Having Good Legs

Philippe Gilbert’s Weapons

One great mystery remains in this cycling world. I’ve been a cyclist for over thirty years and I still can’t buy a clue. Remember those rides where very early on, as you roll out of a parking lot, or just away from your house, you notice you have good legs. You need verification and after a proper warm up the feeling is still there, to quote Ryder Hesjedal, “the legs are mint”. And by saying good legs I mean untouchable, inexhaustible, Le Blaireau legs. Legs you can use with extreme prejudice on your friends and enemies all day long. I can count on one hand the number of times that has happened in thirty years. Don’t tell your friends, it’s like having four aces in your hand, keep your mouth shut and let it all play out. On your next group ride, regard everyone’s faces as you let them ride through. Does anyone have good legs? Look for the rider who is quietly sitting in the paceline with a confident telling smirk on his or her face. George Hincapie recalled it as if pedaling with no chain. It’s some magic elusive mojo.

As a cyclists your legs are your tools, your currency. Professional cyclists talk about their legs as if they were not their own. They have legs hung up in a garage, many sets, most of them bad, some OK and only one pair that are good. Unfortunately which set gets installed on any given day is a mystery to everyone. Science has not solved this one or if they have they are sitting on it, maybe Contador has solved it. The more you ride the better your chances are of having good legs. But the amount of recovery riding, rest and diet all go into a formula so complex it has yet to be solved. I used to pay a lot of attention to my abstemious Saturday nights, hoping that the proper dinner and no drinking would bring on a good Sunday ride. Of course my friends were actually drinking beers, having fun and still riding fine the next day. I guess Anquetil had it right, steak tartare washed down with beers works just fine.

When professionals are riding that wave of good form (think Philip Gilbert, the 2011 version) do they have killer legs every day or can they just always summon the strength to crush? I think having good form means all your physical systems are honed up to the highest possible efficiency. Having good legs is more mysterious. It’s an unexpected event, the result of still unknown forces in the body. What happens on the morning of the Worlds Road Race when you get the message from the engine room that you have the good legs installed, what then? It must be every cyclists dream to have those magical good legs on such a day. It must feed into a confidence loop, thinking you have great legs removes the usual doubts, gives one the confidence to try things one might not otherwise dare. I’m bridging up to the front and then I’m going to ride away. I’ve got good legs.

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84 Replies to “Having Good Legs”

  1. The affiliated force of the Man with the Hammer known as Injury has taken my legs away.  They’re around somewhere and much work is required to find them.  As elusive as Good Legs are, it will take a great deal of work.  And I’m not loving the work.  Not yet.  But I’m doing the work even if I hate it.  If love and hate are opposite ends of the same emotional vector then perhaps I’m loving it without feeling the benefit.  The feeling of love comes when the legs and the body respond to the work in a positive manner.  Now they just protest.  They fight me. They come ’round they will and true love of the work will return once more even if Good Legs continue to elude.

  2. Great piece Gianni!  This is my first full year as what I would refer to as a committed cyclist… i have always been a runner, cyclist, weight lifter, martial artist, but this year I have committed to cycling and some racing goals and thus far have ridden about 200k more than I did in all of 2011 according to my Rule #74 violating Strava account.  One thing I have learned is that my race legs are more in my head than anything.  Put in the kilometers, go to the pain cave a lot, and the confidence just sort of comes out in a race or group ride.  Riding at heart rates where, last year, I would have expected to have heard someone yelling “Clear!” and hitting me with the paddles seems almost effortless- cycling nirvana!  It doesn’t happen all the time, but when I know I have been training right and putting in the work the confidence just brings me to another level- it’s what keeps me going back  to the Cave again and again.

  3. Nice one, Gianni!

    What an AWESOME photo of Fast Phil’s guns!

    I had good legs on Saturday. Hadn’t ridden much due to gettin’ hitched. Then got roped into a 4 hr 120 km ride, with part of it a fast as group ride. I felt strong so just kept on going & going. Love having those days of good legs when you’re sure you are going to get spit out the back and then finish at the front of the pack.

  4. As a cyclists your legs are your tools, your currency.

    Is this why the Canadian dollar is so strong compared with the US at the moment?

    But great piece and thanks for the reminder. Tomorrow AM, I load up the car and start making my way to Vermont (via a ride with Duende in Ottawa). Will be sure to pack the good legs (such as one can work out which is which…).

  5. Obviously I picked up the wrong legs on the door when I left a party some years ago and haven’t been able to find my own ones since.

