Inside the Mind of a Master

I have been fortunate to coach a fantastic athlete, as well as person, over the past few months. Bernie Clinke asked me to coach him this year through his cyclocross season.  Unfortunately an untimely bike accident threw a little wrench in our training plan, but his positive attitude and work ethic has gotten him back on the bike and prepping for bigger and better things this spring. I asked Bernie a few questions about how he got into cycling, etc because I think the majority of triathletes think of cycling as that ‘middle’ sport where we get to eat a lot and go really fast. Bernie has had years of experience racing at a high level both on the track and on the road. Take a minute to read about his experience, what he’s found works, and why he likes to use power (and why he thinks it’s ok to take a break from it!)

BASE: How did you get into cycling?

Bernie Clinke: I got involved in cycling primarily due to both my parents being from Belgium.  I grew up as kid learning about cycling and racing by listening to my parents tell stories about these wild races in Belgium and Europe; Tour of Flanders, Paris –Roubaix, Liege-Bastogne-Liege, Gent –Wevelgem, all the spring classics. Really tough and brutally hard races. We then made a family vacation to Belgium in 1969 where I witnessed the Tour De France.  My grandfather asked me if I enjoyed seeing the race and also wanted to know if I would like to own a racing bike.  My immediate answer was yes! We travelled to a local bike shop where he bought me a replica of Eddy Merckx bike that he was racing in the Tour De France.  I was 11 years old and I have been hooked ever since.

BASE: You’ve been in the sport for a long time, what have you learned (the hard way) and what have you learned from the various people you’ve trained with, been coached by, and run into along the way?

BC:  Yes, I have been doing this for about 44 years. I have been coached by 6 different coaches in this time span. I have learned that there is no magic pill or silver bullet. Cycling and any endurance sport require lots or hard work, pain and suffering if you want to be at the top. You need to put in the necessary time to be good.  Be dedicated and committed. Be a sponge and absorb as much as you can from doing and participating, listening to others and to your coach if you have one. The best investment you can make is in yourself. Sometimes athletes get too wrapped up in the latest and greatest equipment or gadgets, but the best investment is YOU.

Another thing I have learned the hard way is to pay attention to your body.  Knowing the difference between being tired and over trained.  I have underestimated the importance of rest and have actually gone backwards in performance. Know and listen to your body. One last thing is understand that as you get older your body changes, so your training methods and techniques need to change also.  What I did in the past on how I trained when I was 20 is totally different than how I train in my 50’s. I can still beat up on the young guns at my age but I have to be smarter on when I make certain moves in a race. I can’t burn as many matches as I used to when I was younger, but none the less I am still competitive. Really pay close attention to your power to weight ratio.

BASE:  For athletes who are younger in the sport, share how you’ve stayed focused and continued to stay fit.

BC: It sometimes boils down to how bad you want something in life. I grew up with not having the luxury of anything handed or given to me. I had to bust my ass to achieve or acquire anything I’ve ever wanted. This includes my athletic achievements. What I do have is a strong mind and a never give up attitude. Fortunately I discovered this at an early age. It is amazing what you can achieve in your life and how you can transform yourself, your body, into greatness by working hard and staying true to the course. Determination, focus and the will to never give up. So basically I have stayed fit through the years by always doing something and keeping extremely active throughout the entire year. Find out what your good at and have fun with it and continue to do it as long as possible.  If it becomes a chore, try something new.  Keep it fresh, and you will stay healthy and fit for life.  Also focus on what you eat. Limit preservatives.  Eat fresh fruits, vegetables, lean meats, etc.  I learned that the best way to shop at a grocery store is only purchase items from the perimeter and stay away from all the aisles. All the fresh and healthy items are found around the perimeter and all the junk food is in the aisles.

BASE: You have a demanding job time wise, how have you learned to balance life at home, work, and your passion for 2 wheels?

BC: Everyone’s life revolves around time. You need to develop a plan or a schedule to manage your time and then stick to the plan.  Life can be demanding with family, work, travel, training, racing, etc. Determine what is the best time of day for your passion or training and so that it will not interfere or take you away from work or family.  If the morning is the best time, then plan on doing your training then. Once again develop your plan, and stick to it. Write down your goals short term and long term.  Determine your race schedule for the year, family vacations, holidays, etc. Once you have this mapped out, stick to the plan. When life throws you a curve ball you should have a pre-determined back up schedule or back up plan as well. You cannot make excuses if you want to be successful. Adopt an attitude like the Marines, “Improvise, Overcome and Adapt”

BASE: You have used power for several years now, how has power helped you in training?

BC:Training with power has taught me that it doesn’t lie. It is factual.  It doesn’t matter what the temperature is, hot, cold, rain, indoors or outside, the numbers are a fact, so you either did it or not.  So when you realize and come to understand this you can then understand where your strengths and weakness are and tailor your training around them.  Another benefit to working with power is, to use and record your power during races or groups rides. You will find that the numbers will be dramaticaly different than when you are training by yourself, thus providing you with additional and more real time conditions. I will say though that it is a good idea to put all technology away for a while and ride by feel alone.  I usually do this after September through December. Put away all heart rate monitors, power taps, etc. When I look back on my earlier years we didn’t have anything to train with except a stop watch and we still were able to train and record data and make improvements.

BASE:What are your favorite workouts?

BC: I love doing intervals, long and short ones.  They offer a real bang for the buck!

BASE: What are you least favorite workouts?

BC: My least favorite workouts are anything that is off the bike.  I am not that fond of lifting weights even though there are benefits of weight lifting as you age.  It is something I struggle with.

BASE: Any other feedback or words of wisdom for our readers.

BC: A few wise men once said….

a)      “Don’t buy upgrades, ride upgrades”

b)       “Go slow to go fast”.

c)       “Train harder than you race”


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