As any cyclist with even a small amount of cunning knows, when asked whether you’ve been getting out much on the bike the default answer, without missing a beat, is “nah, hardly been out at all mate”. If you’re honest and say, “yeah, been managing a hundred and fifty miles a week all summer” then you’ve nowhere left to hide; if you’re still slow after all this training, you are clearly a fundamentally untalented bike rider who should give up the sport immediately.
The key on the bike, as in life, is under-promise and over-deliver. Most of us rack up far more miles than we let on (although these days, lots of us publish the truth on Strava so it doesn’t take a genius to see what’s going on), but we all play the face-saving merry dance and everyone’s happy.
So, as we’re all putting in far more miles than we admit to, the only way to get one up on your mates is to engage in a bit of stealth training. This means getting out and riding when you know that no-one with any sense will be. This is extra mileage on top of the extra mileage that you’re not letting on about; stealth mileage, if you like.
Picture a cold Tuesday night in December. The temperature is about 2 degrees celsius, it’s dark, windy, and hail is coming down intermittently; only someone engaging in stealth training will be out in this. If you do find the motivation to get beyond your back gate and clock up some miles you are sure to reap the rewards.
The problem comes when you are out riding in these unforgiving conditions and you meet your mate doing the same; he can only be stealth training too. How should you deal with this potentially awkward meeting?
The only option is to chat breezily with each other as if nothing untoward was going on, make no mention of what you are each doing, and never speak of your joint stealth session to others. You are now brothers in arms and have a shared dark secret which, were it revealed, would explain your surprisingly perky form come next spring as something other than natural talent.
Of course, the main problem with stealth training is that everyone’s at it. If you get too involved you start to yearn for the filthiest evenings of weather that, by demanding a masochistic level of commitment, will naturally weed out all but the most committed of stealth trainers, and leave you with some kind of advantage (however small).
Of course, the other alternative is just to not get into it, and instead spend those dark winter evenings doing something far more pleasurable. Bernard Hinault, the top French Cyclist of the late seventies and early eighties, famously used to go nowhere near a bike all winter. He’d simply turn up for training well into the new year, suffer horribly for a month on the bike, and emerge in tip-top shape to go about beating all-comers again.
Ok, so we can’t all ride like Bernard Hinault, but if it’s good enough for him…?