PART 2: Road Cyclists: Are you training to be race ready? The answers how.

Jan 23, 2015

By Stephen Gallagher


Part 1 explained why ‘getting the miles in’ unequivocally should not be the focus for those targeting the road cycling race season. Remember…specifics.

This part focuses on those specifics. 

For adequate recovery between weekend training rides and maximising intense mid-week sessions...specifics matter.  Adequate recovery is critical for longer rides which includes tailored nutrition and hydration pre/during/post training to aid this process which enables intensive training midweek.

Scientific studies performed over the years indicate an increase in training VOLUME in experienced athletes leads to LITTLE gains at Vo2 max, lactate threshold and anaerobic capacity. Read more HERE.

Every cyclist has different strengths and areas of development which require attention when training.  With road racing there are certain skills and abilities each rider lining up for a race needs to develop for race day success.  Through analysing many rider race files similarities appear in the performance of a road cyclist.  To help understand the following we use the most common 'ZONE' settings and explanations devised by Andrew Coggans POWER TRAINING LEVELS.

For the majority of road races the total average power or effort is in the TEMPO zone but this average is usually either accomplished by riding at a lower intensity while 'coasting/free wheeling' (30-40% of total time on average) within a bunch or at and above threshold (15-30% of total time on average).

Anyone who has competed in road racing will know the efforts in the upper zones (at or above threshold).  These efforts normally dictate the race outcome and your final finishing position. Just from looking at this as a very general snap shot prioritising training in these zones are CRITICAL and must be a large focus of training as the 2013 race season approaches

So what do we need to look at to bring around maximal performance?

Training at THRESHOLD

This is the biggest limiter in physical performance in all endurance sports.  But thankfully, one that can be improved on quite substantially when genetics and personal limitations are taken into account. Threshold training increases endurance, muscle glycogen storage and ability to increase 'cruising speed' required for longer breakaway efforts, long climbs (8min ), performances in time trials and any other sustained efforts. Training at threshold has a very positive effect on Vo2 Max performance.  So not to be ignored.

Training session example: 2/3 efforts of 10-30min Zone 4 (this can be sometimes either at top end of zone for shorter durations or lower end of range for longer durations).  Recovery is normally 40-70% of total interval time depending on fitness and ability to complete each effort to the desired effort.

Training at VO2 MAX

Normally the effort required to close the final gap to a break away or holding onto break away riders on that final climb (or perhaps making that final decisive move attacking with breakaway riders with 2km to the finish!) This is where your Vo2 capacity will come into play. Unfortunately genetics has a large influence on the ability to increase performances at this level but should be trained at regardless to maximise the volume of oxygen uptake.  One of the best ways to improve your Vo2 capacity is to reduce body weight to an optimal level, this will greatly enhance this ability regardless of genetics.

Short session: 3/5 efforts ranging from 3-5min at Zone 5. Recovery periods are normally similar time to that of the prescribed interval duration. Increase in sets can be developed over a period of 4-6 weeks.

Longer sessions: 2/3 efforts from 5-8min. These can be incremental efforts in intensity over the given duration with the final minute/s in the upper range of Zone 5. Prolonged solid efforts at upper Zone 5 can be hard to sustain for even the most trained athlete so using the incremental system allows you to reach that wattage without having to sustain it for a prolonged duration.  Recovery is normally similar or slightly longer than the given length of effort again depending on current fitness.

Tolerance efforts:  Although it is hard to increase natural ability of maximal volume of oxygen uptake, we can increase our body’s ability to tolerate and utilise the lactate acid that is considerably built up during these efforts.  Switching the efforts 'on and off' will help achieve this.  An example of this is 30sec upper Z5/Lower Z6, 20sec Z3 continuous for 5-10min.  Increasing your ability to tolerate large build up's of lactate and continuing to perform will help you make the last final ATTACK when other riders have fired their last bullet…you still have one left. You may not have the ability to make a huge powerful effort on a short steep hill to drop the rest of field but you can continue to make these efforts more repeatedly which will eventually lead to an optimal result.


You may only ever spend a total time of 10-15min in this zone during a 2 1/2hr race but I would bet that these times within this range will be of the most critical during your race performance. For this reason alone…make anaerobic performance a priority as race day approaches.

Genetics once again play their part with muscle fibre distribution within our bodies (percentage of fast/slow twitches) having a large effect on our ceiling on how much we can increase this area. The ability to perform that final 200m sprint to the line is the difference from finishing mid group on the line and coming across with your hands raised in the air.  These efforts are normally from 30sec to 3min completed at your limit of anaerobic capacity for this range of duration. If you find it hard to attack over the top of a steep hill or make a hard attack in your local criterium this is because your anaerobic capacity is limited. Is that you? Now you know what to work on.

Session warm up:  Always ensure a solid warm up for these efforts as the pressure on muscles and tendons all take an incredible strain that can lead to injury. Normally 20-30min at a steady tempo pace will be enough to open up legs and lungs.

Short efforts:  20sec 'ON' (maximal sustained effort for the duration) 40sec 'OFF' continued until the 20sec ON effort is fading.  Continuing to produce sub-standard efforts will have a negative effect on the overall performance. Once the quality starts to fade take 3-5min recovery and start again. To increase your gradual progression of these efforts reduce your 'OFF' time, i.e. reduce to 30sec, 20sec and eventually 10sec. This may take 4-6weeks as you find your body starting to adapt to the intensity.

Long efforts: A favourite of these types of efforts can also be called 'hill reps'.  These can last from 1min to 2min (normally the shorter end of this range), recovery is normally double that of the effort when you are in the initial stages of starting these efforts, 2-4min is an optimal range. Again these should be completed until your ability to maintain the required effort is not reached, 2 sets of 3x1m with 2min rest between each effort is a good place to start if you want a guide to get these sessions started. These will be completed at the top end of Z6. Unfortunately heart rate is a poor indicator of anaerobic efforts as the delay in cardiac response leads to an inaccurate view of how hard these efforts are.  A powermeter is the only way to measure the exact effort and ultimate perceived exertion.

What to take from all this!

Make sure:

    • Training sessions are specific to that of your aimed event
    • Adequate rest must be prioritised between sessions in order to complete each training day to its full potential
    • Progressive training sessions over your preparation stage
    • Overall training load must be based around each individuals lifestyle i.e. family/work
    • Strengths and weaknesses are acknowledged and worked on

Note: The session examples provided must be tailored to your current level of ability, current training zones and future aspirations, so a one stop shop of intervals will not work for everyone. Increase your knowledge, change training to change results and remember consistency will be your biggest ally.

Category: Advice News

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