Archive for the Skills Seminar Category

Cornering Skills

Posted in Skills Seminar on January 28, 2011 by bethleasure

Rage Against The Machine 

49“You’re fighting your bike, Girl – in the hard turns. You must make it an extension of yourself and lean with it, trusting your bicycle with forces of gravity. You can really lean with it, you can!” Ina Teutenberg, Pro Cyclist, advising me how to take the corkscrew at Laguna Seca

The corkscrew that pops bike racers!


Ina delivered this instruction to me quietly in a hotel elevator after seeing me rage against my bike during early stages of Sea Otter Classic. I was really rusty, truthfully – scared in the mass cornering at speed situations in those twisty early season California suburb courses. Ina was not willing to subject herself to the next day’s Formula One course with me fighting myself and gapping her. Her advice was well received – I couldn’t get out of my own way! I was stronger than ever and didn’t know what to do with it. Newfound speed seemed uncontrollable and I felt like a new cyclist all over again.

I was also remembering that cycling was mourning 50three racers to unforeseen circumstances on screaming descents, and any speedy cornering or fast downhills were a block in my psyche. Ina’s advice awakened a resolution to my fear problem. By focusing not on the danger but instead on what could be trusted and on technique, I was able to amend my post-winter gawky cornering style and remember the fundamentals of leaning and counter-steering. Lean WITH the bike in some really fast turns, lean myself and not the bike if pedaling through or with sketchy road surface and sometimes on switchback descents. I practiced both techniques – attacking the corkscrew well before race time to take it at speed with no one else around. I did a little better that stage and lost less energy gapping myself and annoying my competitors.

Like any skill, willing to lay my bike or myself down through a final turn for a win took time. Eventually I mastered the skill as it was a dive through the final turns on a slick surface in the rain that won my masters national championship.

Prayer for Cornering Skills

“…he made machines designed by skillful men for use on the towers and on the corner defenses…His fame spread far and wide, for he was greatly helped until he became powerful.”  51 Second Chronicles 26:15

We marvel at the apparent ease of the speed specialists on the road. We confess our occasional fear even as experts. We ask for healthy respect for safety and for the fastest line to intersect any angle of geometry.

Ponder Have I discovered my turn speed limits by maxing it in grass drills? Affirm I move as one with my bicycle. Watch for opportunities to meet any fear through informed, skillful determination.

49Conversation with Ina Teutenberg occurred in Monterey, CA. Ina of course was beating all of us, sometimes not just lapping the field in criteriums but lapping it twice! I think she knew a little something about bike handling.

Laguna Seca is a Formula One race course for cars and has a wonderful twisting descent on the backside – a corkscrew- which drops the field suddenly in a spiraling whirl of wheels, wind and wonder. It’s a blast when properly ridden!

50The three racers were Fabio Casartelli in the 1996 Tour de France, Nicole Reinhart in the 2000 Arlington BMC Race Series, and Garrett LeMire in the 2003 Tucson Bicycle Classic. I was either present or closely associated with each situation.

Fun Skill Drills

Posted in Skills Seminar on January 25, 2011 by bethleasure


43loosen your grip. the more you white knuckle it, the more you’ll twist back and forth. it’s counterintuitive, but try to relax…it sounds stupid, but at high speed everything’s magnified. any little change in balance is noticeable.”   racer posting on RoadBikeReview Forum on cross-wind handling

Why you practice Bump 'n Thump

January is a great time to brush up on skills, and make it feel like play. Begin indoors on mats used for gymnastics or fighting sports to practice Tuck & Roll, a technique used if about to T-bone another rider instead of a superman flight end-o that’s more likely to lead to a broken collarbone. If you can get an indoor venue about half-court sized, play Bump-n-Thump. Riding in a small designated circle, the object is to be the last man standing after bumping all opponents “out” by forcing their toe to touch ground. This game is a blast played in heats for an overall winner.

