The concept of marginal gains is one that’s underpinned our work, development and success over the last few years. Most of those things were in place already, so what we did this year was focus massively on the basics,” says Nigel Mitchell when I ask him if he made any changes to his approach for what has been the most successful year in British cycling history.
And Mitchell feels that there are lessons ordinary cyclists can learn from his approach. “Club riders can get diverted by looking at the tweaks we do and overlook the basics, but we’ve proved this year that getting the basics right is crucial, and the other stuff, the marginal gains, just lies on top of that. In fact they won’t work unless you get the basics right,” he says.
But, as Mitchell explains, in typical British Cycling style, they do the basics very, very well. Take hydration: “We ensure all our riders, whether track, road or in Team Sky know the value of staying hydrated and how to tell if they aren’t.
In the Grand Tours the doctor weighs the riders every morning and they supply a urine sample. The sample is tested in a device and the urine concentration established. That gives us a day-to-day picture, and if we see signs of dehydration we push their fluids a bit more,” Mitchell says.
Staying hydrated gets overlooked, but it’s crucial. Your training and adaptation to it are compromised if you don’t stay hydrated. Dehydration can cause your performance to drop; your gut may stop functioning properly, thus preventing you from absorbing vital nutrients, and the cells all around your body will be further stressed.
The way Team Sky approaches hydration is taken to the nth degree because they race to the nth degree, but Mitchell stresses that the rest of us can keep track of how hydrated we are with a couple of simple daily checks. “Anybody can weigh themselves and you can even download urine colour charts on the internet, which helps.” But the basic message is quite simple: if you are already lean and start losing weight, and/or your urine isn’t clear you should drink more.