  6. I am lacking the time and opportunity to ride much, being in the middle os a cross-province move and all, but last week, all alone, had some good legs. Of course.

  7. nice write-up Gianni. It is funny, the self-resolve to “do all the right things” leading into a big ride day and still be issued ones same phyiological limitaitons. Because that +1% still doesn’t add up to this:(ted king strava segment climbing in italy)

    San Pellegrino in Alpe
     
    7.5mi
    3,558ft
    7.9mi/h

    1155

    00:56:20

    for the majority of us anyhow. I say blame the parents.

  8. @SuperA

    “The feeling of love comes when the legs and the body respond to the work in a positive manner.  Now they just protest.  They fight me”

    I hear ya brother, the continual deposits into the pain bank with zero percent interest it’s no good but it’s what we do. Us cyclists better enjoy the training even if it is barely enjoyable or the whole game is over and it’s time to start dragging a set of golf clubs around.

    Before I moved I would start every Spring with almost zero fitness. Those first rides, weak as a kitten, wrapped in layers of lycra, depressing, maddening but it always felt better to be finally out riding than not.

  9. great work as usual Gianni

    I heard it best by a PRO saying ‘don’t write a check with your mouth that you cannot cash in with your legs’

    at the ripe age (or overage) of 42, it seems I just now am appreciating this more and more, finding the good legs.  Last year I found myself hung out to dry on more than one occassion by the fellows on the weekend, and my wife said I need to just give it up, as the younger more energetic than myself riders aspriing to be cat 3’s were just lighter and built more for it than me.  Like an incindiary dog, it just pissed me off, and I would ride harder, and harder, daily til i became nearly depressed, sore and bonking more than riding.

    As mentioned, however, giving in, i opted to by the cyclists bible, read it and pulled a few hints to find ‘good legs’, and rest was the missing part of my equation.  Riding longer, and resting longer.  So i did, and now i have a new pair of legs hanging in the garage, next to the old tired worn out pair.

    If however, it were not for the tired, worn out and old pair, I would not appreciate this good pair.

  10. Amen to that Gianni, gotta love the days when everything comes together and you seem to be able to outride the Man With The Hammer. On the flipside, there seem to be too many days so far this year where I’ve not had good legs at all. Illness and racing make bad bedfellows.

  11. @Anjin-san

    You are wise and well on the path to continual ass-kicking. I agree on all points. Confidence is it and it comes out of all the time spent in Cave. It’s funny the physical and mental both must come along together. Without the confidence in the legs it all falls apart.

    @gaswepass

    Yeah, I blame my parents, I chose without enough information. Believe me, I’ve been at this for so long I know just how much I don’t have it. I have to choose my cycling friends wisely or not be upset by the continual shellings OTB. Wouldn’t we all like to be Taylor Phinney or at least start with “better than average”. @Rob talked about this regarding Lemond and I felt this way about Andy Schleck, I actually don’t find these cyclists as interesting because they have so much of a leg up on everyone else with their natural talent. They have almost fallen into a career as a pro.

  12. @Gianni

    Before I moved I would start every Spring with almost zero fitness. Those first rides, weak as a kitten, wrapped in layers of lycra, depressing, maddening but it always felt better to be finally out riding than not.

    Ugh, oy – THIS is the worst feeling ever. I did pretty well this winter keeping up a good base. But the previous year I didn’t, and coming out of “winter hibernation” was awful. Just riding on normal roads and routes without any sort of real climbing shouldn’t make your legs tired and sore, but 4 months of no real riding will certainly do that, and it feels absolutely awful.

    The best feeling ever on the other hand is to be just spinning along and have your legs feel like nothing – no fatigue, no soreness – just working while you enjoy the ride. You don’t even realize they are there. Wonderful.

  13. @Steampunk

    Steamy, I thought of you crazy kids yesterday. I was was finishing a beautiful but hard hot route, 100km, 1.5km climbing, I was totally baked at the end. The large red cooked turkey indicator was protruding under my white V jersey and I thought, “Do that same ride two more times then a little more and it’s a 200 on 100 ride.”  No f’ing way.

    All Velominati will be thinking of you all on Thursday. As Rob has said, it might not be pretty but it will be epic. I hope the weather is nice and the dump truck full of awesome doesn’t run anyone over too early in the ride. You bastards are riding the talk, as it were. I hope someone has a pocket sized video camera.

  14. @Gianni

    On behalf of everyone riding Vermont, thanks for the kind words. Your piece is both insightful and timely. For the past few weeks, I’ve been convinced that I’ve done all I can to prepare for this ride, and that it’s now up to the fates. And it now boils down to precisely that question: how are the legs today?

