How Hard Is Professional Cycling? The Truth From 10 Years Of Experience

Professional cycling is one of the most demanding sports in existence.

From the thrill of competing in a world-class race to the harsh reality of long hours and grueling training, professional cycling is an unforgiving sport that requires dedication, grit, and perseverance.

For those brave enough to take on the challenge and sign up for a pro ride, they will experience a roller coaster of highs and lows.

But what exactly makes professional cycling so hard?

In this article, we’ll dive into the unique challenges that come with this demanding sport—from crashes to doping rivals—to give you an inside look at how difficult it really is to be a professional cyclist.

A Brief Overview Of Professional Cycling

As a professional cyclist, it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of hitting the open road and competing for glory.

But there’s more to this sport than meets the eye.

From long hours of grinding out time trials on Alpe d’Huez to the intense training rides and stage races that take months of preparation, the physical demands alone can be incredibly taxing.

And that’s before you factor in the mental challenges of staying focused and motivated when things don’t go your way.

My days often start with 6-7 hours of sleep followed by intense and punishing training sessions that push my body to its limits.

I need every ounce of energy I can muster just to make it through a typical session, let alone an entire race or series.

And this training will go on rigorously for months in order to build up the necessary muscles needed to succeed at such a competitive level.

And then there are other variables such as average gradient or elevation gain, experienced cyclists, team dynamics, and recovery process that all play a part in making pro cycling so hard.

Professional cycling requires all these skills as well as knowledge about nutrition, training methods, and recovery tactics in order to make sure they are on top form come race time.

professional cycling racing team

It takes more than just physical prowess.

Pro-cyclists need mental strength too in order to stay focused throughout difficult stages or tough climbs.

Having a good team around them is essential so they can rely on their teammates for support and advice during the most demanding sections of the course.

Knowing how best to utilize each rider’s strengths while still conserving energy will be crucial if they want any chance of success against their opponents who are likely using similar race-strategy techniques.

Ultimately, mastering this complex game of chess between riders calls for exceptional discipline and dedication – which only those with true grit and passion can achieve.

At times it may seem impossible but with the right attitude and support system in place, anyone can reach their goals if they are determined enough.

Whether you’re an amateur or a seasoned pro rider, investing in yourself is key.

Find yourself a good cycling coach or join a local cycling club for guidance and support—these resources will help you stay motivated when times get tough.

What Makes Professional Cycling So Difficult?

From injury and crash prevention to staying competitive despite their opponents’ use of performance-enhancing drugs, pros face daily struggles that require immense willpower and dedication to overcome.

Below are 9 reasons why professional cycling is one of the toughest sports out there.

1. High Possibility Of Getting Serious Injuries

As a professional cyclist, I’ve experienced the physical and emotional toll of crashing.

Crashing can be very dangerous; even at low speeds, it is easy to get seriously injured.

Accidents on the road can cause catastrophic injuries from broken bones and lacerations to head trauma and paralysis.

Road rash is one of the most common cycling injuries, where the skin is literally ripped off you as you slide across the tarmac.

The risk of such life-altering injuries increases dramatically when competing at higher levels of speed or terrain complexity.

In addition, riders may also suffer long-term consequences due to repeated concussions, neck pain, nerve damage, and chronic joint issues because of crashing their bikes multiple times during their careers.

man fall from the bike and get injured

Furthermore, many highly trained professionals have been forced into early retirement because of severe crash-related injuries that could not be healed sufficiently enough for them to continue racing safely.

Thus, it is essential that riders take protective measures while riding—like wearing protective gear—in order to avoid potentially devastating outcomes like these.

2. Highly Likely You Won’t Make Enough Money To Retire

Professional cycling is a grueling sport, and many people assume that the athletes involved must be making quite a bit of money.

Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case.

The truth is, professional cyclists are often low-paid compared to other sportspeople, with a national average salary of only $27 / hour in the US, or equivalent to $56,909 / year. (Source: ZipRecruiter)

This means they end up relying heavily on sponsorships or prize money to make a living.

Furthermore, careers in professional cycling can come to an abrupt end due to injury or simply not being able to keep up with their peers any longer.

This paints a bleak picture for anyone looking to turn professional cycling into something more than just another hobby.

Even if you’re one of the best riders out there, you’ll still find yourself needing additional sources of income in order to survive financially.

professional cyclists don't have enough money for retirement

On top of all that, retirement savings won’t typically be part of your plan either; most pros will retire without having saved enough money for later life.

All in all, becoming a professional cyclist requires huge amounts of dedication and hard work – but unfortunately doesn’t guarantee financial security down the line.

3. Sudden Job Termination Is Common

Pro cyclists understand the harsh reality of this sport: one bad race and their contract could be terminated, or worse – their career might come to an abrupt end.

Professional cyclists have little control over their future due to the highly competitive nature of the sport.

As soon as a pro cyclist starts faltering, teams may quickly replace them with someone who can do better; there’s no room for loyalty here.

