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Preparing to defend a national title

Australian professional cyclists Grace Brown shared with us a rare insight into her preparation to defend a national title.

In January 2019, I entered the national time trial championships with high ambitions. I had told myself this was a race that I could win. Despite proving some ability in this discipline at a lower level, I was by no means a favourite here. But I was determined. And that determination spurred me across the finish line over a minute clear of my nearest competitors.

Image source: greenedgecycling.com

This year, on the 8th of January, I’ll be lining up as defending champion. It’s a very different mental state to be in, with the weight of expectation on my shoulders. I’ve had a different lead up to the race compared to last year and it’s hard not to feel a little bit anxious about where I’m at, but I know that I’ve worked hard and now it’s just a matter of trusting the process and following it.

The time trial is a tough event. It not only demands the highest physical effort, but also a slightly unhuman ability to compete against yourself and your own pain threshold.

There are so many things to work on in preparation for racing a time trial, and for me it’s been a cumulative process over the last three years. My pure power has only improved marginally over that time, but I’ve put constant work into finding a more aerodynamic position on my bike and training to hold that position for as long as possible. This is the art of finding “free” watts; the more aerodynamic I am, the faster I can ride for less work.

Aside from the physical aspect of training, my preparation includes doing a reconnaissance of the course and developing a pacing strategy with my coach.

In previous years I’ve been able to do a full, race-pace dress rehearsal, which has given me a really good idea of what I can aim for on the day. This year I’ve ridden the course, but not at top speed. Since it’s a new course, it is difficult to predict what the winning time will be.

In the past I strictly followed power targets to pace my races, but last year I won riding completely by feel. More than anything else, this approach allows me to push past mental barriers of what I think my physical limitations are. I’m forced to listen more closely to my body and my past experience of what it feels like to go deep but still be in control.

Now that all the hard work is done and I’ve only got a few days left before the race, it’s time to freshen the body and focus on positive psychology. I’ll be saying a lot of nice things to myself in the coming days and will spend time visualising taking home another national championship in the time trial. And then I just have to hit the road and turn those visions into reality.

As you read this, the result of the time trial will already be decided. I know that I will be feeling a great sense of relief once the race is completed and hopefully complete elation at being able to defend the national title for 2020.

Update: Yesterday afternoon, Grace won the Silver Medal in the 2020 National Time Trial championships, finishing just nine seconds behind another brilliant young female rider, Sarah Gigante. Australian women’s cycling is incredibly strong right now - great news, with the Olympics on the horizon