  15. @Cyclops   Ha! Nor do I, or even a crawl space. I’ve hoed everything out. Now I just have one set of ok legs hung up in the bathroom, on the back of the door by a damp towel. At least you have some state champion style legs, Idaho grown, hanging in your trophy room. I’d kill for those.

  16. Cracking write up and so true. I am still crafting what I hope will be good legs for this years visit to the Haute Savoie and Le Tour. I hope the cycling gods will be smiling on me and give me good legs for at least one of my rides, preferably the day when I tackle the Glandon, the Telegraphe and the Galibiere. I expect I will be meeting the Man with the Hammer though.

  17. Great post!

    my £0.02’s worth is that a large part of having good legs is psychological.

    I recently did 3000km* of riding in 10 days and on day 3 I would start the day already tired, but just applying the V for a period of time helped alleviate the issue, granted each day it may have taken longer to solve but liberal applications of V in the morning and it all felt good.

    having said that, by day 6 the legs felt good every morning so it was easier to hammer it out on a daily basis!

    good rest, good food, and sunshine, its all you need!

    *obviously all rides are described in altitude not distance travelled but saying I rode 30,100metres wouldnt give you much to work with ;-)

  18. Great piece Gianni. Many’s a time I’ve heard those words from a Pro – “my legs felt good today” after winning that days race. So the rest of the time they’re just going through the motions?

    For me (and possibly everybody else?) I too have good legs, fair legs and legs feel like shit days. Haven’t quite worked out the formula either gianni? Doesn’t appear to be affected by lack of sleep, diet, alcohol, pre-race coitus, No. of children under 5, 100 or 400k training weeks either. I can’t quite pinpoint the cause/effect of why this happens?

    I can have legs feeling like shit at first and an hour later the interchange has run on to the field; bad out, good in and I’m feeling on fire for the rest of the ride. Or the complete opposite happens, feel great pulling for the first half and then end up with legs feeling like they belong to someone else, not listening to the instructions from my brain. When it all comes together though, oh what a glorious feeling. I like Hincapie’s remark – pedalling with no chain – sums it up perfectly I think!

  19. Great piece and great photo!

    I felt that I had good legs this past weekend when I rode in my first group ride. It was 80kms in length, through surrounding regions of Ottawa that I had never ridden before. There were about 30 of us riding two abreast and rotating so that everyone took turns pulling at the front.

    At one point about 40kms in, I found myself toward the back of the group. All of a sudden, I realised that the guys two rows ahead of me had allowed a big gap to open between them and the next riders. Very quickly, the gap was up to about 50 or 60 yards. And I could see that the group ahead was really hammering as they approached a shortish climb. Now, by this point in the ride, I had absolutely no idea where we were. And I was quite sure that if we got dropped here, we would never see the other riders again. As nobody else in our group looked like they were going to make a move, I decided to jump out and try to close the gap myself. Riding straight into a strong headwind, I hammered as hard as I could. But, after 30 seconds or so I seemed to be making little progress. What surprised me, was that I had the legs to maintain the effort, and even up the pace from where I was. And, shortly thereafter, I started to close the gap. 
     
    I don’t really know how long it took me to catch the rider in front of me. It felt like an eternity. But, it was probably only 120 or 180 seconds. Still, it took a huge effort. And, as I got back on his wheel, I felt a huge sense of accomplishment and settled in to catch my breath and get back on the rhythm of the peloton. Not 10 seconds later, the guy leading the ride called out for a water break. We all pulled off o the side of the road and took a five minute break. Fuck! Good legs. Crappy timing!
     

  20. I thought I would post a very precious and rare photo. It is of my good legs (the ones at the front). This was my maiden race victory and I simply rode away from the peleton up a good hill without even going on full attack and rode the last 3/4 of the race on my own to win by 1.30 mins! I continue to try to emulate this but it would appear my good legs remain locked in a secret vault. My race last weekend I attacked frequently and unsuccessfully then got dropped on the last climb as I ran out of Rule V.

    [IMG]http://i1120.photobucket.com/albums/l496/DaccordiRider/cycling.jpg[/IMG]

     

  21. @Souleur

    “Riding longer, and resting longer.  So i did, and now i have a new pair of legs hanging in the garage, next to the old tired worn out pair.”

    That’s maybe the most sage advise for any cyclists over forty. If that doesn’t solve the equation it will come damn close.

