It’s the unpredictability of bicycle racing that can create such excitement, both for fans and riders alike, but most of us try to limit the unpredictability and surprise in our lives because we want to guarantee the outcomes we want instead of taking the chance with random events wreaking havoc around us. We can actually plan for unpredictability in our sport, though, so we don’t have to find ourselves surprised and scrambling for Plan B or C or D. And planning for unpredictability actually makes cycling more predictable! How? Preparing for all the unknowns gives you more control over them so that when they occur, they really weren’t unknown at all.
So let’s take a few moments to think of the crazy things that can happen in a bicycle race and come up with some practical ways (power-based intervals) to make sure you can adjust when the SHTF (shit hits the fan) without letting it ruin your race.
1. The CrashCrashes happen in local, regional, and national races just like in the bigger ones. Sometimes you won’t be able to continue the race, depending on the type of crash, but most of the time you’ll have to get up, shake yourself off, and get back in the race.
CriteriumIn a criterium, getting back to the pit in order to get a free lap is your first priority. This doesn’t mean you have to drill it back to the pit, but get there before the peloton arrives (or get out of the way and let it get by again). Once back in the pit, get yourself looked over to make sure you’re all right and then rejoin the peloton as quickly as possible. This means you’ll need to step on the gas immediately to get up to speed and integrate back into the peloton. You may have to chase a little on the tail end of the race, though sometimes you can match the speed of the peloton easily and regain your place in the group without too much worry.
How to Prepare: To make sure you can handle the quick ramping of speed necessary to rejoin the peloton, do VO2Max efforts from a relatively slow speed. Start out at 5 mph in your big chain ring and take off sprinting for 15 seconds to get up to speed. You should hit 300% of your FTP (functional threshold power) in this acceleration and maintain 200%. After 15 seconds, look at your power meter and settle in at 115% of your FTP. Drill it here for the next 3 minutes, then rest for 5 minutes and repeat at least 6 more times in one session.
Road RaceA road race is a little different from a criterium because you don’t have the luxury of waiting around to catch your breath. Pick yourself up, make sure your bike is all right, and get back in the race! You’ll want to get back up to speed as quickly as possible, but I suggest tempering your effort a little from the criterium sprint above. In a road race you don’t know if you’ll chase for 3 minutes or 30 minutes, and you can’t afford to kill it for 3 minutes only to not make it back on and then blow up, which would pretty much guarantee that you don’t make it back.
How to Prepare: VO2Max intervals are best way to simulate these efforts as well. Spend 15 seconds getting in a sprint up to 200% of your FTP and then settle in at 115% of your FTP for the next 3 minutes. If you don’t catch on in 3 minutes, you’ll need to keep trying, but your power will need to reduce to 105-110% of FTP now. So for training purposes do a few where you end the interval at 3 minutes and a few where you end at 6 minutes, but in minutes 3-6 reduce your power to 105-110% of FTP. Be sure to rest for at least 5 minutes between each of these efforts and strive for 5 intervals in one session.
Riding in CaravanIn a road race you might get the opportunity to use the caravan to pace yourself back up to the peloton. This takes some skill and is not for the faint of heart. Your first trip through the caravan can sometimes be the most exciting part of the road race! Riding the caravan means drafting closely on the back of a car, looking far ahead of the car to anticipate changes in speed, ready at any time to abandon the shelter of the car to move ahead to the next car or farther, and bridging the final gap to the back of the peloton, which involves a sprint and most likely a 30-second hard anaerobic effort after your sprint.
How to Prepare: Ride at your sweet spot power (88-93% of FTP) for 5 minutes. Continue to ride at sweet spot for 10 more minutes, and every 1 minute do short, 5-second sprints out of the saddle to reach 300% of your FTP; then sit back down in the saddle at your sweet spot power again. At the end of the 10 minutes, do one massive sprint and hard effort for 45 seconds, riding out of the saddle for 15 seconds and then killing it at 150% of your FTP for the next 30 seconds. Rest for 10 minutes and then repeat 2 more times.
2. The Flat TireA flat tire very similar to the crash scenario above, but in the road race is that now you have more distance to bridge, quite possibly on a wheel that doesn’t exactly mesh with your drivetrain. When you flat in a road race, don’t just stop immediately, especially if you’re under control and can ride it for a little while. Wait till you get the wheel truck up close to you, then pull over. This will make the wheel change much faster, and you’ll have less distance to bridge. It’s important to tell the mechanic changing your wheel that you’d like him to help you get back to the peloton. These guys often just speed off, even though there’s usually no hurry, and gaining their help a little longer is always a good thing.
How to Prepare: Slow down to 5 mph, then do a short sprint to get up to speed (nothing crazy, but at least 200% of your FTP), and settle into just above your FTP (105%) for 5 minutes. At the end of 5 minutes, drop your pace down to FTP (100%) and ride there for 5 minutes to complete a solid 10:30 interval. Rest for 5 minutes and repeat.
3. Missed Feed/Bottle and the Corresponding BonkThis scenario shouldn’t come as a surprise, but sometimes it does happen, and you have to be prepared for it. There are no intervals to do in preparation, but that doesn’t mean you can’t prepare. Practice with your feeder a few times before a race to make sure you know how to get your feed and your feeder knows how to properly display your feed. The feeder needs to hold the tip of the water bottle and let you take it from him instead of trying to drop it at the exact moment you grab it. Don’t worry; it’s not going to break your feeder’s wrist if you pull it out of his fingers when you grab it at 20 mph! It’s helpful if you and your feeder can decide the specific spot he’ll be in the feed zone. Sometimes it’s easiest if a feeder is always near the end of the feed zone, and other times it’s better if he’s close to the front, but the important thing is to agree on the location so you can expect it.