Similar games can be played outside. Even the coldest days are warmed by field practice. Grass drills, such as cornering and bumping culminating in a grass criterium are good times with a bunch of eager riders in need of a mid-winter boost. Form lead-out-sprinter-sweep teams for match-sprint style grass play. In a group with uneven abilities, foster strategic thinking by restricting gears or other handicaps on the stronger riders and focus on teamwork. At least one session pre-season, it’s a good idea to max out on a grass corner to remember your lean limit. Wiping out on grass in a lot of winter clothes feels more like contact field sports sans road rash and broken bones. It shows what your bike can and cannot do.

Even snowy fields can be used for skill work learning how to counter-steer, look through corners, controlled slides, forced braking-while-turning, swerving, and bunny hopping – all useful for maneuvering in surprise road situations.

Graduate to an unused parking lot for more group play. Even seasoned racers can use a brush up on skills practice after rest, solitary road miles, or reaching a new level of fitness where the body moves a bit differently.

Prayer for Bike Handling Skills

“…like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”  44Matthew 7:26-27

We know crashing is a part of cycling. We confess we mentally avoid the inevitable and must practice how to prevent and respond. We ask for opportunities to practice skills with others.              

Ponder Am I working agility on and off the bike? Affirm I can find others to improve skills together. Watch for group practice options and enlist others for a drills party.

43Mavic SL cross wind problems,” by estone2 posting 5/30/06 on RoadBikeReview Forum

44The Bible, New International Version, Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society

Clocked at 64mph/103kph

Posted in Skills Seminar on July 9, 2010 by bethleasure

52descending mt wachusett at race speed turned me into a different gender…you want honest? that’s honest…” racer posting on Serotta Competition Bicycle Forum

The speed limit on a typical American highway isn’t fast for downhill skiing or even gravity mountain biking. But for a road racer in a pack on a potholed road with bottles flying out of cages and a shimmy in your top tube, sixty-four miles per hour (103kph) downhill is definitely top end. This was clocked during the pro women’s laps of the 53Wachusett circuit race. At that speed, even minor adjustments seem major as trees at cliff-side blur dangerously near and any racer doing anything remotely squirrelly sends the fear-a-God-into-ya. The descent is straightforward, short and steep so no braking necessary; you crest a sprint line and then let it go to the bottom for one of the most harrowing roller-coaster thrills in American bike racing.

Though this was record downhill speed, my hardest descents were raced in France. These we clocked around 85kph (53mph) descending layers of technical switchbacks on goat paths often with no clear line of sight for long distances. Further, these courses were unfamiliar to me and point-to-point (en ligne) races. Another feature to this level of descending skill was Dark Tunnels. We’d come upon them with no warning, go through them quickly, but nearly blinded. Occasionally, all I could see were sparks flying when bikes made contact and somehow we made it through unscathed. White knuckled, still it was a thrill!

Although it can be a heap of fun, descending well and quickly is no game. Practice it with extreme caution, never taking risks in training, and sparingly in races. The key is to see the apex and visualize your line as you look through the turn. Due to pelvo-occular reflex, the body follows where the eye is focused, so use those eagle eyes in broad vision for bike placement and then let it fly!


Prayer for Descending Skills

“Come with me…descend from the crest of Amana, from the top of Senir, the summit of Hermon, from the lions’ dens and the mountain haunts of the leopards.”  54Song of Solomon 4:8

We are exhilarated and refreshed by terrain changes. We confess we may not be as cautious or as skilled as necessary. We ask for eyes to see the safe and speedy downhill line and opportunities to practice skills for handling at high speed.

Ponder Have I practiced finding the apex downhill? Affirm I can see far ahead safely on the drops. Watch for ways to practice rapid adjustments by drilling the sight-movement connection.

52“Registered for Fitchburg,” listing by atmo 6-1-06 on Serotta Competition Bicycle Forum

53Fitchburg hosts a great stage race every year in early July, called Fitchburg-Longsjo Classic One of the notable Wachusett incidents involved Henk Vogels, who to check the the veracity of a break-away which formed over the top of the climb, looked back and touched wheels. This sent him flying head first into a guardrail at 60+mph. Henk was injured badly. I prayed for him and his family, knowing he faced an uncomfortable trip back to Australia for his recovery. Henk came back swinging and went on to many more successful races and descents. Moral of the story: keep your eyes focused ahead when descending, enlist people to pray for you if you mess up, some recover from high-speed descending accidents and some do not.