    @il ciclista medio
    ” Doesn’t appear to be affected by lack of sleep, diet, alcohol, pre-race coitus, No. of children under 5, 100 or 400k training weeks either. I can’t quite pinpoint the cause/effect of why this happens?”

    Exactly my point too, what the hell does make the magic happen? I wish someone would whisper it to me, in a Jens Voight sort of voice. Or Yoda’s, I’ll believe either one.

  22. @Daccordi Rider

    At least you had the good legs on an important day. The photo shows the guns almost vibrating with power. And your acceleration was so fast you somehow aged the riders behind you. Are they all wearing 1990’s Giro helmets with lycra coverings?

  23. @Gianni You’re too kind to my skinny guns. Ah the helmet covers, look pretty cool huh. This was a road race with multiple grades so set colours are worn for each grade so the refs can spot anyone tacking into the wrong group. Vets racing, no young un’s allowed! 

  24. Funny when I’m getting lots of 18-20 hour weeks in my legs feel tired off the bike and during the first hour of the ride, then something just seems to kick in and I’m fine. More of an issue I struggle with is mental burnout this time of year. Love the compression socks for post ride, especially if I ride and then have an hour or so drive home in the car.

  25. “Colours.”

    Ah…so that explains why everyone is riding on the wrong side of the road…..

  26. Thank you Gianni. Good legs are now appealing to me in third-person and seek more chastening. They just weren’t satisfied with the moderate solo-ride, but convinced them it was for their own good this week.

  27. Great article Gianni. Great is the day/ ride/ race when the ‘mint’ legs show up. No matter how hard you push, they feel great. Actually, you don’t feel them at all. Top 5 ‘reasons I ride’.

  28. @versio

    @Duende That’s the way to do it. And you will be rewarded for it. Good legs.

    @doubleR

    “Colours.”

    Ah…so that explains why everyone is riding on the wrong side of the road…..

    “The word colour is spelled as color in American English.It is spelled without ‘u’ in America only.”

    From Yahoo answers. Why must you Americans be fucking different, is the” u” such a difficult letter?

     

  29. @metalface

    nice one. I hope we see Gilbert running his 2011 game in the TDF this year…

    Incidentally I had pretty bad legs yesterday on a ride w ~1700m climbing. Then I got home and saw this, and wept: http://app.strava.com/rides/11611893

    @gaswepass

    nice write-up Gianni. It is funny, the self-resolve to “do all the right things” leading into a big ride day and still be issued ones same phyiological limitaitons. Because that +1% still doesn’t add up to this:(ted king strava segment climbing in italy)

    San Pellegrino in Alpe
     
    7.5mi
    3,558ft
    7.9mi/h

    1155

    00:56:20

    for the majority of us anyhow. I say blame the parents.

    Yes, def blame the parents, how can we compare born to regular mortals?

     

    Cry if you must, but i heard his legs were carved out of much larger more powerful ones.

  30. Very nice write-up, Gianni. I guess the mystery of the Good Legs makes cycling all the more fascinating (as if it wasn’t awesome enough to begin with… ) – and memories of ‘Good Leg Days’ can certainly linger for a very long time.

    During one of the long summer hoidays that I used to spend riding with the same friends, most members of our little group were tall, lanky diesels like myself, but there was also one short, sinewy little pocket rocket who was a real ‘grimpeur’. Whenever the road started pointing seriously upward, he would simply leave all of us mere mortals behind and streak up the hill by himself. Always. Until one magical day in the Alps, where I could actually go with him. I asked him afterwards if he was having ‘Bad Legs’ that particular day, but he insisted that he had felt perfectly OK – but that he had been very surprised to see me alongside.

    Never happened before; never happened since (well, not quite in the same ‘dramatic’ way, anyway…). And I still haven’t a clue what the hell had gotten into me that day. (On second thought, it is possible that I was the only one in our group who had ordered steak for dinner the night before – Of the miraculous Spanish variety, perhaps?) Naahh, just kidding. It remains an utter mystery to me, and I actually like it that way…

  31. @il ciclista medio

    Reckon that’s where the pair I lost two years ago went, too…

  32. My legs are a continuous work in progress, sometimes delighting, mostly getting sworn at, but hopefully will stick with me for many years to come.

  33. Excellent Article…I was lucky enough to get my “good legs” only 3 weeks ago….unfortunately it was on a training ride with a friend who barely breaks sweat when riding with me and therefore took this “half wheeling” personally and proceeded to rip my “good legs” off….I have not seen them since!