It requires immense resilience to stay focused despite the looming threat of termination hanging overhead.

employment termination letter

Even world champions face possible contract terminations if they don’t continue performing well at races.

Cycling is undoubtedly difficult from a physical perspective, but it’s also mentally demanding when athletes know they must constantly prove themselves or risk losing their jobs and careers.

4. Being Alone Will Be A Regular Part Of Your Life

As a professional cyclist, I’m no stranger to spending time alone.

Most days see me out on the open road for hours at a time, with only my thoughts and the sound of the wind in my ears for company.

Not only will you spend countless hours of solitary training, but also endure long stretches of lonely travel as you go from race to race.

You may have teammates, but when it comes time to compete in the races solo racing is what awaits.

The solitude can be emotionally draining and tough on morale.

It’s not uncommon for professional cyclists to feel isolated with no one around them who truly understands their struggles or lifestyle.

Even if they are surrounded by friends and family during the off-season, once back on the road again feelings of loneliness quickly overtake them as they prepare for their next competition.

young cyclist spending time alone on the road

Without support from those closest to them – whether it be physical or psychological – it can often make all the difference between success and failure in this demanding endeavor.

Professional cycling takes an incredible amount of dedication and resilience; something that can be cultivated over time with proper preparation both physically and mentally.

5. Unfair Competition Against Doped Rivals

As a professional cyclist, I am always aware of the fact that there is a chance I could be competing against doped riders.

In my experience, it’s something that you can never completely ignore.

It’s especially heartbreaking when you are on the receiving end of this.

One time in particular, I was sent to a race as the team’s protected rider, and on the last climb before I was going to launch that race-winning attack, an unknown rider darted off ahead of us and wins by a scarcely believable margin.

doped rivals steal the winning place during cycling race

It felt like all my hard work had gone to waste and it was even more disheartening when later it turned out that this rider had tested positive for doping.

It’s easy to become discouraged when faced with this kind of unfairness but it’s important to remember that despite these obstacles, true champions will always rise above them and persevere.

6. Extensive Travel Is A Norm

Professional cycling is a sport that requires endless travel.

Although it has been an amazing experience and I have seen some incredible places, sometimes the amount of travel can be overwhelming.

Long-distance journeys are the norm and there’s no way around it.

You’ll be flying frequently to attend races, going from one country to another in pursuit of victory.

The race season is long and grueling with constant flights, hotel rooms, and time changes.

It’s not uncommon to be on the other side of the world for one week and then back in Europe a few days later.

professional cyclist travels extensively

And while this can be exciting, it also takes its toll both physically and mentally.

It’s quite a lifestyle change for those who’ve never had to do such long-distance travel before.

Even if you’re well prepared, jetlag can still take its toll on your performance.

That said, if you love traveling then professional cycling may just be the perfect career choice for you!

There will always be new places to explore and experience, with each race bringing something different compared to the last one.

It’s an incredible privilege to do what I love on such an international scale, but it also requires discipline and dedication in order to make sure I’m performing my best when it matters most.

7. Chances Of Winning A Professional Race Is Slim

Despite the grueling travel and consistent effort, achieving success in professional cycling can be a hard pill to swallow.

In today’s modern age of competition, it is not uncommon for riders to never win a pro race due to the sheer amount of talent on the circuit.

It may seem impossible at times but with good training and dedication, you can still break through the noise and make an impact.

The reality is that while most cyclists will never win a pro race, they are all striving towards one goal: victory.

cyclist winning a time trial competition

With proper preparation and focus, anyone has the potential to become a winner – even if it takes several attempts before success comes their way.

Professional cycling isn’t just about winning.

It’s also about building relationships with sponsors, learning from mistakes, staying motivated when things get tough, and pushing yourself beyond your limits every single day.

It might take years or even decades for some to reach peak performance levels but regardless of how long it takes, perseverance pays off in the end.

As countless athletes have already proven over time, determination combined with hard work eventually leads to breakthroughs – no matter what challenges stand in their path.

8. More Pain And Suffering Compared To Other Sports

Professional cycling is one of the toughest sports out there.

It requires exceptional physical endurance, a high level of technical skill, and an immense amount of mental fortitude to succeed in this sport.

Not only do you have to put up with grueling hours on the bike in all kinds of weather conditions but you also suffer more than in other pro sports due to its inherent risks.

Professional cyclists must endure injuries from falls or crashes, long-term fatigue caused by overtraining and chronic pain from tight muscles that accompany hard racing efforts.

cyclists are tired after a grueling race

Cyclists are constantly pushing their bodies beyond what might be considered healthy limits for most athletes, making it a uniquely demanding endeavor.

As such, professional cyclists often require more recovery time between events compared to other pro sports athletes.

They may also need additional support outside of training and competition to help maintain optimal performance levels throughout the season.

All these factors combine to make professional cycling a difficult yet rewarding pursuit that requires dedication and sacrifice if one has ambitions of competing at the highest level.

9. You Will Be Sick A Lot

It’s no secret that professional cyclists face their fair share of physical adversity.

From racing in extreme temperatures to grueling climbs, the toll on a cyclist’s body can be immense.

