2022 Goal Setting
Training Tips

Three Types of Goals for Cycling Success

By: Jim Rutberg  December 14, 2021

As the New Year rolls around, cyclists across all disciplines are (or should be) reviewing their training and competitions from this year and setting new goals for the coming year. Of course, the time for setting goals doesn’t need to be tied to the calendar. You can set – or reset – your goals any time of year, based on the dates of your goal events. No matter when you do it, make sure you incorporate three goal types: Process, Performance, and Outcome.

Process Goals

Achieving your cycling goals takes time, and if the event or adventure you are planning for is months or even years away, it can be difficult to guide your short-term training on such long-term objectives. Process goals are things you can strive for and accomplish along the way. Like all goals, they should fit the commonly known S.M.A.R.T concept of being Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely. What separates process goals from performance and outcome goals is that they are things you can do today, tomorrow, and next week. They are completely within your control and they help establish the training, nutrition, and lifestyle habits that will lead you to accomplish your performance and outcome goals.

Examples of common process goals for cyclists:

  • Consistently ride 4 times per week.
  • Consume 40-60 grams of carbohydrate per hour during long rides.
  • Consume 1-2 bottles of fluid per hour on the bike.
  • Get to bed before 11:00PM

Performance Goals

Performance goals are accomplishments you may not be able to achieve today but are working toward and can control. They are typically the positive result of hitting your process goals over time. For instance, if you meet your process goals of training four times per week, completing the interval workouts correctly, fueling workouts appropriately, and getting to bed on time, you may accomplish your performance goal of increasing your power at lactate threshold by 15% over three months. From a technical standpoint, a process goal may be to session technical features of mountain bike trails once per week, with the performance goal of cleaning entire technical segments of a specific trail within two months. Performance goals should be created and structured to meet the specific demands of the events you are preparing for and accomplishing these goals will provide you with the physical and mental tools necessary to achieve outcome goals.

Examples of performance goals include:

  • Increase VO2 max by 5%
  • Ride the summit of a favorite climb 1 minute faster than last season.
  • Ride a technical section of trail without putting a foot down.
  • Successfully execute mental strategy to maintain or redirect focus during long efforts.

Outcome Goals

Outcome goals are often the end result you want to achieve, but unlike performance goals, these are somewhat out of your control. You can work toward a performance goal on your own, but the outcome of a competition is affected by other people’s performances, the weather, mechanical issues, and crashes. Achieving your process and performance goals will give you the best possible opportunity to accomplish your outcome goal, but on the day someone else may be faster.

Examples of outcome goals include:

  • Winning a National Championship.
  • Finishing on the podium in your age group at a local gran fondo.
  • Earning a special award for finishing an endurance event under a certain time.
  • Winning the overall title for a local race series.

Process, Performance, and Outcome Goals in a Single Event

Athletes can use process, performance, and outcome goals to map out an entire season or even a multi-year progression like a four-year Olympic cycle. You can also use all three types of goals during a single event. For instance, your process goals for race day might include having breakfast 3 hours before the start, getting to the venue by a certain time, and following your nutrition plan during the event. Your performance goals could include riding at a specific pace for a given duration, taking pulls at the front of the group to keep the pace high, or initiating an attack. In a competitive event, your outcome goal could be winning or achieving a specific result (i.e., podium, top 10, finish with the main pack). Or it could be to reach the finish within a certain elapsed time or before a cutoff time.

It is beneficial to set all three types of goals for events because of the unpredictable nature of outcome goals. You could do everything right and be in the perfect position to win and someone may simply be stronger than you on the day. Winning is valuable, but if it is the only thing you value then that race would be a total failure. By starting with a full set of goals you can be disappointed at not achieving your outcome goal and still recognize the value of what you accomplished and learned during the effort.