    One correction, I believe that Jacques Anquetils “good legs” were so prevalent not from drinking but more likely the fact that he was sleeping with someone else’s wife and ultimately having children with her daughter!!!

    Now that’s real training :)

  34. @Deakus

    Excellent Article…I was lucky enough to get my “good legs” only 3 weeks ago….unfortunately it was on a training ride with a friend who barely breaks sweat when riding with me and therefore took this “half wheeling” personally and proceeded to rip my “good legs” off….I have not seen them since!

    One correction, I believe that Jacques Anquetils “good legs” were so prevalent not from drinking but more likely the fact that he was sleeping with someone else’s wife and ultimately having children with her daughter!!!

    Now that’s real training :)

    The Anquetil method wouldn’t work with the state of my back

  35. excellent article.  i thought it was just me. i don’t know why one day i will climb like a lion, the next  day i will climb like a cripple.  the days i have where my legs work like they should seem to be few and far between.

    also…nice use of the word abstemious.

  36. oh, and i would much rather have the worst legs of Pantani than my best ever legs times five. 

  37. @Deakus

    “One correction, I believe that Jacques Anquetils “good legs” were so prevalent not from drinking but more likely the fact that he was sleeping with someone else’s wife and ultimately having children with her daughter!!!”

    You may be onto something. It seemed to work for Tiger Woods: dominating a sport and much extramarital sex. I don’t have that much testosterone to spare. I need all I have just to power my compact crank, as it were.

  38. This is a fantastic piece, man. It stands among your finest work here. Chapeau. My legs have always been spindly, gangly, and akimbo. This might have something to do with the reason William and the other KT attendees kept calling me Bradly. It was either that or the sideburns. Not sure. Anyway, I feel like I’m doing something right when I start to get compliments from the ladies. It’s that time of summer and people are starting to take notice. I need to check my ego.

  39. @ErikdR

    Very nice write-up, Gianni. I guess the mystery of the Good Legs makes cycling all the more fascinating (as if it wasn’t awesome enough to begin with… ) – and memories of ‘Good Leg Days’ can certainly linger for a very long time.

    During one of the long summer hoidays that I used to spend riding with the same friends, most members of our little group were tall, lanky diesels like myself, but there was also one short, sinewy little pocket rocket who was a real ‘grimpeur’. Whenever the road started pointing seriously upward, he would simply leave all of us mere mortals behind and streak up the hill by himself. Always. Until one magical day in the Alps, where I could actually go with him. I asked him afterwards if he was having ‘Bad Legs’ that particular day, but he insisted that he had felt perfectly OK – but that he had been very surprised to see me alongside.

    Never happened before; never happened since (well, not quite in the same ‘dramatic’ way, anyway…). And I still haven’t a clue what the hell had gotten into me that day. (On second thought, it is possible that I was the only one in our group who had ordered steak for dinner the night before – Of the miraculous Spanish variety, perhaps?) Naahh, just kidding. It remains an utter mystery to me, and I actually like it that way…

    Yep, that’s what I was trying to express too. Once in a while the legs are mint and then, poof, gone. For reasons we don’t understand. I’m glad this mystery adds to your enjoyment of cycling. Maybe I should try steak tonight, my wife is away, she will never read this.

  40. @Gianni

    @Deakus

    “One correction, I believe that Jacques Anquetils “good legs” were so prevalent not from drinking but more likely the fact that he was sleeping with someone else’s wife and ultimately having children with her daughter!!!”

    You may be onto something. It seemed to work for Tiger Woods: dominating a sport and much extramarital sex. I don’t have that much testosterone to spare. I need all I have just to power my compact crank, as it were.

    That’s one of them thar dubble ontondree’s, ain’t it?

  41. @metalface

    nice one. I hope we see Gilbert running his 2011 game in the TDF this year…

    Incidentally I had pretty bad legs yesterday on a ride w ~1700m climbing. Then I got home and saw this, and wept: http://app.strava.com/rides/11611893

    my post included just one hill climb from that epic ride tot illustrate the point. but yeah…

  42. @Gianni

    @Deakus

    “One correction, I believe that Jacques Anquetils “good legs” were so prevalent not from drinking but more likely the fact that he was sleeping with someone else’s wife and ultimately having children with her daughter!!!”

    You may be onto something. It seemed to work for Tiger Woods: dominating a sport and much extramarital sex. I don’t have that much testosterone to spare. I need all I have just to power my compact crank, as it were.

    I’ll let Mrs Engine know that this is the way to sporting success…

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