For the last few weeks, we've been offering indoor training advice and interactive rides in an effort to help combat lockdown confinement, anxiety and boredom right now. Today we're looking at how we can also make the most of this time to plan for the road ahead, reset goals and move forward as an athlete. This is the approach of GB pro rider and TT specialist, Alex Dowsett, who we recently caught up with to chat all things Olympics, Worlds and training for the unknown.
You had the Olympics as a big goal this year. What’s it been like to take that and have to reset?
Not easy. When the season started getting cancelled I still had impetus because the Olympics hadn't been. So I was like thats cool, I’m good at training, I like training. Especially for time trial, training is actually better than racing in order to prepare. So I was fine about the pause on racing.
Then we got the call that the Olympics had been pushed back a year. My first thought was "Ok, I'll just continue training then", but it all came to a head because that day I had 4 hours to do on the turbo and at that point I was like "uh no". For the last 5 months my focus has not just been every ride, but every hour, every minute! Continuously questioning if what I am doing is right for the Olympics... Am I maximising my time? Am I doing everything I possibly can?
Now, instead of being 6 months away, the goal is 18 months away. I had a chat with my coaches and we decided to take a mid-season break, which a lot of pros have done as we could be looking at racing deep into September, October, November and even December. Given what’s happened to this part of the year, it seems wise to back off a bit now in order to step on it later.
We're guessing you're not doing 6 hours on a turbo trainer every day. There's a lot of coaching advice out there and it's all very different. How is yours going? We know you're a big planner, how do you adjust to not knowing what your next race will be?
We’re tentatively looking at the Worlds and Europeans because the hope is that by September, everything will be up and running again. Obviously we can't be sure, we have to have a target in mind.
To be honest, it’s not until just recently that we started thinking about it at it again. My coaches and I took a short break, I switched off from them and let them switch off from me. It was a mental thing really. It’s work you know and as much as we all get on very well, we just parked it for a week.
We had a call the other day and decided that we need to have 'a' target, otherwise I would very much struggle to get on the turbo for 2 hours, for nothing. So we are assuming that we're going to the Worlds, we have that as the next solid 'maybe' goal, it’s still tentative but we are starting with looking at that, but keeping in mind that it is still a long way off. It’s easy to maintain fitness and I am on Zwift all the time as we’re not allowed out in Andorra. We’re judging it week-by-week, with a goal to hit, while keeping on top of strength and conditioning and core side of things.
Do you think others are adopting a similar method? It seems like a lot of people are feeling a bit aimless and lost right now.
It’s tough to know what to do really. You know, we’ve never seen anything like this, so we’re all just guessing at it to an extent. We could come out of lockdown, it could come back and we may go straight back into lockdown again. We just don’t know.
You can look at it from the point of view of preparing for an event, or you can look at it from the point of view of staying healthy. We should try and stay healthy if we can, which involves keeping fit. As a bike rider I want to be in a decent enough place so that when they say “Ok, we’re going, there’s X race in Y amount of weeks” I’m not panicking, but instead have a bit of work to do, but knowing that’s what we planned for.
Of course it was a huge disappointment for you that the Olympics plan changed, but can you see any silver linings in it? Do you feel like there are some things that you can now do to adjust or push yourself further looking towards it?
Yeah I mean, the Olympics is a mix. It's aero, it's equipment, it's fitness, it's speed. You’re always trying to push all of those things and you’ll get to the event and think “we could have just done with a bit more time”… We had that with the hour record, I broke my collar bone and it gave us a comfortable 2 months extra to prepare for it, but when we got there we were still like “we were on the cusp of a faster suit, we could have done with a bit more time”.
The situation we're now in gives us an extra year to get faster. It gives everyone an extra year to get faster. So we’re looking at it like that. The thing is, the more time you have for training, the more you stumble across... It’s like a wind tunnel session often raises more questions than it does answers.
You’re on a new bike this year and using other new equipment, with a new team, is there a plus side of having longer to get to know your equipment and work with the companies involved?
Theres 2 things we’re talking about here: 1. Planning for the road season, and 2. Planning for the Olympics. I’d planned well for the road season and felt like I was in a good place with the Factor bike, good to go. So I didn’t really need so much work on that, but rather to keep ticking away at the Olympic side of things. There’s not going to be any wind tunnel stuff between now and the end of Corona, so that will be guess work. For sure we have learned some things and can feed back. When the season restarts we'll make sure we’re in a very good place, which means working with the sponsors as well.
Is it frustrating to come out of that amazing ride at Worlds last year and then think to yourself, now I have to do that all over again. Almost like you're having to re-qualify?
Um, yeah a little bit. But GB know what I’m capable of. Last year at the Worlds we had the other goal of qualifying an extra place for the Olympics, which now we don’t have to do.
Yes it's frustrating, but it’s the World Championships and it's going to be a nice one this year. I want to do well anyway! It’s an opportunity to get my first Worlds medal, so I want to go all in for that and in turn that's going to help consolidate why I should deserve a place to go to the Olympics.
How’s the work been with the national federation? Have they been closely in touch about recalibrating and setting new goals, or is that coming more from the team side?
It’s been very different. The team has thrown itself into these medical aid rides. Their attidute has been, "Ok what can we do to help?", which is great... It’s cool to be part of.
Team GB are there, they are always there to talk as much or as little as we want. All riders are different. There is a weekly, or fortnightly conference catch up with the GB boss that riders can dial into if they want and chat if they want. There are some very strong support groups there for the riders.
I’ve been in touch with my immediate GB support team, which is my coaches and Matt Brammeier, to discuss how to approach this, what to work on, what to practice, to do trial runs of stuff while there is no stress to impact normal training. Hypothetically speaking, right now if we could go to a wind tunnelthat takes a day out of training, but when your target is 18 months away that is less significant than taking a day out within 6 months of your event.
Do you think you’ll go to Switzerland early to do some extra time on the course? What’s the course like? Have you seen it yet?
It’s very un-Swiss. It’s pan flat with very long straight roads. When we found out that the course was going to be close to Aigle, I think it was Albasini who said “it can't not be hilly” and… it's extremely flat.
So does that mean that you can challenge some of the TT specialists that are used to hills?
Urmmmmm… Yeah, no, maybe. Who knows!? To be honest it could be anyones game because we just don’t know what this period of lockdown will do, what effect it will have on people. Some might go completely off the rails and pile on 10 kilos, some might be coping really well with it. It could make for a really interesting end of the season for cycling. It’s a course like we haven't seen since Doha, but in Doha the main barrier was the heat. This time it’s going to be a pure power and aero course.
With that in mind, do you think we’ll see a few guys besides yourself have surprisingly good break through performances there?
I think the margins will be really small. The gaps will be tiny. On fast courses everyone goes fast and the gaps are a lot smaller. On hard courses the gaps are a lot bigger. We saw that at Innsbruck and Harrogate. There were some small gaps but Rohan won convincingly and Remco beat 3rd place convincingly.
This year we don’t know what the race program will be in the run up to it, we could be racing week-in-week-out with potentially no rest if they cram all the races in… It could be the most open worlds in history.
It could be the most bonkers September, October, November, so everyone enjoy the time with their family now.
That’s the thing. That’s why we’re taking a mid season break now because after that we've got a feeling there won't be one for quite a while...