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Six Tips for Becoming a Better Cyclist by Paralympian Jiri Jezek

By Jiri Jezek

Jiri Jezek. After 24 seasons on the racing scene both on roads and velodromes around the world, he knows a lot about cycling. As a boy, he lost his leg in a car accident, but he did not give up his dream to be a professional athlete. He started cycling and racing on national level alongside cyclists with similar disabilities. Six years later, he made an amazing breakthrough, winning two gold medals at the Sydney 2000 Paralympic Games. And he still wanted for more. He started to compete with able-bodied riders. First on national level, then he got a contract in Continental Team.

Regular racing with the best riders and stars of pro peloton, world champions and Tour de France winners helped him to keep his position on the Paralympic scene, winning another gold medals in Athens 2004, Beijing 2008 and even London 2012. With a total of six Paralympic gold medals and six World Champion titles, he still remains the most successful cyclist in Paralympic history. As “six” seems to be the key number in his successful cycling career, we asked Jiri about his six tips for becoming a better cyclist.

Ride a bike

Although this advice seems stupid, you would wonder how many cyclists look for the secrets of success anywhere other than in the saddle of their bike. Still, the old but proven rule says that every kilometre counts. We can say: “The more, the better”. It’s simple, cycling is about hard work. Long-term, for someone even boring, dull, but necessary hard work. Shape or fitness is achieved by hours and hours of sitting. But not in front of your computer, looking for the most advanced training methods of professional teams that win the Tour de France. I mean sitting behind the handlebars, riding your bike. Because even the best professionals don’t do it any other way.

Jiri Jezek celebrates after winning the gold medal in the men’s individual C4 time trial during the London 2012 Paralympic Games.

A former top pro rider told me: “When you have ridden thirty thousand kilometres a year, nobody can get you off his wheel.” And I believe that’s true. Every year of my professional career I did over 30,000km. And despite my handicap, I was able to train and race with able-bodied pro cyclists. O.K., I completely understand that a keen amateur or hobby cyclist, working 8hrs a day, cannot reach such an amount of k’s, nor is it necessary. I just want to say that the basics of cycling is cycling itself. Set your goals according to your time available for cycling, then set your ambitions according to the training you’ve done.

Take care of your body

It doesn’t matter if your ambition is to improve your results in the next edition of your favourite local race or if you just don’t want to suffer too much on the Sunday rides with your friends. Being a cyclist is a lifestyle. Your body is your engine, so you have to take good care of it, especially off the bike. Let’s start with food. Nowadays it is easy to find information on how to eat to improve your performance (e.g. you can follow our Health & Training tips). Everything is about feeding your body well, but do not burden it with excess calories from junk food. Cycling is an endurance sport so we should teach our body to use fat metabolism.

All my career I’ve been happy with a low-carbohydrate diet, based on lean proteins and good quality fats and oils. Of course, everyone needs to try out themselves and choose what suits them best. Off-season is a perfect time to make a change. Another important part of your daily routine is regular compensatory exercise. Learn to spend at least twenty minutes doing some workout every day. The best time for this is in the morning, before breakfast. A short set of yoga, a strength workout and some stretching will not kill you, but trust me, you will appreciate the effect in a few weeks. And not just on your bike…

Take care of your bike

The bike should be your pride. A clean bike, a well-lubricated chain and a perfectly tuned group-set not only lead to a smooth ride, but also show your approach to cycling. Speaking of material, honestly, one of the greatest joys associated with cycling is the purchasing new components. New tyres, new wheels or just new bar-tape can bring extra motivation for a couple of future rides. Of course, buying new bike rockets your cycling motivation even higher. And to spoil yourself in an original way, try to opt for a “custom-made” bicycle. Lots of brands now offer this option, including individual frame design and colour matching components. Or at least think about professional bike fit to adjust your riding position on the bike. It will help you to prevent unnecessary pain and potential future health problems. Also your pedalling will be more effective.

Quality equipment also applies to clothing. Special cycling bib shorts with sophisticated cut and hi-tech inner insert are a well-known must-have, but you will also appreciate other types of clothing. Raincoats, hand and leg warmers, overshoes, gloves and jerseys from the most up-to-date materials come in handy especially in changeable weather. Hopefully, I don’t need to speak about safety equipment. Proper helmet should be a matter of course every time you get on your bike. Front and rear lights and reflexive features can also save your life when the dark comes too early in winter time.

Rest and Recover

You are working hard every day, taking care of your family, and besides all, you are trying to spend time on your beloved bike. We all want to live as actively as possible. But remember, your body is not a bottomless energy tank. Yes, I said that cycling is about work, hours and miles. I said that “the more, the better”. Still true, but you must be smart! Long-term overload and chasing miles at any cost can easily do more harm than good. Cycling should be your pleasure, not your duty. At least if you’re not a professional racer… Sometimes, it’s necessary to supress ambitions and think of good regeneration. Treat yourself with a regular massage, sauna or just a short walk with your loved ones. And above all, try to get enough sleep. The body grows stronger when it rests. Sleep deprivation and permanent fatigue will never make you a better cyclist.


Enjoy cycling

We all love cycling, but everyone needs to refresh his passion sometimes. We all need new motivation. Luckily, there are lots of ways to juice up our cycling routine. Try some popular applications and web pages, using your Garmin or smartphone to keep track of your trainings and activities and compare them with other riders or your previous performances (e.g. strava.com, connect.garmin.com). There you can compare your workouts with the best pro riders on the same road, mountain pass or circuit.

Jiri Jezek competes during the men’s time trial (LC2) of the cycling road event at the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games in Beijing, China. Jezek claimed the title of the event.

Another excitement can be winter or early spring “training camp” in one of the popular training destinations. Book your two-week winter break to enjoy sun and dry roads. For example, the island of Mallorca is the ultimate cycling paradise. There you can take advantage of a number of agencies that offer “cycling holiday packages” (e.g. 54eleven.com, Stephen Roche Cycling Holidays, Alltraining.cz, etc.) You can get a similar experience on Gran Canaria, Lanzarote or Tenerife. Italian Tuscany is also a popular destination.

To be honest, the best motivation for training is racing. So, book your bib number in advance. From April to the end of September you will find plenty of popular events across Europe and worldwide. There are famous cycling events (e.g. L’Etap du Tour) and famous marathons in the Alps and the Dolomites (Road TransAlp, MTB TransAlp, MTB Cape Epic, Paris-Roubaix Challenge, etc.) All of these popular races offer amazing atmosphere, great cycling experience and professional support service. And even if you still don’t feel up to racing yourself, you can jump in your car, take your bike with you and go to watch some of the most prestigious pro races “live”. Cycling is beautiful in any form. So enjoy it!