Ashton Lambie is a big fan of smart risk assessment—and it makes sense, since he’s literally married to a NASA astronaut, and dealing with risk is a huge part of the job. Having had those conversations around risk with her work has led to him rethinking about how he looks at race days and training rides. Here, he’s sharing some tips on how to think about risk to boost performance and make smart choices.
So much of this is also wrapped in what the plan for the race was. I don't usually have a super specific plan of what a gravel race looks like for me. Leadville, for example, I just wanted to finish. Whatever we need to do to make that happen, we’ll do, but there’s not a ton of really specific risk assessment I was doing this year.
Track was a little bit trickier because it's so specific. There are so many things leading up to a track event that might not go according to plan, and with such a short, hard effort, every moment matters. In most track events, you're talking about international travel, you're talking about foreign food, foreign hotels, a track you’ve never ridden—there's all sorts of stuff that can go wrong. And so I think having like a couple different options is important. For example, at a track race, I want to do openers the day before the race. Usually, I do openers on the track. Well, if we may not have track access that day, I’m thinking ahead to know what my the next best option will be.
If the next best option would be to get on my road bike and do warmups on the trainer, great. Then, say my road bike didn't make it to the race, it got lost on a plane. Now I I don't have a road bike. Is there any other way we can get that same stimulus? I might check if the hotel has an exercise bike, and that becomes plan C. So I think being flexible and thinking like, 'Okay, what's the goal? What’s the next option?’ It’s all about being flexible, but having a backup plan for the backup plan.
I've really delved into risk assessment models, and it's so interesting how it applies to cycling. There are different levels of risk assessment. And there are different ways to mitigate a risk. And I think it’s important to look at races and think, ‘What's a hypothetical thing that could happen in this gravel race that makes it not go according to plan?’
For example, what if you lose a bottle? You could let that wreck your fueling strategy. So maybe next time, you go with an extra bottle. Now, that's a lot of added weight. Maybe instead, you just carry an extra packet of drink mix so you can fill up a regular bottle at an aid station. That's my mitigation strategy for that specific risk, which is a high risk scenario. If you have a tight fueling strategy, messing that up is pretty bad. But the risk of carrying an extra bottles' worth of weight is pretty substantial as well. So I think just being thoughtful about both sides of risk is important, because it helps you come up with a plan that balances all the risks.
You could go into a race and mitigate every single risk: You could carry a spare chain and a spare tire and a spare wheel and three extra bottles… That's not realistic, obviously. You're running the risk of carrying so much more equipment than your your rivals that you're not competitive anymore. And
Finding that balance that works for you, and not just not finding it just through like trial and error, but thinking about potential scenarios is important. Ask yourself what could happen, and what’s happened in the past. Ask, What can I do to mitigate it? What are the costs of those mitigation strategies?
Those are all questions that you can think about instead of just reacting when something goes wrong. For me, I always carry a spare derailleur hanger. I’ve needed it in the past. It doesn’t happen often, but the cost of mitigating the risk of being stranded without a derailleur hanger is so minimal—it’s an extra 10 grams. It's easy. And it’s worth it.