Supercharge Your Season
In far flung areas of the world, including Africa and Asia, the cycling season is already in full swing. Meanwhile, the majority of the United States is still struggling through the cold and wet months of late winter. Soon enough, the spring thaw will arrive, and bring with it the start of the competition season in North America.
Like many racers, you may already have your early-season races picked out, but there?s more to starting your season than simply signing up for a few local criteriums. This is a good time to formulate an early-season plan, a program of training and racing that will hone your skills and develop your strengths so you?re fast and powerful for your goal events later in the year.
Goal setting is a critical part of developing your early-season plan. Everyone wants to start the season on a strong note, preferably with a win that proves your winter training was effective. Unfortunately, a cyclist?s typical winter training program is designed to develop aerobic strength, focusing on longer, lower-intensity rides, neuromuscular-development workouts, and strength training. It shouldn?t be a surprise that your high-end power for accelerations and sprints is not as well developed as it was at the height of last season, but it?s a fact that only becomes evident to some racers during the first competition of the season.
Perspective is the key to having a successful early season. When your training program is aimed at achieving peak performance later in the spring and summer, it?s important to go into early-season races with realistic and productive goals. Look at the first five races of the season as a development period, the time when you use racing to gain skill and speed you?ll use to perform at your best in the months to come. These races should be a component in your overall early-season plan, not necessarily the sole focus of that plan. To supercharge your season, early races need to be incorporated into focused training and goal-oriented group rides.
Goal-Oriented Group Rides
As the weather starts to warm up, weekend group rides start to swell with riders welcoming the springtime sun. Used carefully, these rides can provide everything from a relaxing spin to an intense interval workout, and can be a great asset to your training. To make the most of your local group ride, try the following workouts:
? HighSpeed FastPedal: While FastPedal workouts (low gear, high cadence intervals) are often part of a cyclist?s winter training program, there?s an added advantage to performing high cadence work at high speed. There?s a difference between spinning a low gear out on the road by yourself and spinning your legs fast while maintaining the higher speeds found in races. This is the reason Lance Armstrong and other elite racers spend time motorpacing in low gear. When the group ride is rolling along at a good clip (20-25 mph), shift into a lighter gear that forces you to pedal between 110-120 rpm, faster if you can handle it without bouncing in the saddle. Maintain this cadence for five minutes, then shift into a bigger gear you can cruise in, and rest for five minutes. Repeat four to six times.
? LongPulls: Most group rides cruise along in a double paceline (two rows of riders) for long periods of time. When it?s your turn to ride at the front, let the rider next to you know you?re going to stay up there for a while. A ?long? pull at the front means different things to different riders; it might be 15 minutes for you, seven for your buddy, and 30 for the local pro or elite amateur. Shift into a gear you can maintain at 70-75 rpm while holding a Tempo intensity. The effort should be difficult, at about 88% of your maximum sustainable heartrate or XX% of your max sustainable power. When you?re done, pull off and go to the back of the group. Repeat the LongPull the next time you get to the front.
Your First Five Races
After all the hours you spent braving the cold and icy roads or holed up in your basement on a trainer, it?s understandable that you want to see that work result in a great first-race performance. What?s more, it?s understandable that some racers are horribly discouraged when they struggle in the first few races of the season. Keeping these races in perspective and using them to advance your training helps keep your eyes on your bigger goals and gives you the tools to race at your best later in the season.
The process of competing is the most important aspect of racing in the early season. The most successful racers are the ones who feel at perfectly at home in a large and tight pack that?s hurtling through corners. It takes time to develop the confidence and self-awareness that allows you to reach this comfort level, but it?s an essential part of making the shift from pack fodder to podium contender. Within the first five races of the season, focus on the following processes and let the finish take care of itself. There will be plenty of time to focus on winning; now?s the time to focus on racing.
? Don?t stay behind any one rider for more than 30 seconds: It?s important to learn how to flow through the field. When the pace is right and you?re comfortable, it?s easy to sit in the same spot in the field for miles on end. Unfortunately, this tends to lull riders into complacency and they?re no longer aware of anything except the riders immediately surrounding them. Stay alert, look for spaces to move through. Every time you move into a new space, you have 30 seconds to find another space to move into.
? Lead a lap: Racers sometimes go entire seasons without ever showing their faces at the front of the pack. The view is very different from up there, and so are the sensations. Instead of following the leaders into the corner, you have to choose the best line and the best speed. The wind is a lot stronger when there aren?t 20 racers in front of you either. Most important, you have the opportunity to learn how to read the movement of the front end of the field, see the surge on your left as it enters your peripheral vision. These experiences prepare you for the days when you have the legs to get to the front, push the pace, and force a selection. For now, it?s an exercise. Spend a lap at the front and drift back into the first third of the field. A few laps later, move back to the front and spend another few minutes gaining valuable knowledge.
? Get in a breakaway: You?re in these races to learn and challenge yourself, so get out of the relative comfort of the peloton and get into a breakaway. You may not have the power to stay away to the finish right now, but if you wait until you have the legs, you?re likely to find yourself in a breakaway without knowing what to do next. The strongest rider in a breakaway is sometimes beaten by the cagiest rider, and if your training makes you stronger and your experience makes you smarter, you?ll be that much harder to beat in your goal events.
Putting It All Together
Group rides and early-season races can play an integral role in your training and preparation for goal events later in the year, but there has to be balance. Overloading your schedule with group rides and races can take away from the focus of your individual training, and can potentially ratchet your overall training load up to an excessively high level. Early in the year, the majority of your training should still be focused on workouts that develop your aerobic engine and your sustainable power. Group rides and races provide a good supplement to this training, but shouldn?t overpower it. If you?re training five or six days a week, one group ride and one race can be effectively incorporated into your schedule. If you?re training three or four days a week, try to include just one group ride or race in a week.
At the beginning of the season, all things are possible. You can start off struggling in local criteriums and end up a National Champion. The critical aspect of the using your early races to propel your season is to use them as stepping stones towards a greater accomplishment. Make it your goal to learn the process of racing, focus on your training, and you?ll exceed your expectations in the summer of 2005.
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