Would racing a new discipline help you become a better cyclist?


By Robert Annis
Ever thought about trying out the velodrome?
Ever thought about trying out the velodrome?
During a scorching early July crit, I was riding toward the front of a pack when another rider suddenly leapt from his saddle and almost instantaneously created a sizeable gap. As he disappeared down the curved course, the rest of us glanced at one another, silently asking, “Who’s going to close this down?”
After a few moments of looking around, I accelerated; none of the other riders tried to hold my wheel. Legs turning over stronger and faster than I’d ever imagined, I bridged up to the lone rider, and we teamed up all too briefly for an ill-fated breakaway attempt.
It was a move I probably wouldn’t or couldn’t have made last year, but this season my legs have far more snap to them than before. What’s my secret? I started racing track this year.
It’s a cliché, but the old adage is true: the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Each cycling discipline brings something unique and adds needed strengths to the whole of the racer – mountain biking adds bike-handling skills, track racing leads to more explosive power to close down gaps and sprint strong, crits and road races increase endurance and cyclo-cross … it does a little bit of everything (such as quickly chugging a beer hand-up).   
What about a BMX track?
What about a BMX track?
Cat. 3 racer Scott Baumer began racing just last year, but took his riding to a different level this season, winning a half-dozen races and podiuming in several others. He credits hard work and his arsenal of bikes for his increased strength this year.
“Last year, I relied on being stronger and more fit than everyone else,” said the Team Indiebike racer. “But when I upgraded, I knew I was going to need more than that.
“I’m using mountain biking and the track as supplements. Mountain biking helps me with the off-road skills I need for cyclo-cross. I don’t have the sheer power of a lot of the guys I’m competing with in the crits, so I’m trying to build it on the track. On the velodrome, you’re racing so tight with one another, you learn a lot about tactics and how to finish a race. You’re racing multiple times in one night, so you can gain a lot of experience pretty quickly.”
USA Cycling-certified coach Whitney Burdzilauskas suggests newer racers try as many different types of riding as possible to discover their strengths as a rider.  But for more experienced, elite racers, she warns against devoting too much time away from the preferred disciplines.
“The pro or Cat. 1 guys, they might do road in the spring and summer and 'cross in the fall, but there’s not a lot of serious crossover,” Burdzilauskas said. “Elite-level riders make only minute fitness gains, and they have to work really hard to do that.”
If you’re a road racer who’s already a great sprinter, Burdzilauskas doesn’t believe the track will necessarily lead to further gains. In fact, it can set back potential improvements.
Cyclo-cross strong woman Katie Compton made a showing at Elite Track Nationals last week. She teamed up with Cari Higgins to win gold in the Madison. (Photo by Pat Benson)
Cyclo-cross strong woman Katie Compton made a showing at Elite Track Nationals last week. She teamed up with Cari Higgins to win gold in the Madison. (Photo by Pat Benson)
“If (the other discipline) takes you away from working on your limiter as a racer, let’s say climbing, then you shouldn’t be racing it,” said. “You should be focusing on what will make you better for the racing you want to do.”
All racers, no matter their experience level, should be sure to factor in proper rest and recovery. Many athletes do well with a heavy workload, but we all have our limits.
“Many people get excited and want to do everything (at a high level), but after 18 months to two years of racing everything, they’re going to crash and burn,” Burdzilauskas said.  
Cat. 1 racer Sierra Siebenlist might be the exception to Burdzilauskas’ rules. She’s a dominant force in nearly every cycling discipline and enjoys how the various types of riding keeps her engaged in the sport year round. Her background in BMX racing – she competed in several world championship races in her formative years– has helped her, particularly on the track.
“The gate starts in BMX mean the person who’s leading after the first turn usually wins the race, so you need those fast-twitch muscles,” Siebenlist said. “That’s translated pretty well to the track, doing the standing start races. I’m able to turn a big gear pretty quickly, and a lot of people have trouble with that.”
So should you start scouring Craigslist for new bikes and checking out the nearest velodrome? If you feel it’ll help you become a better cyclist and, most of all, think you’ll have fun doing it, why not?

This Article Updated October 18, 2012 @ 04:00 PM For more information contact: