What Kind of Rider am I?


Strengths, Weaknesses, Limiters, how the heck do I know what kind of rider I am?

As we all experienced from Sundays session, particularly the 8 minute hill-flat-hill interval there are things we are better at and shall we say, weaker at. What does the mean?

In all likelihood you probably discovered either a Weakness or a Limiter, more on that in a minute.

The bigger question is “what kind of rider am I?” Joe Friel says you need about 3 years of consistent, structured training to know what kind of rider you are. (in case you haven’t heard of him see below, he’s a pretty good authority [1]). It takes about 3 years in a thought out, structured training program for your natural talent (read genetic potential) to express itself. Why might this be so?

Let’s say you played a sport like hockey in your youth. That is an explosive sport that trains in an ability to basically sprint and recovery, over and over again. If that is your sports background you might appear to be a pretty good sprinter, today. If you played soccer you would have developed more of an endurance base. Soccer is a sport that is basically one long Fartlek workout [2]. Given a background like that you might find that you feel better on longer, sustained moderate efforts. Your abilities today are a result of your current level and skill sets that you have picked up, likely without a plan or a purpose. You just have them.

Now what happens if the natural sprinter, meaning someone whose muscle & nervous system composition lends itself to sprinting, has never trained for sprinting? Let’s say all their life they have done long, slow distance work. What would happen if they suddenly did a sprint test? They might score mid range somewhere, purely on latent natural ability. But if that natural potential had never been trained it wouldn’t express itself (unless they were truly a phenom such as Mark Cavendish).

The point of this is that most of us have not been training long enough and/or in a well rounded program and therefore our true abilities having come to the fore yet. If you are just new to cycling (or any endurance sport for that matter), what you are good at right at the start, may not be what you will really become good at.

You may also have preconceived notions of what you think you will be good at. When I started, simply based on my size I figured I was going to be a demon climber. It turns out I’m OK in the hills, it’s not a weakness, but it’s not a strength either. You too might be quite surprised at what you will be good at, given time.

So how does this relate to our session on Sunday?

Well the element of the interval that caused you to struggle could be either a weakness or a limiter.

The difference between the two is a subtle distinction, but an important one.

A weakness means that something simply isn’t a Strength. If something is a Strength it is a skill you can use to affect the outcome of a ride or a race. Think Chris Fromme whenever he hit the gas on a climb in the Tour this year. When he decided to go no one could hang with him that is the ultimate statement of a Strength.

A Weakness therefore, is something that is not a strength. And without careful planning, tactics or team support could be exploited by your competitors to put you in trouble.

A limiter on the other hand is the complete opposite of a Strength. It is your Kryptonite. And if you do decide to start racing your competitors will have your Limiter figured out in about 2 races. A Limiter is something you can’t hide from, planning and tactics are of no use. For example many of the top pro sprinters find tough hills are their limiter. Peter Sagan is the exception, while hills aren’t truly a strength (in the grand scheme of things) his climbing relative to the other sprinters is most certainly a strength. On Stage 7 in the tour this year his team realized there were enough hills to get ride of the rest of the pure climbers. They hit the gas, Sagan was able to stay with them and from about 150km out they had already eliminated all his main sprint rivals and he won the stage. Their Limiter eliminated them from the race a vast difference than a Weakness.

In a perfect world we should strive to eliminate Limiters and at least get them to be Weaknesses, something we can recover from.

What you learned on Sunday is where your relative strength is NOW. Within the context of a hard 8 minute interval, either the high RPM hill climb portion, or the flat low RPM session felt better. What that tells you, unless you have been training for a long time already, is where you stand TODAY.

It DOES NOT in any way define you as a rider, read that again. It DOES NOT in any way define you as a rider. It simply gives you a gauge on what you need to work on.

If this is your first year of steady training, what is a weakness today, in another couple of years may in fact be your strength, you just haven’t nurtured it enough yet.

Practice what you aren’t good at. Move Limiters into the category or Weaknesses and watch Weaknesses become Strength. And check back in a few years and we can figure out what kind of rider you really are.


[1] [1](Joe Friel is an endurance sports coach best known as an elite triathlon and cycling coach as well as the author of The Triathlete's Training Bible,[1] The Cyclist's Training Bible, The Mountain Biker's Training Bible, Going Long: Training for Ironman-Distance Triathlons, and Your First Triathlon. from Wikipedia)


[2] Again from Wikipedia Fartlek, which means "speed play" in Swedish, is a training method that blends continuous training with interval training.[1] The variable intensity and continuous nature of the exercise places stress on both the aerobic and anaerobic systems.