Here are a few race-specific workouts for the bike that can help you get pointed in the right direction based on what types of races in which you prefer to focus and excel.
Hill Climbing & Time Trials
Success in these two types are races is largely defined by one thing – how high is your FTP? FTP stands for Functional Threshold Power and relates to how much power you can produce – and, thus, how fast you can go – for a solid hour. You can also think of this as your LT, or Lactate Threshold – the point at which the body can still assimilate lactate as quickly as it is being produced, which correlates to roughly 4mml of lactate in the blood.
FTP- / LT-specific training is done at anywhere from 85-110% of FTP and 84-92% of Max HR. Intervals range from short to medium to long and rest periods typically lasts 50-75% of the interval duration. Some coaches bring the rest interval down to 25%; to me, this is too short. Because the shorter the rest interval, the less power you’re able to put out as you fatigue and, thus, the slower you go. For these intervals, either do them climbing or on your TT bike, depending on whether your focus is on hill climbing or time trialing.
Complete a straight hour at 85-95% FTP. This is all about balancing perceived effort with mounting fatigue over time, and settling into the maximal sustainable effort you can. At first, holding your effort at, say, 85-88% FTP may feel too easy for an effort meant to better train and raise your FTP / LT. Don’t be fooled! Fatigue will mount quickly and HR will elevate during the second half of this effort to the point that remaining in the prescribed zone will be agony. Avoid starting out too aggressively so you end up cratering and limping in the final 15min of the hour.
Start with 3x15min, build to 2x20min and ultimately up to 2x25min. Done at 85-100% FTP and rest is 50-60% of interval duration. If you don’t have a hill long enough to complete these on, you can pick a flat stretch and pick a hard enough gear to spin at 75-85rpm in order to simulate the muscle load associated with fighting gravity. Do this session 1-2x a week for a cycle of training.
5x6min or 4x8min or 3x10min. Done at 95-110% FTP and rest is 60-75% of interval duration. Overall work volume is lower than with the longer intervals because the intensity is greater. This can also necessitate a greater work:rest ratio.
To make any of these workouts more dynamic, you can also introduce regular surges of 20-30sec in duration every 3-5min. These surges are in the 110-125% FTP range, so not full-on sprints. Think of these as VO2max efforts, or in the range of your maximum output for 5min. The key is to immediately settle back into the FTP range without letting your effort dip below. As you get more fatigued, it takes more and more discipline to keep your output in the proper range.
Success in criteriums is based on two things – the ability to conserve as much energy as possible until the final 5 laps; and the body’s ability to cope with countless VO2max-and-above surges over the course of (typically) 45-75min. An effective way to replicate this is with short bursts at 120-130% FTP with equal periods of recovery. You can vary this type of workout by interval length and by how many minutes you complete the short intervals before taking an extended rest period.
Interval length is typically 15-30sec. The key is to get into the prescribed range as quickly as possible. Avoid spiking your effort way above the range and also avoid taking half the interval to finally build up to where you need to be. Get on top of your gearing and keep pressing. Recovery periods can be moderate aerobic effort rather than complete recovery – what is commonly referred to as Zone 2. Remember, the goal is to simulate race conditions and criteriums rarely fall back to recovery-level spinning.
Whether you choose 15sec on/off or 30sec on/off or something in between, continue the rotation for anywhere from 10-20min before taking an extended rest period. 10min of 15 on/off is only 5min of hard work, but it’s aggressive and you’ll be heaving by the end because this type of workout forces ventilatory adaptation as well as muscular adaptation. Extended recovery periods should be 50% of the total work interval – so, spin an extra 5min easy between 10min bouts of work. Total workout would total between 30-40min worth of intervals, so 3-4x10min or 2x15min or 1-2x20min.
Being able to race rather than just survive road races comes down to two things – being comfortable going long and being able to follow Z4 & Z5 attacks in the final stages of the race. Long rides of 4.5-6hrs are critical for this because being in the saddle this long – even if your road races typically only last 2.5-3.5hrs – forces adaptation that shorter rides simply cannot replicate. When you’re pedaling along for that long, the body dips into its reserves more deeply and has to “find a way” to keep you chugging along. It has to find more fuel sources and become more efficient at burning fuel. The way to address the late-race attacks is by practicing them during your long rides. In the final hour, complete race-specific intervals that start with a 30sec attack, settle in near FTP for a handful of minutes and then finish with a 10-15sec sprint. If your interval lasts 5min total, then recover for 5min before repeating the interval 1-2 more times.
Lastly, short group rides (less than 2hrs in duration) are a great tool for forcing race-specific fitness in a way that is difficult to replicate when training alone. This is because you’re not in control of how others ride. You may want to settle in at 300 watts to crest a little hill but to stay with the charging group you find you’re up at 500-600 watts. These dynamic rides are great fitness boosters and, while the rides themselves are hard, they’re typically short enough where you need only recover for a day before the legs are ready for another hard workout. Another positive aspect of group rides is simply practicing riding in a group and getting comfortable rubbing elbows. There’s nothing worse or more dangerous than a bunch of Jittery Johns in the peloton. Work out your nerves in training.
There you have it. Some examples of rides that, when properly utilized, will help you race more effectively and, hopefully, achieve greater successes in your key races. Give ‘em a try and let me know how they work for you!