I coach a masters rider from a southern state. His home-state shuffles the dates of state championships consistently – one year all events (road, TT, criterium) are in summer, or in fall, or spring summer fall.
A few years ago, ‘Johnny Smith’ was coming back from hip injury. He had missed almost one year. Smith likes to move fast; he contacted me in mid-July and wanted preparation for the state road race championships, which were in October. I had coached him previously, his aerobic conditioning was sound. Smith is a formidable rider, has TT and PowerCranks bike – let’s give this a rip.
Because of our short timeline, I was not able to get the upper-end work completed (the steepest stuff). When we started, he needed three foundation blocks and two build blocks – if there is one thing I’ve learned in my experience training athletes: do not violate the laws of progression. Smith responded positively to the training stress, ripping 2m 5m 10min power maxes in the pre-race months. I allotted three weeks to taper.
Smith is an experienced cyclist; in racing, we have discussed how to respond to attacks, when etc… Like, if you cannot go with a move, sometimes don’t force it – best to wait, recover, find another moment to go, maybe bridge solo or with small group… Cycling is chess, many defenses and many offenses, configure the correct sequence (racing success = x-ray vision, takes time obtaining this sixth sense #practice #practice #practice).
The race was 80 miles, 20-mile loops with gentle rollers stacked on the backside… Smith felt great early, jumping with a move on 2nd lap. Six men, proper horsepower and representation, but not the proper representation — the 2x defending champion, Burress, and his team were back in the peloton.
In big races, riders carry out tactics in order to best serve their team. You want to be on a strong team or aligned with a strong team – without one, racing is a crapshoot. Solo and small moves are at the mercy of the race… Here, the peloton allowed the small group to gain almost three minutes up the road before organizing a chase. South Synergy had healthy range of riders: sprinter, two all-around A+ lieutenants, the champ, and three rouleurs. With the help of a few other squads, the South Synergy charging peloton pulled back the break to within 45 seconds in less than half-a-lap.
In the break, Smith had pedaled with venom and helped establish the gap, but others in the group began to wilt, the leaders losing organization and rhythm. Smith was doing longer pulls at the front, hoping the men would re-assemble, but it was lost cause. Just halfway through event, the break was burnt.
Welcome to bike racing. The 100+ rider-field caught the leaders as they began the final lap. The attacks started: catch, go, chase; catch, go go, chase chase chase. As the fireworks uncorked, Smith melted into the kopgroup, fighting to hang on. The race was whittled down to 25 riders.
Buress had thrown down an attack in that set and Smith bit his lip because he was unable to chase, still in mega-recovery mode. Then Buress was back in the group again, his small break of four pulled back.
And then Buress went again, hard, up the side of the gutter and out of the saddle for 10 seconds, wincing into the downshifting gears. Leg speed was beautiful, smooth smooth foom foom foom, the pedaling almost audible. Two others were able to drape onto Buress’s rear wheel and the trio marched away, the blue/yellow of team South Synergy shaping the front of the kopgroup, stalling affairs a bit. A rider, two riders would accelerate, begin to pull, then a South Synergy rider was on the wheel, not pulling through.
In a few moments of indecision and acceptance, the peloton stalled, the three leaders rode off, less than seven miles to the line. Buress easily won the sprint, 3x champ. #TripleC
Smith rolled across line in 16th – he was very happy with the day, and to 150+w difference between his norm and average watts showed the savage depths he dug to remain with the leaders after fueling that breakaway. He had an awesome training day, and that was Goal #1.
Turnaround for the next goal was short: the State Criterium Championship on March 16th. We had earned the necessary base for State Road Race; as noted, what we didn’t do what have time to truly steepen his power curve.
For State Crit, we would not have this issue.
In November, we went to work, no fluff. I had him lifting weights less than 10 days after the State Road Race and we stopped in late-January; states was mid-March, I wanted 45-day break from gym, this distance was ideal for him. Along with the strength work, we began necessary aerobic intervals, longer steadystate work, and brisk tempo rides.
We were improving Smith’s watts without increasing his HR – ‘efficiency’ and ‘endurance’ were increasing significantly. In the gym, he was lifting far heavier weights with same rep count, his recovery windows were decreasing as well. I was prescribing two PowerCrank recovery rides each week; after NYD, he was doing brisk tempo rides on the PowerCranks, bullet pacing. In final block before peak, we progressed to shorter TT efforts and silver lining was three weeks pre-race, he was able to repeat 3 8+min efforts at LT+ with less than 2% drop in power.