54The Bible, New International Version, Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society

Cycling & Safety

Posted in Skills Seminar on June 22, 2010 by bethleasure

Million Dollar Decision 

55“We all die. She was very fortunate to die doing what she loved.” “It was an act of God.” “I’m done with road racing; I can no longer race without fear of crashing.” comments overheard at serious and fatal crash sites 

Not if, but when. Where is full of options.

After I made the transition from racer to team coach and then director, it dawned on me how my decisions could affect the destinies of others for better or worse. The awesome responsibility of influencing lives for a career in cycling hit hard when I watched the movie, 56Million Dollar Baby. This film evoked a profound emotional reaction, since I knew that my race calls and influence could indirectly lead to an athlete’s death. Death had come crashing near me before: I’d personally witnessed one race-related death, wasn’t present but nearby during the event of two others, and had raced near many serious crashes and myriads of minor cycling mishaps.

Crashes characterize cycling. I’ve crashed numerous times including one requiring several surgeries and one with a minor head injury (no comments 😉 Head injuries make up the majority of cycling-related fatalities. After my concussion, the helmet became a priority in training rides and I lost the was-a-euro-racer attitude.

Recreational riders are no less at risk from sparring with cars on crowded roads or from mechanical failure or road conditions. We put ourselves at risk. Is it because we love it, because somewhere inside we decide that it’s worth the risk, or because we deny its dangerous nature?

You must face this issue and choose responsibly. Don’t wait until something bad happens. Go into it with eyes wide open and prepared for any outcome. Preparation means precautions such as helmet safety, skills mastery, and health/accident insurance plans. How much risk you take as a rider depends on what you believe is your destiny in cycling. Ask yourself the biggest questions.

Prayer for Safety

“And just as it is appointed for all men once to die, and after that the certain judgment.” 57Hebrews 9:27 

We are grateful that risk in sport exists for our excitement. We confess we numb ourselves at times to the life and death issues elicited by racing and its fatal accidents. We ask for help to take every responsible precaution necessary, and for safety for all riding bikes.

Ponder Am I aware of every possible outcome in my cycling experience? Affirm I ride and race as safely as possible. Watch and redeem your time wisely and whole-heartedly in awe of nothing but God.

55These three comments are anonymous to protect the sources. One person was a spectator who comforted me with the notion that there’s nobility in the death of someone fulfilling their destiny. The other came from a race director whom I’d rather not quote because out of context it sounds unaffected; but I know that this person grieved deeply and investigated the course thoroughly to determine probable cause. The final quote is from a world-class racer who could no longer be automatic in dangerous sprint scenarios on the road, but who went off-road to return to an international level uninhibited.

56Million Dollar Baby was produced in 2004 by Warner Brothers and starred Clint Eastwood as the Trainer and Hillary Swank as the boxer who was paralyzed in the ring. Its treatment of issues, such as athlete selection and euthenasia, brought me to my knees asking for sure direction about my own destiny and the stewardship and influence on the lives of others.

57Amplified Bible Copyright © 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987 by The Lockman Foundation

Pack Skills: A River Runs Through It

Posted in Skills Seminar on January 29, 2010 by bethleasure

A River Runs Through It 

47“…the flow experience of cruising around in a 100 rider peloton at 50kph… when your skills seem up to the task is sublime.Gordon Ross, Category 2 Cyclist

Majestic old man River

Maneuvering in the peloton is like a current in a river. Talweg is a term which describes the most navigable channel in a river – generally the place where the current moves the quickest. If you stand on a bridge above a river, the talweg is easy to spot though it isn’t necessarily straight down the middle where you’d expect it.

Each racing field also has a talweg. Common wisdom is to use the outside to continually move and reposition toward the front where braking is less likely and crashing usually more avoidable, and where one can see and act upon swift racing action. It’s true moving on the outside often gives one a path of escape if the peloton suddenly dominoes in front of you; but the outside also requires more effort because of less aerodynamic protection. The same openness which provides a way up also has to be forced through with less draft, and domestiques sit on the outside of team leaders taking the wind for this reason.

