What Are Goals?
Goals give you direction and purpose in everything you do. Just as a successful business has goals that define its business strategy, successful athletes have to set goals to define their training strategy and plan.
Some of your goals should stretch you and push you to greater heights.
Goals are clear and quantifiable. When you set goals, there should be some way you will be able to measure your success. You should be able to say "I did "x", so I achieved my goal.
Just like training cycles, goals are set on both the "macro (seasonal, monthly)" level and "micro (interval-by-interval, work-out, daily, weekly, race)" level. Once you have set your goals for your season, you'll establish a plan to build towards that goal. That plan will have goals inside of it and so on.
Goals and plans change all the time.
The goals you set now in November, may change come March. Your fitness may have improved to a point you didn't expect. So setting more aggressive goals maybe the best route to continuing your rise to the head of the peleton. Likewise, setbacks like sickness, extended travel for work, and injuries can affect your plan too. Let's not talk too much about those now (positive thoughts).
Goals need to be things over which you have a great amount of control. Reason being, if achieving your goal could be overly influenced by forces out of your control, you are setting yourself up for failure before you even get started. A good example: Avoid setting outcome goals, like winning races.
Why, you ask?
Keeping in mind that you should have control over meeting your goals, winning a race is not really a sound goal because you could do everything right up til the very end of the race and get second because another rider had better legs that day. So you leave the race getting second. If your goal was to win, was the ride a failure, and was all your preparation ineffective?
Don't get me wrong, you should always be playing the game of cycling to win, either on a personal level or on the team level.
But by setting your goals to be more reasonable you are creating a larger window for success. There's no reason to set goals you'll have very little chance of achieving.
Your goals should be realistic.
If you have been having trouble finishing rides or races with the group, setting a goal of placing in the top five of a race you have never finished with the group would probably be too aggressive at this point in time. There are goals for every level of rider. You just have think about them.
You have your goals…now what???
Goals tell you what you want. The next step is to construct a plan for getting there. That plan is defined by an overriding strategy. Your strategy states how you are going to achieve your goals. Then you establish tactics to support your strategy. Here's an example (and this is very general, but you'll get the idea):
You have set a goal of placing in the top five or better at the State Championship Criterium. This past season you were close to the top ten and with motivation and focus on your side you truly believe that a top five is well with in your reach. You've considered the course and know a few things about it: It's basically a flat four corner course, except for turn four which cuts back on itself and leads into a short up hill finish. The sprint usually opens up right out of turn four 300 meters from the finish line. Turn four is such that the field slows considerably before the turn and the riders at the back almost come to a standstill before having to reaccelerate just to catch the field before the line. The race, in the last 5 years has always ended in a field sprint, except that year when the Polish exchange student rode away from the field after the first lap. Turns out he was also the Polish masters national champion.
With all this in mind your strategy might be something like this: "If the group stays together til the finish, be in the top ten going into and coming out of turn four. Then go like mad!"
With that being your strategy, look to see what your needs are: 1.) Good race day preparation. 2.) Efficient group riding skills. 3.) The ability to hold position in a fast moving bunch, even when things get hot and close. 4.) A strong uphill sprint that will start from a less than normal race pace.
What tactics can you employ to ensure these elements are in place on race day?:
With the tactics sketched out, you have all the elements of a good plan. You now have direction.
When setting up your goals, strategies and tactics, stay focused. Your strategies should clearly support your quest towards your goals and your tactics should support the strategies. If your goal is top placings in flat, fast criteriums, you wouldn't have tactics that have you doing only hilly road races.
Keep in mind, the sport of cycling is a game played with many players, each with their own goals and plans. Part of the game is adapting quickly when the situation turns against you, and doing what you can to get things back on track and in your favor.