For State Crit, I wanted steeper power, I wanted increased agility. When I design a training program, one attribute I strive for is ‘simplicity.’ I create key workouts, and we repeat them through the build and peak training weeks. Smith was repeating Sprint-Counter-Sprints and Suicides. #fun
Sprint Counter Sprints: Ride Tempo pace on the flats, down in the drops. Stand and sprint at max effort for 15s, shifting as you spin out. Sit and continue to ride at max effort for 8-10s. Then immediately sprint again for 10s, standing and sprinting at absolute max effort. This is one sprint interval. 5m recovery in between each complete sprint interval.
These are brutal intervals I usually begin implementing 9-11 weeks out from goal event. These efforts are super-strenuous, I only like to prescribe when athlete is fully conditioned (or else we are wasting our time). These intervals are murder; the set is over before the athlete is destroyed. #magic
Suicides were the other mainstay: Roll at cruising speed down in the bars… Stand and sprint at max effort, get up to speed – sprinting for 25s. Then sit down and maintain brutal Pure Max Effort for duration of interval. A full 5+m recovery in between intervals. I set interval-length at 2min because I REALLY wanted him pushing full anaerobic capacity, all violence… We did 5-6min recovery. He would do 2-4 of these, and in final workouts, he was doing 1 or 2.
I am concerned about the 20sec max effort at the beginning, and then where power stabilizes in aftermath. The reason why you don’t want to start this type of work too early is because once you engage the Vo2 system, you have 40-50 days of improvement. If you start too early, you can fade, burnout, engine will run raw by race day…
Smith’s return in data made me very happy. He smashed his PR 2min max in this process (on flat terrain, mind you). His previous 2min max was 372w (from a race) and he hit 379w in his second Suicide workout. He was able to improve this to 412w, also increasing his 10sec power max by 280w whopping watts. We were stepping to State Crit with entirely different engine and skillset.
The state criterium course had eight turns that twisted through downtown (two tight hairpinners); a solo rider with sound technical skill could TT this course with no issues – like a motorcycle, gotta stay on top of gear and MPH in and out of all corners…
The race was 50min, plus two laps. Teams were well-represented and like most criteriums, the action started off hot and heavy, attacks zinging left and right, riders instructed or confident they can form a break in the first third of the race. I had told Smith, no matter what, chase nothing until the final 15min of the race. These early attacks were going to be fast and violent and plentiful, buckle up and try to conserve as best you can.
On race day, Smith had excellent legs. I had worked on his cadence all winter, more pedaling efficiency drills, more leg-speed work. His sweet-spot cadence had risen from 91 rpms to 97 rpms. And, on race day, with nerves and torque jumping, he was at 100+ rpms for majority of day. You know it’s a good day when you see the file and there’s severe gap between normalized watts and average watts 😊 #violence #redrum
After the race’s midway point, a group of eight scurried up road – Burress was in the group. Smith had missed out, as he had been instructed to sit tight. Burress had two teammates in the break, and they quickly built a 45sec lead.
Smith made a decision: time to go. After the second hairpin turn, Smith was fourth wheel and accelerated up the side of the track with demon speed. No one chased. Smith was gone with firecracker blast, head down and uncorking 450+w seated power.
I had told Smith that a solo rider could go just as fast on this course as the peloton. The key was to stay at the front, mark Buress but also hold back – reserve is the final commandment to master. You want to find your best in the endgame.
Smith made correct decision: he left the peloton behind for dead and was bridging gap to the leaders… The breakaway slowed a smidge in the beginning of the first lap, and Smith bridged hard, then stood, leaping across road to the inside line, taking the first turn slow but setting up ideally for the second turn, exiting with slingshot speed, the breakaway breaking to pieces in pursuit.
Two riders made it to Smith’s wheel and they equally rotated to the line. I tell my athletes: let them panic let them jump first. Let them go, you then counter. Smith followed protocol and the third rider, who Smith did not know, jumped first in daring attack on last lap. Smith and Burress clawed him back just before the final straightaway. The third rider was fodder now and continued to pedal at the front, the sacrificial lead-out.
Burress jumped first, from a long way out. Smith jumped to close the gap and was closing on him… just ran out of real estate. Burress is most dominant rider in state for a reason: he has incredible power-to-weight and a medium-steep power curve, he is very-well conditioned in Vo2 and Anaerobic Capacity departments, has a superb natural sprint (reminds me very much of Paolo Bettini #congratulations).
Smith didn’t win and that is fine – he had PR 2min data in the goal race, was able to bridge solo to the breakaway, and he dueled the best rider in the race in a two-up sprint. Not too shabby.
You win some. And then you win some.