The importance of a coach to an athlete’s success is perhaps more widely acknowledged than ever.
Dave Brailsford and Shane Sutton’s roles in the success of Team Sky and the British Cycling track team are universally acknowledged. Beyond cycling, the importance of Alberto Salazar to Mo Farah, the role of Toni Minichiello in the success of Jessica Ennis, and Andy Murray’s transformation under the guidance of Ivan Lendl are now widely proclaimed.
Little wonder then that Simon Howes, the new directeur sportif of Team IG-Sigma Sport, called in his old mentor, Ian Goodhew, a man who has coached riders to seven national championships, to guide those among his charges not already working with a coach.
Goodhew is an ever-present figure at the team’s pre-season training camp in Mallorca, marshaling the riders from a scooter during road drills, chatting to them after dinner, sharing his observations with Howes and the team’s management. But he insists that a team, as a unit of riders, cannot be coached. Instead, he conducts the business of improving his riders on an individual basis. The training camp will offer a chance to observe them, he says, and to gauge the spirit of the group, but individuals will have separate needs which are better attended to separately.
Seven of the team’s twelve riders will be coached this season by Goodhew. Some of the senior riders had pre-existing and successful relationships with coaches, he says, and the team has not attempted to interrupt them. For those not already working with a trainer, Goodhew has developed bespoke plans, where the rider’s effort and progress, alongside their weight and heart rate, is recorded on a spreadsheet.
Their time in Mallorca represents the ‘biggest week’ of an initial eight-week, pre-season training programme that began in December. “You’ve got to decide what your biggest week is going to be. For this team, it’s this week,” he says. “If you know what you’re going to be doing in your biggest week, you can work backwards.”
Goodhew’s career as a coach has included stints as director of coaching for British Cycling’s southern centre of excellence, a proto-Academy in the days before Lottery funding. Additionally, he has served as directeur sportif for Team Energy and the Giant Road Team. His experience has allowed him to distill certain training traits into key phrases. He talks frequently of progression; riders are encouraged to train “harder, not further”; “flat training” is, in his experience, likely to lead to “flat racing” – and he isn’t discussing gradient.
“I hate the phrase ‘steady miles,’” he continues. “My attitude is, steady isn’t training – steady is a club run. When you go out on a training ride, the test of that training ride is, when you get home, have you made an improvement? And if you haven’t, you’ve put in a lot of work to stand still.”
Goodhew describes his approach as “old school”, but he is happy to use the latest data gathering tools to increase his understanding of the rider’s condition. Garmin feature alongside Mavic, Specialized, ZipVit et al in a list of the team’s blue chip cycling sponsors, and the information gathered from the riders’ Edge devices will form part of his analysis. He hopes to combine an analysis of heart rate and power output, believing that one without the other does not provide a complete picture of the rider’s performance.
“This is why I say, ‘old school,’” he explains. “I like to drill down and find out why we’re doing things and what value they’ve got. There’s no reason why you should say I’m going to use a power meter, or heart rate. Why don’t we use both of them? Why don’t we learn from all that information, and how the rider feels?”
Health is the foundation on which any performance gains are built, according to Goodhew. Recovery, the buzz word in so many sports, is a concept to which he pays due attention. “Recovery is the most important part of training,” he says simply. Goodhew is keenly aware of the tendency among riders to do too much. “One of the things we have to identify, especially with young guys, and we’re giving them pretty big volumes, is that they don’t over train. Heart rate returning to rest pulse is absolutely the best way of checking their recovery,” he says.
Such data is recorded by the riders on their training programme and has allowed Goodhew to spot two potential illnesses on the training camp: riders with an elevated heart rate are encouraged to rest; to miss a couple of days rather than a couple of weeks. “In a way having someone to tell them not to go out helps, because if you left it to themselves, you know they’d go out,” he says.
Goodhew’s training programmes include a daily target, measured in hours. He encourages a flexible approach in pre-season: if the riders are forced by the weather to swap around his planned longer and shorter days, there are no great consequences. The significance is greater though when the season has begun and the training becomes more diverse. The riders will recover more quickly from some efforts than others, he says, and the order in which training drills are completed assumes a heightened importance.
Each Monday morning, Goodhew receives the riders’ completed training programmes, including their weight and resting pulse. He is keen for them to understand the value of the programme and to ask questions if they don’t. “Don’t ever be afraid to challenge what I’m telling you, because if I can’t justify it to you, we’ve got a big problem,” he says, arguing that the riders will only pursue the programme with the necessary intensity if they believe in its merit.
Goodhew has been appointed by IG-Sigma Sport’s new directeur sportif, Simon Howes. “We have a history of coach, manager, going back 20 years,” Goodhew says. When he ran British Cycling’s southern centre of excellence in the early 1990s, he negotiated the enrolment of the then 16-year-old Howes, who would later ride for Goodhew when the latter was DS for Team Energy and the Giant Road Team.
Team IG-Sigma Sport, however, is comprised of Howes’ riders. “It’s his pick,” says Goodhew. Some, however, are well known to the management team. Manager and coach took Joe Perrett and Ryan Mullen to last year’s prestigious Chrono des Nations time trial, where Mullen triumphed in the junior category and Perrett finished runner-up in the under-23 class. “In a way, we were seeing if they had the right character,” says Goodhew. “There are lots of people who we wouldn’t have taken, and not because of their physical ability or lack of it.”
Howes defined character as the quality on which he placed the greatest importance when choosing his team, and it is a sentiment echoed by Goodhew. There is little to choose between the physical abilities of the top 50 riders in cycling’s elite WorldTour and their competitors, he says; mentally, he believes they are worlds apart. “I say to people, what’s the strongest muscle in your body? It’s the one between your ears.”
Goodhew will attend the races and analyse the performances; only there can he judge the effectiveness of his advice. “I’m not coaching them to train, I’m coaching them to win races,” he says. Formulas that bring victory, he will hope repeat; mistakes that lead to failure, he will seek to correct. “I’m quite analytical from that point of view.”
As a member of the Association of British Cycle Coaches since 1984, Goodhew has a wealth of experience on which to draw. He will hope Team IG-Sigma Sport’s riders do the same.