you should set SMART goals.

· Specific - (e.g.) take 1 minute off your personal best
· Measurable - (e.g.) ride a 40km TT in 58 minutes (rather than beat my regular training partner) 
· Agreed - if your goal(s) is set with a coach/parent/partner/etc. then the goal needs to be agreed by both parties
· Realistic - your goals should be possible to complete with the correct training. Pointless setting the goal "to win the Tour de France" if you've struggling behind the main bunch in a road race
· Time based - short, medium, and long, term goals should be set. When does each goal need to be completed by? This week, next month, 2 years? 
An army marches on it stomach, so goes the expression. Likewise a cyclist requires a good diet. Just like a car, the food that you eat fuels your training. However, petrol (gas) isn't similar to food so don't try drinking any! Make sure you eat a plentiful supply of carbohydrates, with moderate amounts of protein and fat. And don't forget to drink plenty.

Outside influences
If you're a full time pro bike rider, you won't have too many outside influences. For the rest of us we have to balance 'real' life with bike life. A (stressful) job, a partner, friends, all influences your training. The more outside influences you have, the more you need to be ready to alter your training. Time management can be vital here.

Recovery is a vitally important aspect of improved performance. The self-coached rider frequently overlooks this component. Don't ignore it, read the full article here recovery…

Assess your strengths and weaknesses. Do it now, do it at the end of every racing season. Think about improving your weakness, don't just training your strengths. Match your races to your strengths. If you're as thin as a stick and go uphill like Beloki, it's going to be pretty pointless training for 200metre match sprinting!

It's both physical and mental. Training should take you from where you are now (your current fitness level), to where you need to be to meet your goals (future fitness level). If you're training doesn't move you in this direction, it's not working.

So there you have it, the basics for improved performance, which we all need to master whether you are a beginner or a seasoned pro. Oh, and one last important thing, make sure you keep a training diary; this can help you see where and why you went well (or not).

CoachingRichard Stern