Rowe & King: World class advice from world class cyclists
From Olympic golds medals and the Tour de France to coaching in times of physical distancing, we caught up with Dani, Matt and Luke Rowe of Rowe & King coaching to hear their stories and get their tips for improving on the bike, whether you’re a newbie or a seasoned racer.
From family rides to Olympic gold
“Luke and I got into cycling through our parents. They were keen cyclists and bought two tandems. We’d ride together with other families so it was social and enjoyable. Around the age of 8 or so, we had our own bikes and it took off from there”, recalls Matt.
“I was 14 when I started cycling”, says Dani. “I was actually more of a swimmer and a runner until British Cycling came into my school. They ran 3 stages to identify possible talent, which included riding around the school field, scientific tests on a turbo and a mountain bike ride to test mental strength. I made it onto the talent team and that is when that passion really ignited and I fell in love with the sport.”
Having always dreamt of being world and Olympic champion, even before she knew which sport, Dani’s career highlight “has to be London 2012. To win Olympic gold in my home country was just incredible. Nothing in my cycling career was ever going to top it. I just feel enormously privileged to have had that opportunity – it is something I will never forget”, she recalls with a smile.
Now that Matt is an amateur racer and a coach, it is the lifestyle that keeps him motivated. “I love the outside, the café culture and the feeling of fitness”, he says. “We have some beautiful roads in Wales – Dragon Ride takes in a lot of them – but there are some tough challenging climbs. I like to maintain enough fitness to enjoy these stunning roads.”
Dani explains that for her, it was “predominantly a professional thing. I do love riding my bike but it was all about reaching my ultimate goals of being world and Olympic champion. I was driven by seeing improvement.” Having retired from professional racing in December 2018, she tells me that what keeps her motivated now is “maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Matt and I are expecting our first child and so I am doing a lot of indoor training which is helping me to stay fit without pushing myself too hard.”
Common rookie mistakes
Founding Rowe & King in 2015, the team coach cyclists of all abilities, whether they are preparing for their first sportive or looking to race at an elite level.
“Cadence, pacing and nutrition are prime territory for beginner mistakes,” notes Matt. “You see riders either in too easy a gear, spinning out and bouncing around – or in too heavy a gear, shredding their muscles and tiring themselves out. Work on your gearing and aim to keep cadence around 80-90 rpm.” With regards to pacing, he points out that, “it is classic to see people start out too fast then blow up. You will pay for it if you go too hard too early. Aim to do a negative split, where your second half is stronger than the first. Nutrition plays a key role here”, he adds. “A sportive is a usually a long ride and many beginners do not eat enough during the ride itself. You see people eat a massive breakfast and carbo-loading days prior to the event, but as soon as they get on the bike, they burn through their glycogen stores and forget about eating. Eat consistently to keep your energy up.”
But what to eat on the bike? Dani admits that the pro peloton is well looked after by the team of soigneurs. “They used to make these rice cakes. Rice in a rice cooker, then condensed into bars. They would add all sorts of treats in there. Some riders prefer savoury but I always go sweet, so Nutella or banana.” For an amateur riding a sportive, she recommends something like this, “simple easy to eat, proper food.”
Advice for seasoned riders looking to up their game
For riders that have got a few sportives under their belt but who have started to see their progress plateau, what are a few things people can do to kickstart improvement?
“The biggest thing I see from a coaching point of view is that people don’t have enough structure in their bike rides. Also make sure your training mimics what you want to achieve so you are hitting key aspects of your goal. For example, with time trial or sprint efforts”, explains Dani.
Matt agrees. “Consistency is key. If you can cycle 5-6 hours a week, you’d be better off doing 4 sessions than one massive all-day hack on a Sunday. Be specific in your sessions and make sure each one has a purpose and a goal.”
Not sure where to start with your research? Matt advises working with a coach. “Admittedly, I would say this! But having someone with experience guide you in the right direction is going to see you improve many, many times faster than buying some expensive kit.” That said, there are tech tools and plans out there to help. “Zwift is a fantastic tool on the turbo”, he admits. “There are lots of built-in sessions that take the thinking out of it. Or follow a pre-prepared training plan”.
