Every rider has different strengths and weaknesses. Therefore, each rider has different goals and objectives he/she wishes to achieve during the season, whether it’s to be competitive in bunch sprints, finish a 40k TT in under an hour, place in a stage race, or dominate in important road races.
These events require different types of training because of the varying energy systems involved. Although each rider will go down a different road to prepare, most successful programs use periodization as a training model.
Quite simply, periodization involves distinctly different periods of training where the volume and intensity is changed throughout the season. Athletes build gradually, avoiding the classic overload principle. As the volume and intensity increases, so does the athlete’s fitness.
After a 4-6 week block of Preparation training, where the athlete begins riding 4-5 days a week at endurance intensity, commonly sprinkling in one longer ride and beginning high-rep gym work, Foundation training begins. Foundation training typically lasts 8-16 weeks, depending on the athlete. The training phase is never the same because we constantly address weakpoints during this time, but keys are improving leg-strength, increasing aerobic capacity, and making sure anaerobic efficiency does not go too dormant.
In the first half of your foundation block, an athlete should be following a periodized weight program while also completing low-tempo workouts and endurance rides. This is also an excellent time to work on pedaling efficiency and leg speed. What’s also key is the rider gets acclimated to the bike – the body, the hands, the feet, and arse get accustomed to being on the bike every day, sometimes for hours on end.
As the athlete progresses through these weeks, the training volume increases, as does the intensity of the tempo workouts. I also feel it’s important to incorporate on-the-bike force workouts to transfer gym power to the bike. It’s also a good idea to start completing short sprint workouts, as it takes considerable time to develop a powerful sprint (even if you’re a time-trialist, every cyclist needs to work on sprinting). As the season progresses, it’s going to be harder to work on sprinting because the athlete is focusing energy on other aspects of training.
After a full cycle of foundation work, the athlete transitions to real build training. While a good majority of the training is still focused at building endurance, this progressive training stress involves a good deal of upper-tempo and sub-threshold riding, plus considerable muscular-endurance work. The Build phase typically lasts 4-8 weeks, and the athlete will feel the urge to start piling on the intensity.
However, I firmly believe the aerobic engine needs to be as strong as possible, and during this period I recommend holding back, continuing to complete more aerobic and subthreshold riding as opposed to increasing intensity. Keep priming that engine, priming, priming. When it’s time to light that match, that flame is going to be strong. Good things, better things come to those who wait…
Real peak training lasts 2-4 weeks. This is the time to go full-metal, you have earned the right to now train this hard, bring the point of your fitness to a wild crescendo. You need to be prepared 100% to perform during this period. This is the time to start completing shorter, more intense work. During the second half of this period, the athlete is racing heavily, his “A” races right around the corner. This is the most intense training of the season, but what’s equally important is volume: as the Peak weeks progress, ride time decreases. With a huge base of endurance under the athlete’s belt, while he/she begins to ride at a higher level and also resting more, the effect is dramatic: peak condition arrives always.
During this key peak period, it’s important to taper to “A” priority races. After all, that’s what periodization is all about: building towards these 2-3 weeks of form and peaking at the appropriate time, supercompensation in full, wild effect.
Once the athlete finds “form,” it’s hard to get him/her to stop. Peak form is an unbelievable feeling: supremely powerful legs, instant recovery, awesome endurance, snappy accelerations. But the form won’t last forever. With the aerobic engine eroding, and the intensity taking its toll both physically and mentally, the athlete will soon become tired and, if stubborn, overtrained.
Every athlete has different goals, different strengths, responds differently to training loads and intensities. But if you follow a basic program involving periodization, with the help of a power meter, heart-rate monitor, or coach keeping you in the zones and on track, you will improve dramatically and in time find what works for you.