TRAINING FOR CYCLISTS
Everyone knows that elite pro cyclists spend many more training hours in the saddle than their amateur brethren. But according to Joe Beer, that’s only part of the secret of success, which is good news for the rest of us…
Grand Tour winners who race day after day for two to three weeks are some of the fittest athletes on the planet. Lance Armstrong, seven-time Tour de France winner has been tested in the lab and shown to have an incredibly high maximum oxygen uptake (VO2max) of around 80-85mls/kg/min (1).
In interviews after his recent hour record of 49.700km Czech rider Ondrej Sosenka said of his preparation ‘lots of medium-intensity work, supplemented by strength training. I tried not to go beyond my anaerobic threshold too much’ (2). How nice it would be to have seen exactly what he did.
The training required to ride as a professional, making your living on two wheels, is no big secret. It’s an awful lot – somewhere between 20,000 and 40,000km of riding per annum. But if we trawl the scientific journals, only a few papers actually report on elite riders’ data; even the Lance Armstrong data above only spanned 1992-1999. Recent data may be hinted at, but nothing appears in black and white based on scientific analysis.
Smoke and mirrors
Most elite data reports come from interviews, team or rider websites or general cycling folklore passed around clubs through hearsay. Often this is released for maximum psychological impact – perhaps a hint on how many watts a rider is producing uphill, how much faster a new bike has been shown to be in the wind tunnel, or how many hours per day they are riding consistently. Did someone say smoke and mirrors?
However, there’s much less of a hush-hush culture among the UK’s elite level time-trialling fraternity. Top riders often give out information about what they do, probably because few have ever relied totally on their riding to pay the mortgage, so the secrecy level is lower.
In defence of professional cyclists, many sports don’t tell their secrets to success – after all, why would you? Granted, it still takes the right genetic make-up and a lot of hard work to get to the top, but why tell your competitors what you are up to?
It’s true that there’s some passing around of information as riders move teams and independent trainers/coaches work with riders across various teams and countries. But wouldn’t it be nice for you, the budding amateur, to get hold of some of the insider knowledge?
Tips from the top can help amateurs to improve and reach their own genetic limits. However, we need to bear in mind that just because we know what the pros do won’t make the rest of us (with our humble genetics) into tour winners, hour record holders or elite level time triallists. Sadly, we didn’t get the cream of the genetic handout. That said, the challenge for athletes across sports is to maximise their genetic potential – to get 99.99% out of what they have. So, what little golden nuggets have trickled down from elite riders and the top sports science labs to help us maximise performance?
The Dragon’s Den
There’s a well-known quote about the best performers in a sport: ‘Winners do what losers are not prepared to do.’ Turn that around and you get something along the lines of: ‘Copy what winners do and you won’t be a loser.’ The rub, however, is that you have to take the whole package, believe in all aspects and not pick and choose what you want to believe.
Although amateur riders can’t commit the same amount of time as the pros, the bottom line is that the training proportions and principles must still be held to rigidly. The pros will most likely be riding four to six hours per day, most days of the week – in other words they have a 25- to 35-hour week in the saddle. Pro team websites give you instant information (albeit uncorroborated) about what riders are up to. For example, Matthias Kessler on the www.t-mobile-team.com spoke of ‘a solid five hours each day on the bike’ in December 2005. Your time, on the other hand, is taken up with your day job.
However, there’s no short cut to getting your best. You can’t skirt around the need for time in the saddle and just hammer intervals three or four days a week. Read that sentence again. There are no quick fixes, no short cut secrets, no miracle riding intensities allowing you to get by with hardly any ‘in-the-saddle hours’ being banked into your ‘riding fitness bank account’ – period.
None are quick fixes but they combine to build, monitor and peak form at the time that you want it. It’s no surprise when elite athletes hit form just as they hit their key race – it was planned for. As the old saying goes: ‘Planning prevents poor performances, possibly!’
Visit Joe Beer’s website for more useful tips on training for cycling and triathlon. www.jbst.com