As for the biggest different between amateur and professional racing, “speed” is the immediate and emphatic response from Luke. “A typical stage will start really fast with riders going full gas trying to get into the break. It then settles down but from there on, it just gets faster and faster. Guys are using bigger chain rings – some are on 55s – and so the speed is just so fast.” he explains. “But obviously this is our job. Amateurs go to work every day and they still perform at a very high level – chapeau to them!”
Improving your climbing strength and skills
For those riders taking on the Dragon Ride, there is a lot of climbing – just under 5000m on the final day for those taking on the infamous Devil!
“It comes back to pacing”, Matt explains. “Start steady, finish strong. Make sure you are prepared with the right gearing on your bike – having a small enough gear is half the battle. Stay seated wherever possible as the most efficient way to cycle is in the saddle. As soon as you stand up, your upper body, your back, your neck and your arms are supporting your frame – and not propelling you forward. Whilst cycling out the saddle can give your butt some much needed relief (!), it is not the most efficient way to travel, certainly on the hills.” He summarises, “stay in the saddle, ride a nice high cadence and pace yourself!”
From career-threatening illnesses to badly broken legs, the Rowe & King team have each demonstrated strength of character and the ability to bounce back. In 2014, Dani hit a pothole and crashed, breaking 8 ribs and puncturing a lung.
“For me, I was really scared to get back on the bike after my accident”, Dani admits. “The key piece of advice is to take it slowly. Don’t push yourself too hard, take small steps and don’t be too tough on yourself. I knew I wanted to race again when I had my accident and so I had to get back out on my bike. My first ride, I drove to a long straight road that I knew had a really good smooth surface and I built it up from there. It is not a quick process so be patient with yourself.”
“Life is one big obstacle really,” she reflects. “There are so many ups and downs, whether in your personal, professional or sporting life. Try to keep perspective and look at the positives. I knew I had had a really bad accident but I tried to look at it that it could have been worse and I was lucky I could get back on my bike. I used that for motivation and positivity to keep going.”
Lockdown training: Zwift races, goal resetting and family time
Talking of obstacles, 2020 is not quite going as planned. How are Rowe & King adapting to indoor training?
“We have a Zwift Isolators WhatsApp group that has now surpassed 100 people who are all working towards a weekly Zwift race. On a Monday, we announce a race for the Friday evening which is great motivation,” says Matt. “We are also working with our riders to reset their goals now that many of our races and cycling holidays are off the calendar.” Dani agrees. “It is interesting to work out what is going to motivate different people during this time. It could be setting a new power PB, it could be Zwift, it could simply be getting out on the bike.”
From a professional rider point of view, with the racing season on hold and the Tour de France postponed until August 29th, Luke has worked with his coach to put together a 20-hour week of training. “We felt this was optimum for staying fit and fresh, both mentally and physically. It’s like we have re-wound the clock to November. We are building in some base miles, a bit of light zone 3 and some low cadence work. I’m still enjoying my training and I try to take Sunday off to be with the family.”
“It’s been nice in some ways”, he admits. “I’m on the road away from my wife and son close to 200 days a year, so just to be home with them is nice.” He believes that the “biggest challenge training indoors is the mental struggle. Physically you don’t get any respite on the turbo as there is no freewheeling and mentally it is a lot tougher to stare at a blank wall. Zwift helps the time go quicker but an hour outside on the road with your mates in the great outdoors just flies by.” To help with this, he doesn’t shy away from cross-training on a mountain bike from time to time. “Don’t be afraid to spice it up. If you can, it’s a good time to go out on a run for example to build bone density and get a bit of variety.”
With the world in the situation it is in, the Tour de France could be the first race for riders in 2020 which is unprecedented. “It could be one of the most exciting Tours to watch. No one will know what to expect as we won’t have had any races to see who is on form. We’ll also be going in lacking some depth in our training so it will be interesting to see who can keep up the pace going into the third week. Essentially though, if you were a good rider beforehand, you will be a good rider at the end of lockdown.”
Rowe & King created a 12-week training plan specifically for Human Race riders. If you would like to learn more about their coaching packages, visit their website here. For more tips on how to improve your climbing, check out their blog.