The Maximum and the Minimum.   A contrast in focus between training and racing.

I have written many times about the relationship between training and racing, training for the demands of the event, conserving energy in your races, optimizing your training volume and how to use your powermeter effectively in racing.   All of these articles have focused on improving in one way or the other, and that’s because that’s the name of the game, right?  No one wants to stagnate or heaven forbid, get worse!  So, when one of my clients, James Kramer, made the observation that his first races of the year were so different than all of his hard training done this past winter, I was curious to what he meant.  Of course, I had him training specifically for his first races, tracking his CTL ramp rate, making sure he was on target for his first peak of the season and definitely giving him plenty of hard workouts.  James explained, “Hunter, that race was easy. I mean, I am not even really tired after it. My training has been much harder than the racing so far and I even feel like I am losing fitness going to these races because they aren’t that hard.” Of course, this is music to my ears as his coach and I know when an athlete tells me this, he’s going to be on the podium soon enough.  This also means he adhered to my coaching/training philosophy of training harder than the competition, doing ‘intervals to exhaustion’ and pushing himself to the max fairly regularly. James expanded on this first comment and said, “In races, it’s all about conservation, holding back, saving yourself for the right move or final sprint and that’s very different than in training, where you have me killing myself in nearly every interval and there are hard rides after hard rides every week.”   This great insight and awareness is something that many of us reach when we begin racing and winning.

What it means to do the Minimum to Win.

It is this incredible contrast between doing every interval and every workout to your personal maximum, exhausting yourself daily in order to improve, but in racing making sure you are smart and expending effort only when you need to so that you can win. I remember a particular pro racer back in my old pro days in the mid-90’s and this guy was a ‘horse’,  I mean, he would attack you until you gave up or he would just grind your legs into little stumps with his hard pulls in the breakaway.  Often times, he attacked so many times or rode so hard in the breakaway that he dropped himself and would say afterwards, “wow, you guys are so strong.. you just dropped me..”.  We definitely weren’t going to tell him that he was riding too hard or attacking too much!  It really came down to the fact that he thought the only honorable way to win a bike race was to be solo off the front and just prove to everyone that he was the strongest(he should have quit road cycling and taken up Mt. Biking!).   Naturally, his tactics didn’t work well, as there is this thing in bike racing called the ‘peloton’ and its collective energy can run down just about any single racer if they want to.  Unfortunately for him, he never got it through his thick skull that you had to be strong and smart to win bike races and it really is “chess on wheels”.   He didn’t know how to conserve, how to save his energy, how to race with the minimum needed effort in order to be a winner and that prevented him from ever living up to his potential.

How does this relate to training with power? 

Well, let’s take my client, James.   James is sharp, he listens to his coach, he does the hard work, has a racing strategy for each race and then he watches the race unfold listening to his intuition while at the same time making sure he checks back in periodically with his overall strategy for the race.  He won’t make a move unless it’s a real threat for the win and then when he’s in the move, he’s racing smart so that he doesn’t expend any more energy than necessary.  He’s learned a lot of these things from his past bike racing career when he was in his 20’s, and he’s also recently learned a lot from training and racing with a power meter.    Let’s examine a recent race win from an early season race so you can learn from his correct execution and smart racing and begin to understand how the minimum can make the difference between winning and being pack filler.

In this race, James spent much of the race conserving his energy as he knew it was likely that it would come down to a field sprint, which he could win, but he did make a few hard attacks to see if he could initiate a breakaway, since he also knew that he could win this way as well.   In figure 1, we see the overall power graph for the race itself which shows just how variable his power was over the race, but also how much time he spent below his threshold power.   I have added two gridlines in here in order to give some perspective to the graph, the lower gridline is at his FTP power- 345 watts and the upper gridline is at 700 watts where he had to do much of his surges in order to stay near the front of the race.  The race had two distinct hard sections in it when he had to push himself close to his FTP.  The first one occurred about 12 minutes into the race when he attacked and attempted a breakaway and then the 2nd hard effort was in the last 5 minutes when he had to jockey for position, maintain that position and prepare for the sprint.  The rest of the time was really pretty easy for him as evidenced by his heart rate barely going over 160bpm for much of the race.

In figure 2, we see the cadence distribution chart from the race itself which shows how much time he spent pedaling in different cadence ranges along with how much time he spent not pedaling.   James spent over 22% of the race not pedaling and even in a short race like this one, that can make a difference.  Conservation of energy is definitely critical here as it is in any race.

“The sprint before the sprint”

Examining the two minutes of the race leading up to the finish in Figure 3, we see that the old bike racing saying, “the sprint before the sprint” proved accurate and was critical to his positioning so he could sprint for the win.  We see that he did 4 fairly hard sprints in those last  2 minutes and his average wattage was 444watts, which is nearly 100 watts over his threshold power, but clearly sustainable for a short period of time.  Those sprints were not very hard for him as he can do over 1300watts for 5 seconds, and these just barely cracked 1000 watts for 2-4 seconds, however they do have the ability to pre-fatigue those sprinting muscles which means that quick recovery from sprints, along with doing sprint repeats in training is critical to success.  Notice that between the sprints, James didn’t pedal much and was doing everything he could to recover for the next sprint and truly minimizing his effort.

Training at your Maximum

For racing, doing the minimum needed to win is one of your key goals in every race, since you want to conserve energy and only use it when you need to and want to for the most effective effort.  Let’s look at the maximum of training now, so that we can see the stark contrast between a race and a tough ‘kitchen sink’ workout.

James did this ‘kitchen sink’ workout leading up to his first peak of the season and I really like prescribing these kind of workouts, as they simulate closely the different demands of racing, fatigue the cardiovascular and muscular system and also help to get the athlete to learn just how fatigued they can be and still go hard.  A ‘kitchen sink’ workout is so called as it contains a bit of all the training levels, from easy endurance riding to hard threshold intervals to some short sprints and tough tempo near the end.   In Figure 4, you’ll see that James did (4) x 12 minutes at his FTP, some hard sprints afterwards, fast pedaling drills, 2 minute anaerobic capacity efforts and then finished off with 45minutes at sweet-spot(88-93% of his FTP).   This workout resulted in a Training Stress Score of 333 points, was over five hours long and had a normalized power at 274 watts, which means it was the equivalent of a solid tempo ride for over 5 hours.  Clearly, this is not an easy workout and one that you undertake without building up to it.   When executed well, you should come home pretty spent with muscles twitching from the effort and ready for a nap!   When going for maximum exhaustion in a workout such as this, it’s important that you hydrate and feed yourself correctly, otherwise you won’t have a chance in completing it properly and if you do start to get some muscle cramps near the end don’t allow them to go into full blown ‘lock-ups’ as that damages muscle tissue and takes a long time to repair.  Sure, this is way harder than anything James would do in a race and way harder than anything you might do in a race, but that is the purpose.  If you really want your FTP to improve, then you have to do some incredibly difficult five hour rides, which bring you to near exhaustion.  These kinds of efforts make you stronger, help you to improve throughout all your training levels and give you a maximum return on training investment.   They are not workouts that you should do every weekend, but doing them every couple of weeks would be great in order to continue to push up your fitness level.    

Maximize Everything

Maximizing your training really means maximizing it in every aspect that you can think of, so making sure you are doing the intervals correctly and completely, maximizing the time you have to train, maximizing your effort itself so that you are digging deep enough even though you are tired and doing your best.  The best that you give to your workouts should be your maximum.  Ask yourself after your intervals at threshold, “Did I do my best?”, “Did I push as hard as I could?” and then analyze your power files to see if those wattage goals for each sprint, each anaerobic capacity interval, each sweet-spot push were done in the correct wattages as well.   Many of your training rides won’t be like the ‘kitchen sink’ workout, but you’ll still need to crush it on those short, but intense 1-2 hour rides and push those intervals to the maximum.  In my book, “Training and Racing with a power meter”, there is a section on doing ‘intervals to exhaustion’ and that is one of the ‘maximums’ that you should strive to do at least once a week.    The contrast between your training and racing is often times completely at opposite ends of the spectrum and this is important for you to realize and understand.  When you race and finish the race can you say to yourself, “Wow, that was easier than my training”?  If so, then you know you are ready to win.  Strive to push yourself to the max in most of your workouts, strive to achieve more in your cycling and in your life, as when you maximize your training and learn to do this, you can take these same principles to your daily life.

Hunter Allen is a is a USA Cycling Level 1 coach and former professional cyclist. He is the coauthor of “Triathlon Training With Power”, “Training and Racing with a Power Meter” and “Cutting-Edge Cycling,” co-developer of TrainingPeaks’ WKO software, and CEO and founder of Peaks Coaching Group. He and his coaches create custom training plans for all levels of athletes.

Data isn’t just data.

James Gleick in his new book, “The Information” says that the basis of the universe isn’t matter or energy. It’s data.  This is quite a profound and magical statement when you begin to think about it and how we interact with data changes our lives. It changes our cycling lives and our life in general from your iPhone to your connection to the internet and knowledge from all parts of the world.  Data is just strings of bits, but whether or not it contains information, depends on what you do with the data and how you learn to interpret it.  Interpreting data into useful information is a key skill that we all need to improve in all facets of our lives. The more information that we have, the more we can understand the role it plays in our lives and how we can become better cyclists and citizens in the world around us.

Using a power meter is one of the main ways that you can collect data in your cycling training and racing. A power meter can collect the data, but you have to turn that data into information that can be interpreted and used to make changes in your cycling.  Your power meter collects this data at one second samples and it can be up seven different channels of data like speed, cadence, elevation, torque and even GPS.  The key is that we turn that data into information and that is done through software analysis in a program like TrainingPeaks WKO+ and also education in articles and books so that you can understand this data and information. In this world of cycling in which you are immersed and inside this amazing magazine full of information, we need to discuss the different categories of data.  Each category can give us some insight into a part of our cycling that we can improve or just learn about for a better experience down the road.  Of course using a power meter on your bike is really our only meaningful data capture device we currently have available in our world. A meaningful data capture device to me means that it has the ability to help you make changes in your training; it gives me the information I need to decide whether or not one of my athletes should do a workout or not, or do 8 hill repeats or 12 hill repeats, or whether they should train their threshold power or their anaerobic capacity and this information makes my job more precise and efficient.

There are seven main categories of data:

1-Point related data, you look at the power or cadence or HR at specific moment in the ride.   This can help to determine if the interval or exercise was executed correctly. This is the simplest of the data you are capturing and here you are drilling down to the minutiae so that you can determine if you held just enough watts for the required period of time.  I look at point related daily with my clients’ files, and this is something that I learn many things from how many watts an athlete cracked out for the interval to whether or not they paced themselves correctly and even if they created the watts correctly using the right balance of force and cadence

2-Warning system Data. Data can be used as an early warning system. This data is comprised of many, many smaller data sets and we need to look at this data over a longer period of time.  Unfortunately, in order for this warning system to ring the warning bells, you need a large data set of your rest days, your hard days, your races and all your rides no matter how easy or hard they are.  This is a critical part of the warning system and if you are missing data because you didn’t use your power meter in a race or because it had to be sent back for repairs then you really compromise the integrity of the warning system.  My warning bells can tell me if a client is doing too much training too quickly and overtraining could occur.  Another warning could be that you might see a drop in your threshold power suddenly and unexpectedly.  While out on a ride doing intervals you could use your power meter to tell you when to stop doing intervals, as your power has decreased below optimal in creating the right training stress.

3-Detector Data.  Data can be a detector.   When you cracked out your best 20 minutes, how fresh were you?  When you blew on the big climb, what happened in the 5 minutes before it? 10 minutes before it? In post analysis of your data, you can use your data to better understand your failures and your successes.  When you succeeded, what exactly did you do in order to succeed and when you failed, why did that happen?   Was it the 10th hill that crushed you or was it the violent attacks up the 10th hill that crushed you?

4-Instanteous Data. Data can give you instant feedback.  During a workout, you continually watch your powermeter to stay within required limits for optimal training. This is where your power meter can help you in pacing.   Cycling is a sport of pacing, and you must pace yourself in a breakaway, in a long road race, in a short criterium and in a century ride or gran fondo.  Pace your effort on the hills and pace yourself with your nutrition and hydration as well.  These are all key fundamentals to your success as a cyclist and one of the beauties of using a power meter: the data is instantaneous.  You push down on the pedals, and you see the number on the screen instantly.   There is no lag time, there is nothing to wait for or download later, it’s right there and it happens immediately.

5- Investigative Data. Data can help you be a detective.  If a problem occurs, then that’s when you can use the data to help you detect the problems. Sometimes you have to dig deeper into the issue surrounding a success or failure and reviewing the data maybe the way you discover the true underlying cause of your performance.    I spend a lot of time being a detective when I analyze an athlete’s data, asking myself questions like: “How many times did he have to attack and how many watts were in each attack before he was able to get away?” or “As this athlete fatigues, does she choose a bigger gear because they have more natural strength than endurance or do they just not have enough muscular endurance to begin with?”

6- Explanation Data.  Data can explain why you are faster or slower.  You have to understand what information the data is trying to tell you. You have to translate it.  Like James Gleick said, “Data is only a string of bits and has nothing to do with information. The information comes from understanding and that is our job to understand it.”   Why were your watts lower than yesterday?  Is it because you are tired and couldn’t physically produce the watts?  Was it because you tried to test up a steep climb and you are better as a flat time trialist?  Was it because you had your arch-nemesis to chase therefore you were pushing harder than ever to beat them?   This type of data is similar to the data you get from investigative data, but explanation data provides a quicker insight into the information you need.

7-Incorrect data or biased Data- This is worse than no data at all.  Sometimes you can correct for incorrect data from your past experiences. Other times you have to throw it away. Incorrect data is easy to identify in most cases, but biased data is much harder to discern.  Fortunately, our power meters are not biased (I hope!) and therefore we rarely have to consider biased data, but often our data can be incorrect and that can pose many problems in analysis.

The data is always clear as a bell to see, but it’s not clear whether or not it explains the problem.

You must first prepare the data in order to identify the problem and this is what turns data into information.    To achieve the right interpretation of the data, you need experience and a gift for joining the dots together in one picture or just good computer software…..  I do believe that you need to have a personal connection to the data and understand this information first for yourself and then you can understand it for others.  I have seen too many coaches trying to coach athletes with a power meter, but they have never used a power meter themselves, so have no understanding of what 300 watts feels like to them or what 1000watts feels like.   This data, this information that we capture on a power meter has the unique aspect in that we can associate it with a feeling and learn that sometimes our feelings are incongruent with the data and other times feels exactly how it appears.

The experience and a basic knowledge of riding and racing a bicycle are essential. You are creating a harmony between man and machine.   You are looking to optimize what your body is telling you about how it feels and what the data is telling you about how you feel.   Relying solely on the data is dangerous and doesn’t tell the whole picture, but the information we gather from the different categories of data can help us to improve as cyclists and citizens of this world of data.

Hunter Allen is a is a USA Cycling Level 1 coach and former professional cyclist. He is the coauthor of “Triathlon Training With Power”, “Training and Racing with a Power Meter” and “Cutting-Edge Cycling,” co-developer of TrainingPeaks’ WKO software, and CEO and founder of Peaks Coaching Group. He and his coaches create custom training plans for all levels of athletes.

The Classics ~ Paris-Roubaix

Paris-Roubaix is another incredibly epic race just a week after Flanders and this pro in the world tour cracked out a HUGE amount of work with 6175kiloJoules in this 6-hour 12-minute race, and averaged 323 watts normalized, which makes this his second hardest race for the year behind Flanders.   One distinct difference is that in P-R, he was on the GAS for the entire race and examining Figure 2, shows that he spent very little time resting and relaxing in the peloton. 

Paris-Roubaix has no equal in its demands and while most of us will never get a chance to race in P-R, we can learn a bit from his file. What strikes me as most interesting is that despite being on the gas from the start, he still was able to put out over 370 watts after 4 hours of racing, which means that his muscular endurance is highly trained.  Muscular endurance is something that all of us can use and means you can contract and relax your muscles at a relatively high force for a long period of time without fatiguing.  Normally if muscular endurance is an issue, then you’ll get cramps in the race or event you are doing especially if the majority of the race has been harder than expected.    How do you improve your muscular endurance?  Unfortunately, there is no easy answer to this, and you just have to commit to longer and harder rides than you have done in the past.  Length will challenge your muscular endurance, but without intensity, it will not be specific enough to help you come race day, so make sure that in your longer rides this winter and spring, you add in plenty of sweet-spot, threshold and even big gear intervals into the mix so you can prepare for those hard events in 2022.

Hunter Allen is a is a USA Cycling Level 1 coach and former professional cyclist. He is the coauthor of “Triathlon Training With Power”, “Training and Racing with a Power Meter” and “Cutting-Edge Cycling,” co-developer of TrainingPeaks’ WKO software, and CEO and founder of Peaks Coaching Group. He and his coaches create custom training plans for all levels of athletes.

The Classics ~ Tour of Flanders

They are the races that define champions.  They require grit, determination, iron will and high wattages… for a long time.  All of the classics feature some defining type of terrain or environment that make the race even harder than normal.  Roubaix has the cobbles, Flanders has the steep hills that go up old farm paths, Milan-San Remo has the Poggio climbs after 6 hours of racing and even here in the states, Battenkill has gravel roads and narrow bridges, and Copperopolis has ridiculous globs of pavement packed on top of old pavement one shovel full at a time.  Cold weather, brutal crosswinds, dirt in your eyes, mud that coat your rims preventing any sort of predictable braking, massive wheel eating potholes and horrible so-called roads that contribute to the muscle pain which strikes fear in every racer. The intimate knowledge that the unpreventable, undeniable, unavoidable muscle twinge will turn into pedal debilitating cramps and end your race is the feeling that every classic rider fears.  The last sip in your water bottle, the sound of ‘pssssst’ of your tire going flat when a critical attack occurs at the front, the unexpected crosswind that has never occurred on this particular section of road before, the flat and gel-less back pockets in your jersey when all you need is just one more packet of miracle calories all define the experience.   When one by one your teammates fall by the wayside, from punctures, bonks, lack of watts, cramps and crashes and you alone are the last man left standing, it’s then that you want the confidence to know you have done your homework.  You have pushed through the rain and cold, you have gone farther on less water, you have done more morning rides without food than anyone out there, you have suffered more on the indoor trainer in the basement staring at the blank wall dreaming about this moment and finally the realization that all those movies you play in your head are now your reality.  These are the characteristics of the spring classics winners, the top finishers and in the races that define the man, it can make a career and at the very least make a season, but it can also crush the spirit of the hardest and toughest of the hard men over time.  Once cracked, the hard man endures over and over, but eventually those cracks form into gaps that can’t be closed and eventually turn into looks of consolation from faces of the fans on the side of the road that tell you that you aren’t getting back on and your day for winning is over.  This is a classic and just as they define the man that does battle in them, it is critical to define the physiological demands of those classics so I can tell you at the bare minimum what makes the difference between the winners and the losers in the classics.  What are the physical requirements of the winners and what are the demands of each race from a training perspective?   Are those demands similar in some way to other races?  If you know what is coming and how many hills you’ll have to do, can you use this knowledge to hyper focus your training?   Can you learn something about those races that give you an edge this spring in your own backyard classics?

The ridiculously complicated demands of a “classic” race need to be defined to understand the determining factors of success and by analyzing the power files from them, we can gain some insights to apply in our own training and races in the next couple of months, but know that smart training alone does not make a hard man…  

Let’s examine two files from racers in the classics last year, one file is George Hincapie’s fine 6th place finish in Tour of Flanders and another is a first place finish from a Masters 40+ racer in the Tour of Battenkill.  Both of these racers know what it takes from a physical and mental perspective and have won many races which contain all the elements needed to define the classics man. Let’s look at Tour of Flanders first as it is one of the most insanely difficult races in the world.  The first thing that is apparent from George’s power file is that the first two and half hours were pretty darn easy, so easy for George that he only averaged 64% of his threshold power, which is at the lower end of his endurance zone.  Of course, this was on purpose as well, since cycling is a sport of energy conservation and George as the protected leader of the BMC team on the day had only to ride in the peloton, stay out of the wind, and suck wheels as best as he could.   These two and half hours are an important fat burning zone for George to take advantage of and one characteristic of Pro Tour riders is their ability to burn fat at a relatively high intensity and for a longer time than other cyclists.   George’s body, with over 17 years of pro racing adaptations accumulated in it, has mastered this economical fuel strategy.   It’s one that you can master as well, without necessarily having to race your bike for 17 years at the Pro Tour level.  A simple thing you can do in training is to go out on your longer training rides before you eat breakfast.   Take plenty of food with you, including a good source of protein (Turkey & Cheese sandwich will do) and then at the hour and half mark start eating and continue on your workout.  Repeat this workout until you can get to two and half hours before eating or feeling hungry and then you’ll have begun the process of teaching your body to burn more fat as fuel.   It’s important that you don’t ride too intensely in those hours before eating, so keep your intensity in your endurance zone (56-75% of FTP).

With the first two and half hours out of the way, then next highlight of a classic is just the sheer energy required to complete it and finish well.  Flanders is a 6-hour race and in those 6 hours, George burned 6123 kiloJoules, which is roughly equivalent to 6700 kiloCalories and that is a lot of food!  It’s a lot of food to eat afterward in order to recover, but it also means he ate a ton of food on the bike during the race as well and that’s not just gels and bars as he needed to do have plenty of protein as well to balance his blood sugar.   The ability to shovel down mass quantities of food during a hard race is critical for a classics rider and digesting that food is also critical to keep the energy levels high, so make sure that you have a solid nutritional strategy for a hard race.  Foods you can eat quickly, packages that you can open with your teeth and sometimes hold in your teeth during an attack, along with something substantial that will ‘stick to your ribs’ and keep you going for an endurance effort that lasts longer than your normal 2–3-hour race. 

Besides the fact that George’s normalized power for the 6 hours+ was a superhuman 342 watts, what is unique about many classics is that the ‘make or break’ time usually is determined via some key characteristic of the course itself which requires an outlay of wattage that you must be prepared to create.   For the Tour of Flanders this begins after 4 hours of racing and when the peloton begins hitting the famed hills in the Flanders region and then George cracks out an hour at a normalized power of 404watts, so the ability to ride at your FTP, above it and just below it for quite a while is something you’ll want to plan for in your own classics races this spring.  The knowledge that you are going to have to kill it for a certain period of time and that is not going to win you the race, but if you don’t kill it, then you will for certain lose the race, is knowledge and a commitment that you must clearly understand and be ready for.  This effort puts you in a winning position but doesn’t win you the race and preparing for to do that is something you can train.   One workout that I would suggest is built around this philosophy and “pre-fatigues” you then requires you absolutely crush it for that ‘make or break’ time followed by just heinous effort in the final 45 minutes is below:

“The Powerful Classic”

20 minute warm-up

4 x 1 minute fast pedals.

Ride at your endurance/tempo (56-90% of FTP) for two hours making sure that you get in a hilly ride or if you live in a flat area, do a ton of little 20-30 second bursts simulating speed changes in fast and slower cadences. 

At the end of this two hours, then do 6 x 2 minutes- FLAT OUT- on a flatish road. WITH FULL recovery- so about 4 minutes at endurance pace.

Then do 6 x 30 seconds- with a hard SPRINT at the start- FULL recovery- about 3 minutes

Then cruise for 20minutes easy. Then do

6 x small ring sprints- 75m– Start from 10mph– 39:16, 39:17 only and wind it out- 135rpm+

6 x big ring sprints–250m-Start from 18mph- 53:16, 53;15, 53:14- Wind it out.

Now, ride at your Sweet Spot (88-93% of FTP) to the 10-12-15 minute hill for the serious work…

Kill it up, and riding on the edge of your limit (100-105% of FTP) up the hill – DO 5 repeats.

REST for 10 minutes between.

Ride at your endurance pace (56-75% of FTP) for 30 minutes and stop at a store for your favorite caffeinated energy go juice and some light food (preferably with a little protein in it).

Now, the work begins…..ride at your sweet-spot for the next 45 minutes, pacing yourself just over threshold on the climbs and digging a deeper and deeper hole in which to push yourself into at the end of the ride.  

Recovery shake and mass quantities of food after the ride is necessary.  Stretching is super important too.

While the Tour of Flanders isn’t a race that most of us will ever get to do, the lessons from this Uber Classic can be applied to our own backyard classics such as the Tour of the Battenkill.  This classic road race has everything that makes a classic, a “Classic” including the “classic experience”: same punishing gravel roads, tough weather conditions, leg burning steep hills all combined with tough, nasty, hard as nails riders. The ‘classic experience’ is so desired that the pre-registration sold out within a few hours and it has become one of the largest one day races in the USA, including eight separate fields of Category 4 racers!  Let’s examine two key features of this classic so that you can prepare for any race this spring.  In contrast to the Tour of Flanders in Europe, shorter classics in the US are built for us working stiffs and typically start with a quick pace and then speed up!   In our masters winning file, we see that the first 5 minutes or so are done at warm-up pace, but then the pace goes through the roof and culminates with a hard two minute hill done at maximum power.   The wattage in the first 30 minutes is stochastic or highly variable and contributes to the intensity of the event, as our masters’ rider averaging 327 watts normalized, while his average power is only 244, indicating that there is plenty of time resting and not pedaling followed by hard bursts (attacks) of high power.  The variable nature of the race is something that you will have to prepare for and the ability to change speeds is paramount in spring classics.   Changing your pedaling speed isn’t the only thing that is necessary to do, but it’s also key to be able to ride near your threshold power and then do multiple hard bursts of watts in your anaerobic capacity zone (121-150%) all the while recovering to your threshold.  So, in reality there are two things you need to train for: 1) rapid and seemingly random cadence changes and 2) pushing your cardiovascular system to its threshold and then demanding short bursts of power with high force on the pedals.

The ‘make or break’ point comes in every race and knowing where it occurs is knowledge that can be hard won and that point on the course can be the same place every year.  In the amateur Battenkill races, that point is near the finish as all of the pretenders have been eliminated and the winners begin to emerge from the front group.   In the final 20 minutes there is a tough climb that has a bit of stair step nature to it, but is generally uphill for six and half minutes and this is the location of the final battle.   The hammer goes down here with our masters’ rider attacking at the bottom with a vicious 420 watt+ effort for a minute and then riding at 108% of his threshold for next five and half minutes to escape the front runners and then solo to the line.   This “race winning” effort is something that I have seen over and over in hundreds of race winning files and you should incorporate it into your training program this month and throughout your training.   Here it is and plan on doing at least 5-8 of them in each session:

Each interval begins with a 30 second sprint(15second out of the saddle) with and you must average 200% of your Threshold wattage in these first 30seconds with a peak of at least 300% (If you are using a cyclo-computer, try to reach at least 28-30mph and hold for 30seconds). Then ride for 3minutes and really hammer at 100-110% of your Threshold wattage(or the best speed you think you could maintain for an hour), and then finish with an out-of- the-saddle 10 second burst after the three minutes is over and try to reach 200% of your threshold wattage again, or 28-30mph. Rest for 5-6minutes between each.

The classics are unique here and abroad and using our power meters and data collection devices, we can better understand just how freaking hard they are and whether or not we even want to train for these evil mothers.  Once the commitment is made though, you have some serious training to do and the great thing about that is that you get to ride your bike more!  So get out there and go for a training ride!

Hunter Allen is a is a USA Cycling Level 1 coach and former professional cyclist. He is the coauthor of “Triathlon Training With Power”, “Training and Racing with a Power Meter” and “Cutting-Edge Cycling,” co-developer of TrainingPeaks’ WKO software, and CEO and founder of Peaks Coaching Group. He and his coaches create custom training plans for all levels of athletes.

Four Workouts to Make You Faster.

Spring is here! The first races of the season are always a little tougher, simply because you haven’t gotten into the race rhythm yet.  Spring races are always fun, challenging, and aggressive.  All the cyclists who pushed themselves throughout the winter are eager to show off the hard work and hard-won fitness.  If you are one of those few, spring races are lots of fun and filled with success.  If you’re a little behind on your fitness or planning on peaking in the summer, then spring races are a little tougher to handle. 

The spring has always been my favorite time for training, because I get to start doing some of the things I’m actually good at and really enjoy about riding.  Those of you following a training plan have probably been working on endurance (Level 2), sweet spot (sub-threshold), threshold (Level 4), and training your weaknesses.  Most of you are going to be doing a variety of races over the next couple of months. Most of them won’t be “A” races, but you still want to do well in each one, so you’re preparing for long, hilly road races; windy, wet time trials; and maybe an early season crit.  You may even be doing them all in one weekend in a stage race.  

In order to train for these random abuses, you need all your training zones ready to be worked.  Now is the time to start putting it all together, focusing on your strengths, and practicing your sprints.  This month’s article is full of workouts for you, to make sure you’re performing at your best.  These workouts will help you keep the sword sharpened, or maybe just get it sharp in the first place so you’re competitive.

These four workouts will make you faster and help you ride with more endurance and overall fitness:

1. Hill work: doing hills of various lengths with a sprint at the top of one section to simulate an uphill finish.

2. Time trial: get used to FTP in the aero position, working on form and getting the back, hips, and hamstrings accustomed to being aero while working.

3. Kitchen sink: putting it all together and ending with sprints.

4. Team ride: with faster people, learning to suffer and be economical.

For hill work it’s important to be able to sustain your power through the hill and on different length hills.  On shorter and steeper hills, the highest absolute power you produce (500w, 650w, 700w, etc.) will be most important.  The longer the hill, the more your power-to-weight (watts-per-kilogram) ratio becomes a part of the equation, and the higher your w/kg is, the better you excel on the climbs.  Keeping this in mind, let’s focus on shorter hills in this workout, as you’ll excel in longer hills as the result of specific FTP work.

Hill Repeat Workout

Warm-up: It’s important to get in a solid warm-up before your hill repeats, so if possible, ride for 30 minutes to an hour before you get to your favorite hill.  The hill should be approximately 1 minute long; a little shorter or longer is fine, but nothing over 2 minutes, since that will become too aerobic.  One trick I’ve found helpful for these is a visualization while doing the efforts: in your mind’s eye, picture yourself attacking out of the peloton on the hill and winning the KOM points at the top of the hill with your final sprint.

Main Set: Do 10 repeats total (build to 20) of a 1-minute hill.  (If you don’t have a hill suitable and want to do it on a longer hill, no problem; just make a landmark at about the one-minute distance so you have a goal for each effort.)  Glance at your power meter three or four times on the way up to make sure you’re between 130% and 175% of your FTP, with a goal of averaging around 140%.  If you have incredible anaerobic capacity, your numbers might be higher.  You know you’re doing it right when your legs start to burn after 20 seconds and you have to suffer like crazy to keep the wattage up.  Hammer all the way, then get out of the saddle and sprint in the last 30 meters.

Completely BLOW at the crest of the hill or at the 1-minute mark. REST plenty (3-4 minutes) between each one.  As you get more and more tired toward the last repeats, you’ll have to lengthen your recoveries, which is perfectly acceptable.  After you’ve completed all the repeats, ride home at your tempo and sweet spot paces to get in some solid aerobic work.

Cool-down: 10-15 minutes easy riding.

When you get home, your job becomes recovery and analysis of your hills with your downloaded power meter data.  What you’re looking for is how much and how quickly you fatigued from effort to effort.  Figure 1 below is a comparison of ten hill repeats.  This athlete’s wattage drops from 437 to 418 by the tenth one, which is only a 5% drop in power.  What this means is that he could have done more efforts.  When you have a 10% drop in power, that’s when it’s time to go home and call it a day.  Have a look at your data and find your power drop; that will help you determine how many intervals to do in the next session.

The next workout you should incorporate into your training regime is the “Time Trial Sim.”  This simulation of a time trial is a great opportunity to work on your Vo2 max energy system and get comfortable in that TT position while at full gas, while also building your confidence in time trials.  If you have a TT bike, use it, but if you don’t, it’s fine to go Eddy Merckx style.  The goal is to put you into a simulated time trial so you can learn how to focus, develop a rhythm, and push your wattage in the Vo2 Max zone(106-120% of FTP).

Time Trial Sim Workout

Warm-up: This is another workout for which your warm-up is important; riding at least 30 minutes is highly recommended.  Within the last 10 minutes of your warm-up, complete

(5) 1-minute fast pedaling efforts with your cadence over 110rpm and rest for 1 minute between each at 80rpm.  Don’t worry about your wattage; keep the watts relatively low and focus on the cadence.

Main Set: Get psyched and ready for some time trial efforts!  Do 6 x 6 minutes, starting out hard with your wattage at 120% of FTP for the first minute, dropping your watts to 110% of FTP for the next 4 minutes, and in the final minute pushing your wattage back to 120% of FTP and finishing strong.  Rest for 6 minutes between each effort.  The beauty of these efforts is that they are miniature time trials, designed to contain the same emotions, intensity, and focus that a longer time trial would have.  Make sure to do these at a “self-selected” cadence, which is whatever cadence feels best to you.  Really focus on using your gluteal muscles and staying as low as possible with the upper body.  The best time trialists work on their flexibility; if you can’t touch your toes easily, you need to start stretching!  Finish the ride with 20 minutes of tempo at 80-90% of FTP.

Cool-down: 15 minutes at your endurance pace (56-75% of FTP).

Remember, the more you practice something, the better you’ll get at it.  To become a good time trialist, you’ll need to do a bunch of time trial sims.  When you analyze your power file, look for how your power dropped over the intervals, but you’ll also want to learn how well you adhered to your pacing strategy.  Learning to time trial well is accomplished by proper pacing strategy and adherence to that strategy.

The “Kitchen Sink” is my absolute favorite workout and great for everyone.  All your energy systems are worked, you get to go for a big ride, and you come home with that wonderful feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction that only cyclists know.  The goal of this workout is to address all the different energy systems needed for successful racing.  I also want you to come home fatigued and tired, having pushed yourself a little harder and farther than before.

Kitchen Sink Workout

Warm-up: 30 minutes at endurance pace (56-76% of your FTP).

Main set: After you’re warmed up, do 2 x 20 minutes at or just a hair below threshold (93-100% of FTP).  It’s hard, and you’ll have to push to maintain it.  Rest for 10 minutes between each at endurance pace.  Next, ride at your endurance pace for 30 minutes and then do 6 sprints, 3 in the small ring for 75m (starting from a slow speed and spinning the gear at 140rpm by the end of the sprint) and 3 in the big ring for 250m (starting from 20mph and getting the 53:13 turning over, but resisting the desire to go into your hardest gear).  Ride at endurance pace for 5 minutes between each.

After completing your sprints, cruise for 30 minutes at endurance pace and then do 5 hill repeats of various hills and lengths along your route, each at your Vo2 max pace (110-120% of FTP), with good solid rests at endurance pace for 5-10 minutes between each.  Again, these are done along the way in the ride.  If you don’t have any hills, it’s fine to do these as attacks into the wind or pretending you’re attacking on the flats.  

Your final hard effort is another 30 minutes at endurance pace.  While riding at endurance pace, add in some bursts (little 8-second ones) every 5 minutes or so to simulate the constant movement of a peloton.

Stop at a store with an hour to go and get your favorite caffeinated, sugary drink.  You’ll want a little boost before the final push home.  Finish with 45 minutes of sweet spot (88-93% of FTP) on the ride home.  Push it and try to ramp up your pace as you get closer and closer to home.  You should finish tired, but feeling satisfied.

Cool-down: 5-10 minutes with a recovery drink and STRETCHING.

When you analyze your power file after this workout, the first thing you should look for is your training stress score.  Did you score over 280 TSS?  If not, you didn’t go long enough.  If you’re closer to the 300-320 TSS range, announce it on Facebook and I’ll “like” it. J In all seriousness, the goal is to create some big stress, so a solid TSS will confirm that.  

The second thing to look at is your normalized power for the last 45 minutes.  This will give you another confirmation of your endurance.  If you were struggling way below your sweet spot and had nothing left, you know where you need to spend some more time.  If you were solidly in your sweet spot, mission accomplished.

Group Rides

Your final mission this spring is to do some group riding.  Group rides can be great opportunities to get in some guaranteed intensity when you don’t feel like training or when you’re too fatigued to push yourself but still have more to give.  When you do these group rides, approach them with two different mentalities and strategies.  For one of the rides, attack with reckless abandon.  Don’t attack so much that you get dropped, of course, but come close!  Your attitude should be one of pushing yourself to the limit and really digging deep in order to just get in the work. 

The next time you do the group ride, do the exact opposite and try to be as absolutely economical as possible.  That means sitting in, riding on wheels, NOT pedaling, saving energy, staying out of the wind and away from the front (until the split comes), and making sure when you do have to ride hard you can easily make the move.  Group rides are perfect places for you to learn economy through energy conservation. 

When you analyze your power file after your ride, it’s important to count exactly how many attacks you were able to do before nearly getting dropped.  Look at the time each attack lasted and memorize the wattages you averaged in the attacks for later use in races.  For the “conservation” group ride, look at your cadence distribution chart and see how much time you spent not pedaling, because that is a great indicator of your ability to conserve energy.

These four workouts each address different areas of fitness that are needed for those spring races.  You might be really challenged by them and therefore get a great boost of fitness from the accomplishment of each.  If you’re already super fit and peaking for the spring races, these workouts will only help you more to push yourself to the next level and ensure success.  Plan these into your weekly schedule.  You might even do all four of them in the same week, but I wouldn’t recommend it every week.  Another plan might be to do the hill repeats two times in one week if you know you really need help improving your anaerobic capacity.  Use your best judgment and make sure to give each of them your best.  When you crack that 300 TSS for the Kitchen Sink workout, send me a message or tag us on Facebook or Instagram, and I’ll be sure to “like” it!

Hunter Allen is a is a USA Cycling Level 1 coach and former professional cyclist. He is the coauthor of “Triathlon Training With Power”, “Training and Racing with a Power Meter” and “Cutting-Edge Cycling,” co-developer of TrainingPeaks’ WKO software, and CEO and founder of Peaks Coaching Group. He and his coaches create custom training plans for all levels of athletes.

A Powerful Foundation of Fitness

I know you have spent a lot of time this winter on the indoor trainer doing workouts watching videos of everything from Rambo to “real-life” cycling videos like the ErgVideos.  These are great tools to increase your fitness in the winter, go to the next level and also to maintain your hard-won fitness from last season. It’s always a battle in the winter with cross-training exercises, cold weather (for most of us!), indoor riding and just how much intensity to do indoors and outdoors on the good days.  I prescribe a lot of tempo and “sweet-spot” work in the off-season in order to limit the upper intensities. If you ride at the higher levels in the winter, you risk peaking too soon and creating a lull in your fitness in March, right when most of the racing starts in the US.   To prevent this from happening, it is important to continue this building of your power foundation.

“Base Training” vs. “Power Foundation”

I really don’t like the phrase, “Base Training” because it produces images of long, slow distance training where your watts are at 60% of your threshold and you just putter along in your ride.   Too many athletes and coaches believe that an athlete has to do “Base training” first and before any other type of training can be started.  Now, I’ll concede that if you are a Pro cyclist and training for a huge season in Europe in 2014, then yes, you should be doing some serious “Base training”.  Riding your bike for 4-6 hours a day at endurance pace will help continue to develop your aerobic system and also prevent you from peaking in January.   But, everyone else?  Forget it.   We don’t have the time to put in 4-6 hours a day at a slow pace, stopping at coffee shops along the way and enjoying the sights. 

For most of us, we have only 1-2 hours a day to train and we have to make the most of those hours, optimizing our training for the highest ROI.  If we took those 1-2 hours a day and rode at endurance pace, then what would really happen?   We would lose fitness and get slower. For most of us, riding that slow will not be challenging enough to create any training stress and therefore adaptation (improved fitness).  There is a relationship between time and intensity that must be respected and when you ride at lower intensities, then you need to ride longer in order to create enough stress for adaptation.  Therefore, I like to call what most of do in the winter and early spring, your “Power Foundation”.  This is the type of riding that contains more tempo and sweet-spot work, essentially more intensity (but not too much!) than riding around at endurance pace.  Building your power foundation, I believe, is critical for the coming season in improving your FTP, and also preparing for the entire season of racing, so that you are consistent throughout the year.   In the late winter/early spring, you should be finishing the power foundation phase and transitioning from indoor riding to outdoor riding.  This signals the time in which you need to solidify your winter fitness, especially if you have risen up a level (!) and begin adding in more and more work at your threshold and a little above.

Let’s Start with Your Sweet-Spot.

Before beginning to ride right at your FTP for extended periods of time (longer than 10minutes) I would recommend you do some final work at your sweet-spot (88-93% of FTP) and then move onto work right at your FTP and above.    This is one of my favorite workouts that I use for many of my athletes regularly in February and March.

Sweet-Spot with Bursts

Warm-up:

15minute warm-up with (1) 3-minute effort at 90% of your FTP, then 5minutes easy,

Main Set: Nail it at 88-93% of your FTP for 60 minutes, with 20 bursts (every 3 minutes!) to 120% of FTP, hold for 15 seconds, and return to previous pace (88-93% of FTP)

EASY 10 minutes riding at endurance pace 56-75% of FTP

Then do 30 minutes at 88-93% of FTP and this time do big gear intervals- every two minutes.  Slow down to 12mph, put your chain in the 53:13, stay seated and then use strength to explode on that gear and push it hard for 30seconds or if you reach 90rpm, stop when you reach one of those criteria first and return to 88-93% of FTP.

In order to start transitioning into race fitness, finish with 5 hard sprints – Start in your 53:16 from 20mph and sprint for 250 meters each, 4-5 minutes rest between each.

Cool Down: 10 minutes easy spinning at less than 56% of your FTP.

To remind you of the Coggan power training levels, see figure 1.

Incorporating FTP Workouts

During February and March, along with continuing to ride at sweet spot, you need to begin incorporating riding right at your functional threshold power and also doing some forays above it to prepare for the higher intensities of racing.  I recommend at least one day a week of training specifically at your FTP and then one day in which you incorporate shorter intensity as well.  I like to incorporate the shorter intensity on the weekend when you are doing a longer ride, by including it in the first two hours and then using the last hour or two to focus on your overall aerobic endurance through tempo and sweet-spot work.

The one focused day of threshold work needs to be highly focused and designed to just address your FTP and nothing more.  This allows you to dig deep into the “well of courage” and push yourself for maximum training effect.  I recommend doing this workout for improving your FTP.

FTP “Well of courage”

Warm-Up: 20 minutes-endurance pace 56-75% of FTP

MS: 5 x 1minute fast pedal over 120 RPM to get legs opened up with 1 minute rest between each. Ride at 10 minutes easy at 56-75% of FTP after those warm-ups. Now, dig in the well of courage and do (4) x12 minutes at or just above FTP- so 100-108% of FTP – Nail these and push in the last minute up to 110% of FTP!  Do NOT kill it in the first 2 minutes though, so start out and ramp up to your 100-108% of FTP.  REST for 5minutes between each.

After completing the (4) x 12 FTP intervals, ride for 20-30 minutes endurance pace (56-75% of FTP).Finish with one more 12 minutes at FTP interval to completely bury yourself!  Make sure you push it hard and do your best completing a total of 60minutes at FTP for the day!

Cool Down: 10 minutes at least than 56% of FTP

Don’t Forget to Have Fun!

On your weekends, make sure you are getting in at least one day of group riding as this is fun and it will also help to develop your race fitness with short, hard bursts and simulated attacks.  I recommend to my clients to do a group for an hour or two and then go longer afterward if they can.   This really makes a difference in your endurance and stamina for the upcoming season.   On the other day during the weekend, it would be great to work on your shorter, more intense efforts.  I recommend this workout:

Weekend: “A bite of it all”

Warm Up: 15minutes at 56-75% of FTP.

Main-Set: Do (3) x 1 minute fast pedaling. Then do (4) sprints- BIG RING –Put your chain in the 53:15 and start from 22mph. Only do two gear shifts in these sprints to 14, then to 13. Rest for 3-4 minutes between each and get psyched for the next sprint!

After you finish your sprints then do (2) x 12 minutes JUST BELOW threshold- so about 88-93% of FTP watts in order to get in a little more sweet-spot/FTP work. Do your best to hold it there!   Rest for 5minutes between each.

Now, finish the workout with 4 x 2 minutes on a flat section of road. 2 minutes ON, 2 minutes OFF. Do your best to hold 130-140% of FTP on the effort.  Lastly, ride at endurance pace for 20 minutes (56-75% of FTP)

CD: 5 minutes (<56% of FTP)

Training this early spring should be focused around making sure you have the overall power foundation developed and then building your threshold power on top of that.  It’s critical that as you get closer and closer to race season, that you begin incorporating shorter, more intense intervals that stress your anaerobic capacity (30sec-2min efforts) and neuromuscular power (5-15 sec.).  The transition from winter to spring training is more important than most riders think as the demands of racing are very specific you must be prepared for them along with prepared for the entire season.   One important final note to discuss is the importance of entering the race season with your “battery” 100% charged. This means that you should make sure you rest between hard workouts and keep yourself relatively fresh.  Digging a hole in this transitory time can be a recipe for disaster. I recommend taking a rest/easy day after every 3 hard days of training, as this will guarantee that you are well rested for the next block of training and are not getting fatigued.

The phrase, “Power Foundation” is how I prefer to talk about winter and pre-season training as it doesn’t conjure up those dreaded thoughts of LSD training, and more focuses one on the ‘power’ side of the equation, since your goal is to increase your power at threshold this season.  Overall aerobic fitness improvement is always something that we all want to accomplish every season as more fitness=more fitness and you will be riding faster than previously.    These workouts are for riders that don’t have 4-6 hours to ride each day and will keep your fitness higher throughout the winter than normal, but that means you don’t have that far to go in order to peak for your key event in the spring.  Give these workouts a shot and you’ll be pleasantly surprised with your new higher threshold this spring!

Hunter Allen is a is a USA Cycling Level 1 coach and former professional cyclist. He is the coauthor of “Triathlon Training With Power”, “Training and Racing with a Power Meter” and “Cutting-Edge Cycling,” co-developer of TrainingPeaks’ WKO software, and CEO and founder of Peaks Coaching Group. He and his coaches create custom training plans for all levels of athletes.

The Hardest 10 Minutes

By: Hunter Allen

Early Spring racing.  The hardest 10 minutes.   The “decision maker”.

Every race has a hard section.  The section that separates the men from the boys.  The place where the winners make their move, and the final selection is determined.  It’s that harrowing place of pain and suffering that decides who really wants to win. Some races have multiple decision making sections that force you to dig deep, push to your utter limit with every fiber in your body.  This is also the same place that you wish that you had chosen bowling as your sport.   It’s a common theme in every bike race, whether it’s a short criterium or a long road race.  There is always a “decision maker”.  Sometimes it is terrain dependent, sometimes its weather related, other times its created by a team or even a single strong racer.   Let’s increase your advantage in making the split during the “decision maker”.  

Critical to your success in these early spring races are:  1) Anticipating where in the course the ‘decision maker’ could occur based on terrain, weather, and racing tactics.  2) Recognizing the ‘decision maker’ in the race.  “This is IT!”  3)  Making sure you have the right fitness and enough fitness to make the selection.  4) Mentally dealing with this intense level of suffering through the critical 10 minutes.  

Our first race analysis is from one of the best road races in the East Coast, The Tour of the Battenkill (TOB).  This race has a number of very difficult terrain features which is why it has become so popular and one of the best races in the USA.  With many gravel sections, steep hills, and wind-blown exposed roads, there is always the possibility for multiple decision making areas.  When racing on a difficult course, a racer must be attentive at all times, as it can be difficult to predict exactly where the decision makers will occur.   In the past year’s category 3 race, there were two distinctive areas that became the decision making points.  While an experienced racer or coach could (and should) pre-ride the course to discover these areas, it’s not always possible, so relying on previous race outcomes can be helpful.   In the TOB race, there is always a narrow covered bridge crossing followed by a series of hard hills with gravel sections intermixed that wreak havoc on the peloton.   So, for certain, this will be a critical section just based on the past history of the race and the course.   In figure 1, using the new TrainingPeaks WKO+ version 4.0 software to analyze the data, that first section was nearly 9 minutes long and a watts per kilogram ratio needed to make the front group, was 4.7.   Knowing the power values needed to make the selection is a huge advantage and in this case demonstrates the stiffness of the competition.   As with many road races, there can be an early selection to determine who has enough fitness (high enough FTP) to make the leading group, and then a later selection to whittle down the competition that determines who has enough endurance and fitness after a certain amount of fatigue in the legs has accumulated.   In this case, for a category 3 race, that second decision maker came after two hours of racing, during a slightly uphill, gravel, crosswind section lasting for nearly 8 minutes.  Again, with proper recon of the route and some past knowledge of racing, this section was obvious that it fit the “decision maker” mold well.   It came after 2/3’s of the race was over, it was slightly uphill so power to weight ratio was important, the gravel road made bike handling and confidence a factor, and the wind created a single file line through the section not allowing any of the weaker riders to hold onto the wheel in front of them.   For the rider in figure 1, he had to maintain 3.8 w/kg to maintain the lead group of 8 riders, which was whittled down from 30 riders that entered this decision-making section.

In our second case study, we see a similar “decision maker” in a road race ending with a hill climb albeit and in a slightly different pattern. This race was part of a 10 day stage race with this critical decision making stage coming on stage 7.  Basically, the strategy was straight forward as the stage finished on an hour and 40 minutes climb(!) and all the climbers that were contending for the win, were sitting in the peloton to wait for the climb.  Like most races ending with a climb, the ability to maintain a high watts per kilogram ratio is usually the simple recipe for success.  However, what’s often forgotten is that within the need for a high FTP, the best climbers must withstand attacks for short periods of time over their FTP’s and recover back to FTP.   In figure 2, it’s easy to see the three hard attacks that were responded to by this rider in order to stay in the group.  Each of these attacks were between two and three minutes long, with the hardest at 6.46 w/kg.    While these attacks did not last the typical 10 minutes, combined they are roughly  “the” decision making 10minutes in summation and the deciding factor of the top 6 riders in the race and the rest.   Of course, this is assuming rider has the ability to still stay with the top climbers in between the attacks and then afterward, which is no easy feat mind you!   For this athlete, maintenance of the needed high FTP was within his ability and he was “on the ropes” for just those three hard sections.  Analyzing this case study, helps to see the “decision maker” in a little different light and it also will help with training for future races.  Defining the demands of the event allows you to train to those demands, and this series of attacks on the climb is a perfect example that could easily be trained with a series of intervals.   A workout to simulate this race would be:  Ride just below your FTP for 5-10 minutes and then do a 3 minute attack with watts at 200% of FTP for the first 10 seconds and then ride at 110-115% of FTP for 3minutes.  At the end of 3 minutes, recover back to FTP for 2 minutes and repeat another attack.   Repeat this for 3 or more intervals.

For our third case study, we have the winning attack made by Antonio Garnero in the Brazilian Pro Championships in 2014. This race was over a 9km circuit and 22 laps total, so all the racers had multiple chances to assess the course and predict where the winning move might come from on the course.  Antonio made his move on the 17th lap of the race near the top of the short hill with 3 successive attacks to get away with only 2 other riders.  Once away, Antonio stayed at the front of the now 3-person breakaway for 10minutes to create the separation needed to win.   This hard 10minutes was after 3.5 hours of racing and was 5.6w/kg in effort, so without a doubt an extraordinary effort.    In order to shed his 2 other breakaway companions, he only had to attack them with 3km to go and he easily finished in a solo victory.   This example is one in which the strongest rider “created” the decision making 10minutes and had the luxury of deciding where and when those 10 minutes would be.  As a very experienced rider that was at the peak of his form, he knew that he had to create that decision making 10minutes and was confident enough to be able to do it all on his own.  If you were racing with him, you only needed to know that he was the strongest rider in the race and then “mark” him in the closing laps, and of course be able to follow him!    The lesson here is that when you are one of the strongest in the peloton, you have the luxury to be the decision maker, but that doesn’t mean it always works, and it’s still critical that you are aware of the other riders and the terrain around you to make the best attack and commit to a very hard 10 minutes of 100% effort.

Every race has a decision making 10minutes where the final selection if not the winner is decided.  Criteriums, circuit races, hill climbs and sometimes even time trials all contain this 10minute suffer fest.   Recognizing when this 10minutes might occur and then when it is occurring in a race is the mark of an experienced winner, although it doesn’t make it easier.  You are going to suffer and dig deep. Knowing that it generally will only last for 10minutes though, does make the effort more accomplishable however, similar to knowing a section of road so well, that you know you can hang on for dear life because the terrain dictates that everyone ease up just around the next bend.   Most of the decision making points in a race come when three or more characteristics are present.   One, there must be some sort of difficult terrain and/or weather feature.  Two, it will occur after at least 2/3rds of the race is over when most of the peloton is already fatigued.  Three, the strongest rider decides it is time to go.  Four, after the race has been at a high intensity for a relatively long time and shorter attacks start occurring from riders.  Training to the demands of these “decision makers” can be a definite advantage for any racer and should revolve around 8 to 10 minute intervals at your FTP and with hard efforts (110-115% of FTP) at the beginning or within the interval.  

Hunter Allen is a is a USA Cycling Level 1 coach and former professional cyclist. He is the coauthor of “Triathlon Training With Power”, “Training and Racing with a Power Meter” and “Cutting-Edge Cycling,” co-developer of TrainingPeaks’ WKO software, and CEO and founder of Peaks Coaching Group. He and his coaches create custom training plans for all levels of athletes.

WARNING: ZWIFTING CAN BE HAZARDOUS TO YOUR HEALTH


Last year I raced on Zwift all winter. By the time March came & the weather broke… I was OVERTRAINED! My whole year was screwed up & a roller coaster as I never recovered!?

I cannot repeat that mistake.

Can you help me in designing a sensible training plan that I can use Zwift, but do workouts and make sure I am strong in March/April/May?

We all love to train and improve, that’s one of the reasons you are on this mailing list!  Our goal as cycling coaches is to share our knowledge, so that you can shortcut through years of trial and error and achieve your goals using your available time.  We are all time constrained and that’s one of the reasons that indoor riding has become so popular.  It allows you to train whenever you can, regardless of weather, time of day or where you live.  Zwift and other indoor apps have been incredible in providing “Trainertainment” and gone are the days when I used to ride in the basement on the rollers, starting a concrete wall beside the cat litter box!  

With our new indoor training tools, the temptation to just race inside Zwift or ride hard everyday is strong, but this is a mistake. Riding hard or racing 5-6x a week inside a virtual world is a recipe for disaster as not only will you not be training the energy systems correctly, you risk riding poorly when the spring comes and you can ride outdoors.   You see, our bodies don’t like continual stress.  We need rest, we need a progressive ramp up of intensity and we need the correct combination of volume with intensity.   Just riding as hard as you can indoors everyday is not a plan for success. It’s no plan.   If you do not have a plan for success, then you are planning for failure.   

If you do not have a plan for success, then you are planning for failure. 

We can help you plan for success using your indoor training apps!   All of our coaches use them as well, and designing a plan using these new popular indoor training tools, coaching you along the way, riding with you in a virtual world, all of that is part of becoming a coached athlete here at PCG.   Let us help you MAKE 2022 great!

–Hunter Allen

Four Keys to Powerful Winter Training

What you do this winter can really make or break your season in the coming year. Winter training is different for everyone since we live in different areas of the world; some of us spend a solid five months indoors while others can ride outside year round.

There are some vital components to creating a very good winter training program no matter where you live, and of course a power meter has a lot to do with it.

Before you embark on your official winter training plan, though, you’ve got to make sure you’re well rested and recovered from the long season. Hopefully you’ve taken a couple of weeks off and given yourself at least two weeks of easy cross-training; this is essential to recharging your physical and mental batteries.

Once you’re rested, recharged, and ready to go, your winter should contain the following four important components: 

  1. Focused indoor training workouts
  2. Solid workouts at your sweet spot
  3. A cross-training routine
  4. Balanced rest periods

These four components combine to create a strong winter program that can give you one of your best winters ever. I’ll expand on each point so you can use them all to the best advantage.

In most of the United States, the winter is quite cold, which means we will spend at least some of it on the indoor trainer. (All you southern California readers out there, don’t stop reading; just try to incorporate some of these workouts into your outdoor routine.) Even though most of us love riding our bikes outside, the indoor trainer can provide some really great workouts with no real distractions: no cars, no wind, no hills, no dogs. All the things that can get in the way of a focused session aren’t problems on the indoor trainer.

INDOOR TRAINING

Now that you’re resigned and committed to the indoor trainer, what workouts should you do? There are two basic types of workouts I prescribe to my athletes in the winter: cadence-based workouts and sweet spot workouts. Almost all the workouts my athletes do during this season are some permutation of these two basic types. Cadence-based workouts emphasize cadence changes first, with power and heart rate of second and tertiary importance. Cadence workouts typically do not stress the cardiovascular system but are more focused on improving the muscular system. They can range from high rpm efforts emphasizing neuromuscular power to very slow rpm efforts emphasizing muscular strength.

What is the purpose of cadence-based workouts and why should you do them this winter? The higher cadence workouts help you maintain your ability to quickly contract and relax your muscles, which is a very important skill in cycling. By training your neuromuscular power throughout the winter, you can keep the critical ability to quickly change your cadence and even enhance it.

This type of indoor workout is relatively simple and can also easily be done either indoors or outside. One of my favorites is one-minute fast-pedaling intervals, where you pedal over 110 rpm for one minute and then pedal at your self-selected (normal) cadence for a minute and then repeat. This is a great leg burner, but it doesn’t get the heart rate too high and therefore push your training into more of an anaerobic zone.

On the other side of the coin, lower cadence workouts are also great to do in the winter because they can enhance your muscular strength, which can in turn help you to sprint with more peak wattages and push a bigger gear into the wind in a time trial or up a steep climb. Muscular strength workouts are based around hard but short intervals done in the biggest gear you can manage at low rpm. Many people believe the myth that riding for hours in a big gear at slow rpm will increase muscular strength and make them more powerful, but this only makes you good at riding in a big gear at slow rpm! Riding at 50 rpm for hours on end just doesn’t create enough muscular stress to strengthen the muscles.

Consider this analogy: If you’re trying to bench press 200 pounds in the weight room, you need to start at 150 pounds and build up to it with low reps, high sets, and the most weight you can lift. You have to use heavier and heavier weights to stress the muscle in order for it to adapt. If you lifted 100 pounds one million times, you would never adapt to lifting 200 pounds one time. The “big gear” myth is similar; when you pedal at 50 rpm for hours on end, it’s just like lifting 100 pounds for a million reps. While 100 pounds (metaphorically speaking) is more than your normal pedaling force of 80 pounds, it’s just not enough stress on the muscles to get them to strengthen. In order to increase your muscular strength on the bike, you need to do hard, short bursts of effort in a big gear. For example, put your chain in the 53:12 gear and slow down to about 8-10 mph, then (staying seated) tighten your abdominals, grip your handlebars tightly, and with all your might turn that gear over until you reach 80 rpm. Once you reach 80 rpm, the amount of force you’re putting on the cranks has reduced to a point at which it’s just not enough stress to create muscular strength improvements. You should plan on doing about twenty of these power bursts in a session to create enough of an overload to achieve some benefit.

SWEET SPOT

The second type of training I prescribe to my athletes in the winter is called sweet spot training (SST). When you ride just below your functional threshold power (FTP) at approximately 88-93% of your FTP, you are riding in your sweet spot. Why is it called the sweet spot? As shown on the chart below, when you’re in this area of intensity, the level of physiological strain (read: amount of pain) is relatively low, while the maximum duration (read: time) that you can stay in this area is quite high. You can also see that your increase in FTP is greatest in this area, so training in your sweet spot really gives you a tremendous bang for your buck.

When you do SST, start out with 15- to 30-minute efforts and gradually build up to 60- to 120-minute efforts if you can. These efforts aren’t easy ones, but you’ll get a tremendous cardiovascular benefit from them. Make sure to do at least one to two sessions each week, and you’ll see a big difference in your FTP come February.

CROSS TRAINING

Cross-training is another key to winter success. One of the most important cross-training exercises you can do this winter is some type of core abdominal exercises combined with stretching. A Pilates or yoga class can really help you develop strong abdominals, which in turn help you transfer energy from your upper body to your legs and protect your back from injury. If you can, take a class or do a video every week; that will be enough to make a difference. For cardiovascular work, I recommend doing some mountain biking, hiking, trail running, roller blading, and cross-country skiing (if you have the snow). Just keep it fun and not too intense, as cross-training is supposed to enhance your cycling, not cause injury or major cardiovascular stress. Cross-training is great to do in the off-season, since we don’t really move our muscles in multiple planes on the bicycle, and will provide some great muscular and cardiovascular stimulus.

A word of caution about starting any new exercise: take it easy for the first two weeks. I once had a client who was very fit and decided to go out and run ten miles in the first day of cross-training. Needless to say, he was barely able to walk for the next two weeks. He also inadvertently pulled a muscle, which forced him to take three weeks off from all training. So be careful and break yourself in slowly when you start a new exercise.

REST

The final component of a successful winter program is rest. It doesn’t sound like it’s that big of a deal, but too much training in the winter will make you a “January star.” It’s great to train hard in the winter, and it’s the key to really pushing yourself to the next level for the coming year, but if you constantly train hard in the winter, you’ll peak in January. The key to increasing your FTP this winter and making it your new normal fitness level is to train intensely for only two days in a row. After two intense days, give yourself a rest before coming back to training, except every other week give yourself two days of easy training after two hard days instead of resting so you can keep your battery charged. Your goal this winter is to never let your battery charge go below 97%. Two days of hard training will bring your battery down to 97%, and a day off or a day of easy training will allow it to recharge back to 100%. This way you can balance hard training with proper rest and enter the season fresh and strong, without turning into one of those riders that wins all the January rides!

These four components of winter training all combine successfully to ensure you create your best winter of training ever. A proper winter program will push your FTP up to the next level, maintain your ability to change cadences, and put you at the start of the season with a fresh mind and ready body for a strong and long season! Be sure to keep your focus this winter. This season really is the time for you to rise to the next level and make 2022 a breakthrough season! 

Hunter Allen is a USA Cycling Level 1 coach and former professional cyclist. He is the coauthor of Triathlon Training With Power, Training and Racing with a Power Meter, and Cutting-Edge Cycling, co-developer of TrainingPeaks’ WKO software, and CEO and founder of Peaks Coaching Group. He and his coaches create custom training plans for all levels of athletes. Hunter can be contacted directly through PeaksCoachingGroup.com

5 Key Attributes of Winning Athletes

By: Hunter Allen

Winners think differently.  They do.  There are many books on winners and why they are different, what they think and why they think it.  Winners are constantly focused on moving forward, getting things done, taking action and improving.  Whether it’s on the bicycle, in the pool, on the soccer field or in the office, winners are striving for the best they can be.   They aren’t afraid of hard work, as a matter of fact they love it, they crave it, and they absorb it and become better from it.   I believe winners are made and not born.  Each one of us has winning qualities and the ability to win; we just have to put these things together in order to achieve greatness.

1. Winners Set Goals

Winners have long term goals, short term goals, weekly and daily goals.  Most winners, you’ll find are highly goal oriented.  When a winner wants something, they really want it. They want it more than the rest of their competitors.  I have heard it said many times and believe its true, “The rider that wins the race is the rider that wanted it more than anyone else.” Sit down today or this weekend and write out your goals for the year and review them each week. Your goals will change throughout the year and you’ll want to revise them and update them as needed.  Your goals will help you keep focused!

2. Winners Make Good Decisions

This one is a bit obtuse and obvious at the same time.  What is a good decision vs. a bad decision?  If you don’t know the difference then how will you know which one to make?   Instead of eating that hamburger and fries, a winner would eat a healthy lean steak, baked potato and a salad.  Instead of going for a 5 hour bike ride with his teammates on a day when “something just doesn’t feel right”, he’ll honor that feeling and either take a rest day or ride a shorter ride.  Winners don’t lie around and wait for success to come to them (except on rest days!); they take action to move toward it every day.   Instead of thinking about whether to go with that attack or not, a winner will have already planned their strategy and not have to think about it.  They will know if that attack fits into their strategy and know if the riders attacking are good enough to win and react accordingly without hesitation.   

3. Winners Play to Win

This seems like a simple one and to tell you the truth, it is, however you would be amazed at how many people reading this right now don’t have a plan to get that next raise in their job, peak exactly at the right time for their “A” race, go above and beyond on that big project at the office or take their company to the next level.   Sit down, plan out your season, figure out which races you want to ride well in and refer to #3 above in aligning your own specific strengths and weaknesses with the race demands.

4. Winners Visualize Success

Visualization is an incredible tool in helping to align the universe to bring all the necessary situations and opportunities to you so that you can capitalize and win. Visualization is more important than most people think. When you visualize vividly enough to create emotion in the vision, your mind doesn’t know the difference between that and the real thing.  One key aspect of visualization is picturing the things that happen after you have achieved a goal.  For me, I have been focused on creating a great camp in Mallorca in March this year, so I have been picturing myself at the little Spanish store on the top of the Lluc climb in Mallorca drinking a great coffee and eating a chocolate croissant with happy campers all laughing and enjoying themselves. I have been imagining riding up the climbs and seeing 320 watts on my power meter and feeling comfortable and strong!  Visualization is critical for your success this season.  If you want to win a race this year, “see” your name at the top of the results sheet, feel the feeling of all your teammates congratulating your win, see that podium pic on your Facebook account.  By visualizing the things that occur after your goal has been realized is an incredibly powerful way to make that a reality.   

5. Winners are constantly learning and asking questions.

Winners are confident, but never so confident to think they know it all.  They are always seeking the advice of experts, looking for an advantage, seeking the latest knowledge in the field and doing everything they can to improve. Companies that never innovate or improve their product are destined for failure.   Athletes that stop reading about the latest in training advances or nutrition or mental training are destined for failure.  Keep your zest for learning. Get a new book on winners, or on cycling, or mental training for athletes.  Learn about the latest in nutrition and diet and find the right balance for your life.  Seek out the advice of an expert and listen wholeheartedly and then implement their advice.

Winning is easier when you are winning, that’s for sure. Success is an upward spiral and it’s much easier when you are in that upward spiral, but trust me, winners go in downward spirals too. The difference between the winners and the losers are the winners know how to “pull up” and get back in that winning upward spiral.  You’ll have setbacks, challenges, and failures along the way. That is part of the process and completely natural.  Winners have to deal with all of that as well.  If winning was easy, then it wouldn’t be as satisfying!  Remember no matter how bad things look or the time since your last win, and hope seems gone.. “The winners are still winning”…..

Hunter Allen is a USA Cycling Level 1 coach and former Professional Cyclist. He is the co-author of both “Training and Racing with a Power Meter“, and “Triathlon Training With Power”, co-developer of TrainingPeaks Software, and is the CEO and Founder of the Peaks Coaching Group.