Miners bring forth gems by following a river’s origin and so can racers in the peloton. Watch to see where the flow is in the field, the talweg. Sometimes it’s outside and sometimes it’s a crooked path from line to line well inside.

In either case, move subtly as sudden line changes don’t win friends. In race situations, an etiquette which respects safety is rewarded at times by a rider who remembers how you moved around them. Poise on the bike is a great advantage in these tight jostling scenarios. Size can be an advantage either way – larger riders moving others aside to get through and smaller riders coming underneath to pick a path to the front.

Watchfulness is key to moving in that flow, so jump in with both feet taking care where the least amount of splash derives the way to best positioning.

Prayer for Pack Skills
“They discover the origins of rivers, and bring earth’s secrets to light.” 48 Job 28:11

We are grateful for the wonderful tension between group speed and constant motion in the pack. We confess we blunder like tugboats rather than skilled kayakers at times. We ask for pack savvy and safety as we master this skill.

Ponder Do I move in the group with stealth and grace? Affirm I can move my bike like flowing water or surging floods, whichever is appropriate and safe. Watch for points of entry and exit in the flow.

47“finding flow,” blog entry of Gordon Ross, February 07, 2005

48The Message, Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson.

Savoir Faire: Skill Mastery

Posted in Skills Seminar on January 26, 2010 by bethleasure

Savoir Faire: In the Know 

45“French cyclists are…much richer in cycling skill. It is enlightening to see a couple of 50-something guys riding on old bikes with cottered cranks, Mafac centerpulls and tubular tires cruising along at 20-25 klicks side by side, with their handlebars maintaining a constant gap of 3 or 4 inches between them.” Sheldon “Francophile” Brown

Wet roads, tight peloton, typical

I spent a season racing in France for a team based in the province of La Drôme, a fruited plain bordered on the west by small mountains – Les Ardèches, and the foothills of Les Hautes-Alpes hedging us to the east. Notable cycling events, such as Paris-Nice and stages of Tour de France pass through the region, which is home to reputed clubs distinguished for developing certain French cycling stars.

Between big events, I frequently raced with men in the Categorie Regionale. Sometimes I had to drive to these men’s events using my host family’s tiny Fiat. Driving and racing were the same in France in terms of a Latin sense of geospatial awareness. An opening the size of a road atlas is an invitation for a sedan to pop in front of you on a French highway.

Likewise, racing on goat path roads in the rain with 200 men proved a similar experience in closeness. One time during a race, my toe cover bumped off my shoe and got lodged in my front derailleur locking my front cranks. They pack so tightly that guys racing next to me noticed that I was unable to pedal. These Frenchmen leaned on me pushing me for what seemed like 2k’s keeping me in the peloton while I dislodged the neoprene booty – and the peloton continued without so much as an, “Oh là là!” – another example of French intimacy and competency.

I knew I was a successful Euro when I could race and drive there without clenched white knuckles, and I came back to American roads – wide as prairies it seemed- maneuvering in the peloton like a current in a river.

Prayer for Competence and Skill Mastery
Observe people who are good at their work— skilled workers are always in demand and admired; they don’t take a backseat to anyone.” 46 Proverbs 22:29

We acknowledge that riding a bike with skill requires coordination and self-control. We are grateful that practice leads to perfection! We pray for competence, expert teachers, and savvy competitors. We pray for opportunities to exchange information, courage that leads to mastery, and to be able to drill, drill, drill!


Ponder What do I need to learn to be a better bike handler? How can I help someone else who needs to improve? Affirm I can be an expert at every skill in cycling. Watch and learn how the best do it.

45Cycling in France, Sheldon “Francophile” Brown on mailing list. Sadly, Sheldon Brown passed away while I was writing this book. I’m glad I’d quoted him – let this be a small tribute to his desire in generously conveying cycling knowledge and tremendous humanity.

46The Message, Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson.