What does it take to be a professional cyclist?

DamianSilas

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Feb 20, 2020
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I'm sure that this is a question most of us on this sub-reddit have, what does it take to become a professional or even semi-professional cyclist? I have only been cycling for about 2 years now and have experienced the pain of the impact the first several tough rides had on my body. How do you professional or semi-professional cyclists go about rigorous training and preparation for races? How do you get discovered, and does the life of constant pushing of your physical capabilities affect you? Its something I have been considering pursuing and I am sure others have to, so what does it take? From Daytona Beach to Miami
 
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Sacrifices...

There’s a saying it takes 10 000 hours to get really good at something or master it.

You will still need talent + the physical and mental capabilities that goes with it.

Right nutrion and training.

And a drive and belief in yourself that is similar to a machine.

But also, dont get too hard on yourself. There is a lot things that has to fall in place. Like eveything in life... work hard and have patience. You will end up where you supposed to be making the right choices. In anything you do or choose to pursue.
 
It's kind of a good question. When I was young I lived near a velodrome that had a great junior program. After a few weeks of it I realized that to succeed you need to be single-minded in your devotion to succeed, if that makes any sense. I had other interests -- i.e. girls, music, other sports...

Then in my 20s I started training for amateur mtb races, got up to elite level (in the US, so a step below even semi-pro or T-shirt sponsorship...), and realized, once again, that I was never going to get any further unless I quit my job, sold everything I had and decided that was going to be my one true thing in life.
 
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I have some good friends who have raced for Pro Conti and Conti teams, and know a few former WT racers through them, and they say what has already been said above - sacrifice.

They typically started out as being the most talented amongst the juniors they raced with and chose to stick with it. By the time they were around 16 most of them were already doing over 15 hours a week of mostly structured training along with everything else a teenager has going on in their lives.

Taking that step from talented local junior or domestic racer is the big jump. Unless you live in Belgium, Netherlands, Italy, France, Spain etc you will have to travel. One of my friends was already spending up to 3 months a year in Europe racing and training at 18 after being identified quite early. When all your family and friends are in Australia that's a big thing to deal with.

As for getting noticed, there's only one way to do that - win races. Go through the backstory of any very good WT pro and you will hear of them beating top local racers in their 20's while still teenagers.

An example: Jay McCarthy (Bora) is from here in Brisbane and was already near invincible at local races when he was 19, even against top NRS riders from Continental teams. He was able to just wait for 4-500m to go and ride everyone off the wheel. This was just before he won the Tour d'Lavenir prologue. He had spent 2-3 years in the Queensland Academy of Sport then AIS programmes by then
 
Probably a bit off topic, but something I have found rather fun these days is looking through the results of old junior races on PCS. There are riders who made it big, and some who just... disappeared...
Yes, some countrys have/had the tendency of having their young talents training like pros since they are 14 years old, so when they turn pro and everyone starts training really professional they will no longer dominate and many of them burn out quickly.
I've heard stories of teams in the Tuscany region sending 12/13 year old kids on +100km rides on a regular basis, most of those who make it (only Bettiol in the last few years) rode for teams that took it rather easy with young kids.
There's also a story of Bettini seeing Ulissi getting motopaced by his father on a daily basis durning the chrismas holidays when he was still a Junior (and dominating, winning 2 WCs in a row). Already then he questioned if Junior riders should be training like this durning the off season. The funny thing is that he never really improved his desceending and bike handling skills as much as h should have.
Trentin also went on a rant durnin the Winter that even if Italy hadd talents like Remco or MVP they'd probably end up burned out before even turning pro.
Things like this still happen really often in Italy, the Netherlands and partially Belgium (in both countries mainly with potential gc talents who then peak early), Russia, Norway, most of the US-kids who are riding for Axel and Australia. Your homecountry seems to have turned things around.
 
Yes, some countrys have/had the tendency of having their young talents training like pros since they are 14 years old, so when they turn pro and everyone starts training really professional they will no longer dominate and many of them burn out quickly.
So, what you're saying is that an important part of making it to the pros is knowing when not to act as a pro? Makes sense, a junior rider doesn't need to adhere to a strict training plan and diet, sometimes it's important to relax and have fun, go out with your friends and grab a few beers, eat that piece of cake, get really drunk and break your leg... (maybe not that last part.)
And it's not just the juniors (and U23s) is it? Established pros need a balance too. Imagine a guy - otherwise totally serious, and an important part of his team - telling his team management; "You know what? I can't do Almeria this year. It's the day of my daughter's school play." shouldn't that be allowed?

As for the Danes. Oh yeah! Back in 2012 Sebastian Lander won the national championship, and then quickly got a contract with BMC... well… been a while since we heard from him, hasn't it? Same year, the Danes were pretty… dominant at the Course de la Paix Juniors. Those guys? Well… you might recognize a few of the names. ;)

https://www.procyclingstats.com/race/course-de-la-paix-junior/2012/gc/stages

What did they suddenly do right? I think an important part might have been advising riders when not to accept a WT contract. Which, paradoxial as it might sound, might actually be a sign of confidence. Knowing that if you're good enough for the WT now, you're probably also going to be good enough next year. That's not to say it's always been a success; Magnus Bak Klaris, who won both Course de la Paix, and Paris-Roubaix Juniors back in 2014, has retired.
 
So, what you're saying is that an important part of making it to the pros is knowing when not to act as a pro? Makes sense, a junior rider doesn't need to adhere to a strict training plan and diet, sometimes it's important to relax and have fun, go out with your friends and grab a few beers, eat that piece of cake, get really drunk and break your leg... (maybe not that last part.)
And it's not just the juniors (and U23s) is it? Established pros need a balance too. Imagine a guy - otherwise totally serious, and an important part of his team - telling his team management; "You know what? I can't do Almeria this year. It's the day of my daughter's school play." shouldn't that be allowed?

As for the Danes. Oh yeah! Back in 2012 Sebastian Lander won the national championship, and then quickly got a contract with BMC... well… been a while since we heard from him, hasn't it? Same year, the Danes were pretty… dominant at the Course de la Paix Juniors. Those guys? Well… you might recognize a few of the names. ;)

https://www.procyclingstats.com/race/course-de-la-paix-junior/2012/gc/stages

What did they suddenly do right? I think an important part might have been advising riders when not to accept a WT contract. Which, paradoxial as it might sound, might actually be a sign of confidence. Knowing that if you're good enough for the WT now, you're probably also going to be good enough next year. That's not to say it's always been a success; Magnus Bak Klaris, who won both Course de la Paix, and Paris-Roubaix Juniors back in 2014, has retired.
In some way it must almost be harder to be very talented at cycling than being average - stepping away will be much more difficult because of the fear you're wasting something (and peers will certainly be saying that). But if you just don't enjoy the single-minded lifestyle it's probably very tough, especially as we're talking about 16-20 year olds who are figuring out everything in life, not just cycling.

I love riding my bike, twice or three times a week. But I don't think I'd ever have the mental attitude to do anything more. Today is a very sunny and warm day with not much wind in the Netherlands and today I don't feel like riding my bike. That's a choice I can make but if I was making my living by riding a bike that would be troubling (even though I have a nagging feeling that I'm a bit lazy ;) ).

Andrew Talansky just wrote something about this topic on his website too, slightly long-winded but gives a good insight: https://andrewtalansky.com/?p=1 I have the unfounded feeling that US cyclists are more prone to getting burned out at some point, might have to do with the home front not really understanding what's going on or the excessive travel / being away from home.

I'm wondering whether the current time off will re-energize riders or whether some riders will get a broader perspective on life and quit pro cycling prematurely.
 
But if you just don't enjoy the single-minded lifestyle it's probably very tough, especially as we're talking about 16-20 year olds who are figuring out everything in life, not just cycling.
Adrian Costa is a good example. Pretty talented guy, but... lost the motivation (and from what I understand, the death of Chad Young didn't exactly help…)
Then, of course, we all know what happened.

or whether some riders will get a broader perspective on life and quit pro cycling prematurely.
Will it truly be prematurely if they've simply decided it's not for them?
 
Subreddit?

Anyway, start by getting in shape and take some tests and talk to sports doctors about what that means. If you have the same physical properties as many of us, you shouldn't waste your time pursuing a career as a pro cyclist. If you have the physical build for it, then a lot will come down to focus, training, sacrifices and willpower. And then you'll need a lot of luck .
 
Alejandro Valverde's brother, Juan Fransisco was from all accounts good enough to be a pro but never wanted it. He's said when asked why that he couldn't handle the lifestyle of a pro athlete. So he continued to race as an amateur and work a regular job and now helps Alejandro run his amateur team. From what friends have said, he was good enough to have been a solid domestique, but he didn't want it. He is part of the "Murcia grupetto" and is always here for Alejandro when he needs someone to help with extra training, pacing, or recovering from an injury. Also several other members of the grupetto have said seeing what it takes to be a pro they wouldn't have lasted more than a few years doing it. They are happy working regular jobs and racing for fun in amateur races.
 
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