If you miss your feed, be prepared for the possible resulting bonk and dehydration. You should always, always carry one more gel in your back pocket than you think you’ll need. I suggest a package of jello blocks, as well. You should come back from every ride and every race with some food in your pocket, which will indicate you had plenty of food and didn’t lack for energy. If you get a “surprise” bonk all of a sudden, you’ll be ready to ward it off with quick sugar. If you’re in the peloton and find yourself rapidly going backwards, make sure to tell a teammate what’s happening; the teammate might be able to help you stay in the peloton by giving you some food or sharing a bottle.
4. The Wrong TurnThe hardest part about this scenario is not panicking. If you panic, you lose for sure. Maintain your calm and make sure you get back on course as quickly as possible, then time trial back into the lead (hopefully) or chase back to the peloton cursing the officials, race director, and everyone involved in the race.
How to Prepare: We want to try to simulate the stress of having to get back in training while remaining calm. You should have been at FTP before you went off course, so getting back to that intensity should be relatively easy. That’s the intensity you have to hold, though, because if you dig too deep you might not be able to recover from that effort. Get back to FTP as soon as you can, and if you’re behind the peloton now, you might have to up the intensity to your VO2Max to catch on.
Try these intervals to help you prepare for this unfortunate circumstance: Ride at your FTP for 10 minutes and then slow down, do a U-turn, accelerate up to speed again, and settle back in at FTP for another 10 minutes. At the end of that 10 minutes, do a hard jump for 15 seconds and then drill it for 2 minutes at 115% of FTP. Recover for 5 minutes and repeat 1 more time.
5. Broken Derailleur Cable or Dead Battery in Electronic ShifterThis will eventually happen to you if you race/ride long enough, and it will happen at the most inopportune time. I had a rear derailleur cable break in a criterium with a nice 200m 10% hill in it, in the rain, of course. Fortunately I was already in the breakaway, so I was able to mitigate the effect of it. On the uphill I was in the 39:12 and the downhill and flat in the 53:12, so it wasn’t too bad, but definitely not ideal. I got 4th in the break of 5 because I couldn’t jump hard enough in the big ring and the sprint was relatively short. One of our PCG athletes had his front derailleur cable break in a time trial and had to choose between the big ring and the small ring; the time trial was the Elite Nationals in Pennsylvania, and the course was incredibly hilly, so he chose the small ring and rode to 5th place on the podium! Dealing with these opposing situations requires proper training so that you can produce power using either low cadence and high force (at the loss of a rear derailleur cable) or high cadence and low force (at the loss of a front derailleur cable).
How to Prepare
Do 60 minutes at tempo/sweet spot power (76-93%; not race pace but doable, though a notch below uncomfortable). Within this 60 minutes, do 15 big-gear interval bursts. Slow down to 10 mph, put it in the 53:13, and (staying seated with hands on drops of handlebars) grunt and push that gear till you reach 90 rpm. At 90 rpm shift to an easier gear and resume riding at tempo pace.
Fast pedaling drills
Do 10 1-minute fast pedaling intervals with cadence at 115-120 rpm. Don’t worry about wattage; just focus on spinning fast and smooth in the saddle. Rest for 1 minute between each at 80-90 rpm. Then do 2 x 15 minutes at 100-105 rpm, just below your threshold at sweet spot (88-93%). Ride easy for 5 minutes between each.
6. Arriving at a Race Late/No WarmupThis is another one that will happen despite your best planning efforts. Sometimes it seems the universe is against you getting to the race on time. I’ve been stuck in traffic jams, gotten waylaid with car trouble, caught rides with very disorganized/late teammates, and everything else you can think of that could happen on the way to a race. You end up in a near panic as you suit up and get to the start line with someone pinning a number on your back at the start. The adrenalin coursing through your veins gives you an advantage that can help you start quickly, but it could also cause you to start too hard and blow up.
How to Prepare: Here’s a great workout to simulate this uncomfortable experience and prepare you for when it happens for real. Without warming up, walk out your door, hop on your bike, and drill it at your FTP right from the driveway for the next 20 minutes. Jump out of every turn, stop light, and stop sign, really digging deep and pushing yourself for the full 20 minutes. Recover for 10 minutes and then begin the rest of your workout. This will help acclimate you to having to start hard without a warm-up. Remember, if you start too hard (like you might if you’re late to a time trial) you’ll blow up, so knowing your FTP and how to pace yourself in those first five minutes is critical: ride at 100-110% of your FTP in the first five minutes, not at 150%!
There are more calamities that could occur, of course, but if you’re ready for these six common ones, you’ll be much better prepared to deal with any surprises that come your way. Remember, there’s no such thing as luck; there is only preparation meeting opportunity and good timing. Prepare smart, recognize the opportunity, and time it right!
If you'd like expert advice about how to succeed in your races this year or next, plus professional support while you do so, contact us today! Your success is our goal; it's the reason we do what we do.
Article originally published in Road Magazine
Hunter Allen is a USA Cycling Level 1 coach and former professional cyclist. He is the coauthor of Training and Racing with a Power Meter and Cutting-Edge Cycling, co-developer of TrainingPeaks’ WKO software, and CEO and founder of Peaks Coaching Group. He and his coaches create custom training plans for all levels of athletes. Hunter can be contacted directly via firstname.lastname@example.org or through PeaksCoachingGroup.com.
Photo credit: Cris Solak, Peaks Coaching Group Brasil