But another factor is often overlooked: sickness frequency.

During the racing season, I am rarely ever not exhausted.

From long days in the saddle to intense training sessions aimed at improving my power output and getting me ready for races, it’s no wonder that my body gets run down so quickly.

I often find myself coming down with illnesses after big races, as I’m unable to give my body enough time to recover properly before heading off again.

black cyclist getting sick after intensive race

Professional cycling takes place in an environment where athletes are constantly exposed to illness-causing pathogens from other riders and coaches.

This makes it difficult for them to stay healthy during competition season.

Colds, sore throats, and chest infections are just some of the common ailments that come hand in hand with being a professional cyclist.

To make matters worse, many riders don’t get adequate rest between events because they’re so busy traveling and preparing for each new one.

All this adds up to create an environment where staying healthy is almost impossible, and yet somehow these brave athletes continue competing despite it all!

Time Trials: Racing Against The Clock

Time trials are a special breed of competitive cycling event where individual cyclists race against the clock to cover a set distance.

It is a solo/team event and riders are not allowed to draft off other riders.

The fastest time wins.

Time trial cycling is also known as “the race of truth,” because the only thing that matters is how fast each rider can complete the course.

As a professional cyclist, I take great pride in performing well during these events – not just for myself, but also for my team.

It requires a combination of physical fitness and strategy to be successful.

Riders must focus on time trial techniques such as proper pacing, cornering, and drafting skills—all while racing against the clock.

In addition to physical preparation, riders should also develop an effective strategy for their race.

racing in time trials competition

This includes mapping out the course ahead of time so you know where to push your pace and when to conserve energy.

For example, if there’s a long downhill section near the end it might be best to save some energy during the first half of the course and go all-out toward the finish line.

Every second counts when it comes to this type of race; you must be able to accurately gauge your effort and power output so as to finish with the fastest time possible.

Training For A Time Trial

Training for a time trial is not for the faint of heart.

As a professional cyclist, I know first-hand how grueling and intense the training can be in order to be ready to race against the clock.

On average, I spend 10-12 hours a week on the bike, with most of my training sessions focused on high-intensity intervals and threshold efforts.

I make sure to get plenty of rest throughout the process as well; adequate sleep is essential for recovery and peak performance.

I also mix in occasional long rides to build up my endurance such as Alpe d’Huez or Stage Races.

These are great training stimuli that help me push through my barriers and become stronger mentally and physically.

cyclists racing at the mountain trail

It also takes a lot of discipline to stick with your plan and avoid burnout or overtraining syndrome.

To improve accuracy and consistency in timing splits, athletes should practice pre-race warm-up drills simulating start times including sprints out of the gate, hard accelerations after corners or climbs, and simulated breakaways at full effort for brief durations.

These drills help riders identify best practices that will lead them to success come race day.

Amateur Vs. Professional Cyclists

Comparing amateur cyclists to professional ones is like comparing apples to oranges.

While amateurs may have the same passion and drive for cycling, there are vast differences in the intensity of training and competition between them.

The physical demands placed on pro cyclists require far greater dedication and commitment than most amateurs can imagine.

During any given race season, a pro cyclist will invest hundreds if not thousands of hours into their craft – both in terms of hard work during rides but also in preparation beforehand with nutrition plans, weight management regimens, etc.

Final Thoughts

Becoming a successful professional cyclist involves significant commitment and sacrifice.

It can be physically and mentally demanding, with serious injuries possible for those who don’t take the necessary precautions.

Professionals have an increased risk of injury due to more rigorous training regimens and longer race distances.

However, the mental aspects remain relatively similar: pushing yourself past your comfort zone while always being aware of taking calculated risks. This requires an immense amount of focus and discipline on top of regular practice sessions.

Frequently Asked Questions

Professional cycling is an intense, physically demanding sport where injuries like bone fractures are not uncommon.

The worst injury a cyclist could sustain is a traumatic brain injury (TBI), which can have long-term effects on physical and mental health.

To prevent TBIs, cyclists should always wear appropriate headgear and visit specialists for regular check-ups.

According to ZipRecruiter, The average salary of a professional cyclist in the US is around $57,000 per year.

Experienced professionals may earn more than $120,000 per year, although it’s an outlier.

Top-tier cyclists may bring in higher salaries due to sponsorships.

Prize money for race wins can range from hundreds to tens of thousands.

Team dynamics can also affect rider salaries, as some teams offer more incentives than others.

Competing for a professional cycling career is like running an uphill race, requiring commitment, dedication, and passion.

Cyclists must find strength (both physically and mentally) within themselves, battling against competitors, potential injuries, insane travels, and other challenges.

Mental preparation involves developing strategies to manage stressors such as fatigue, exhaustion, or fear while also building resilience against disappointment or failure.

This means understanding one’s limits, setting realistic goals, maintaining positive self-talk, and staying motivated during long hours on the bike.

It’s important to have an effective support network that includes coaches, trainers, family members, friends, or teammates who understand your goals and provide encouragement along the way.

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