The first races of the season are always a little tougher, simply because we haven’t gotten into the race rhythm yet. All the cyclists who pushed themselves throughout the winter are eager to show off their hard-won fitness; if you're one of those few, spring races are lots of fun for you and filled with success. If you’re a little behind on your fitness or are planning on peaking in the summer, spring races are a little tougher to handle.
The spring has always been my favorite time for training, because I get to start doing some of the things I’m actually good at and really enjoy about riding. Those of you following a training plan have probably been working on endurance (Level 2), sweet spot (sub-threshold), threshold (Level 4), and training your weaknesses. Most of you are going to be doing a variety of races over the next couple of months. Most of them won't be “A” races, but you still want to do well in each one, so you’re preparing for long, hilly road races; windy, wet time trials; and maybe an early season crit. You may even be doing them all in one weekend in a stage race.
In order to train for these random abuses, you need all your training zones to be ready. Now is the time to start putting it all together, focusing on your strengths, and practicing your sprints. I've got some workouts for you here that will help make sure you’re performing at your best. They'll help you keep the sword sharpened (or maybe get it sharp in the first place) so you’re competitive, make you faster, and enable you to ride with more endurance and overall fitness.
The first workout is hill repeats, doing hills of various lengths with a sprint at the top of one section to simulate an uphill finish. The second is a time trial simulation that will help you get used to riding at your FTP (functional threshold power) in the aero position, work on form, and get your back, hips, and hamstrings accustomed to being aero while working. The third workout is what I call the kitchen sink workout, where we put it all together and end with sprints. The fourth workout is a team ride with faster people, learning to suffer and be economical.
Without further ado, let's begin!
Hill Repeat WorkoutFor hill work it’s important to be able to sustain your power through the hill and on hills of different lengths. On shorter and steeper hills, the highest absolute power you produce (500 watts, 650 watts, 700 watts, etc.) will be most important. The longer the hill, the more your power-to-weight (watts-per-kilogram) ratio becomes a part of the equation, and the higher your w/kg is, the better you'll excel on the climbs. Keeping this in mind, let’s focus on shorter hills in this workout, as you’ll excel in longer hills as the result of specific FTP work.
Warm-up: It’s important to get in a solid warm-up before your hill repeats, so if possible, ride for 30 minutes to an hour before you get to your favorite hill. The hill should be approximately 1 minute long; a little shorter or longer is fine, but nothing over 2 minutes, since that will become too aerobic. One trick I've found helpful for these is a visualization while doing the efforts: in your mind’s eye, picture yourself attacking out of the peloton on the hill and winning the KOM points at the top of the hill with your final sprint.
Main set: Do 10 repeats total (build to 20) of a 1-minute hill. (If you don’t have a hill suitable and want to do it on a longer hill, no problem; just pick a landmark at about the one-minute distance so you have a goal for each effort.) Glance at your power meter three or four times on the way up to make sure you’re between 130% and 175% of your FTP, with a goal of averaging around 140% (though if you have incredible anaerobic capacity, your numbers might be higher). You know you’re doing it right when your legs start to burn after 20 seconds and you have to suffer like crazy to keep the wattage up. Hammer all the way, then get out of the saddle and sprint in the last 30 meters.
Completely BLOW at the crest of the hill or at the 1-minute mark. REST plenty (3-4 minutes) between each one. As you get more and more tired toward the last repeats, you’ll have to lengthen your recoveries, which is perfectly acceptable. After you've completed all the repeats, ride home at your tempo and sweet spot paces to get in some solid aerobic work.
Cool-down: 10-15 minutes easy riding.
When you get home, your job becomes recovery and analysis of your hills with your downloaded power meter data. What you’re looking for is how much and how quickly you fatigued from effort to effort. The image below is a comparison of ten hill repeats; this athlete’s wattage drops from 437 to 418 by the tenth one, which is only a 5% drop in power. What this means is that he could have done more efforts. When you have a 10% drop in power, that’s when it’s time to go home and call it a day. Have a look at your data and find your power drop; that will help you determine how many intervals to do in the next session.
Time Trial Simulation WorkoutThe next workout you should incorporate into your training regime is the time trial simulation. This is a great opportunity to work on your VO2Max energy system and get comfortable in that TT position at full gas, while also building your confidence in time trials. Use a TT bike if you have one, but if you don’t, it’s fine to go Eddy Merckx style. The goal is to put you into a simulated time trial so you can learn how to focus, develop a rhythm, and push your wattage in the VO2Max zone (106-120% of FTP).
Warm-up: This is another workout for which your warm-up is extra important; riding at least 30 minutes is highly recommended. Within the last 10 minutes of your warm-up, complete
5 1-minute fast pedaling efforts with your cadence over 110 rpm, resting for 1 minute between each at 80 rpm. Don’t worry about your wattage; keep the watts relatively low and focus on the cadence.
Main set: Get psyched and ready for some time trial efforts! Do 6 x 6 minutes, starting out hard with your wattage at 120% of FTP for the first minute, dropping your watts to 110% of FTP for the next 4 minutes, and in the final minute pushing your wattage back to 120% of FTP and finishing strong. Rest for 6 minutes between each effort. The beauty of these efforts is that they're miniature time trials, designed to contain the same emotions, intensity, and focus that a longer time trial would have. Do these at a self-selected cadence, which is whatever cadence feels best to you. Really focus on using your gluteal muscles and staying as low as possible with the upper body. The best time trialists work on their flexibility; if you can’t touch your toes easily, you need to start stretching! Finish the ride with 20 minutes of tempo at 80-90% of FTP.
Cool-down: 15 minutes at your endurance pace (56-75% of FTP).
Remember, the more you practice something, the better you’ll get at it. To become a good time trialist, you’ll need to do a bunch of time trial simulations. When you analyze your power file, look for how your power dropped over the intervals, and pay attention to how well you adhered to your pacing strategy. Learning to time trial well is accomplished by proper pacing strategy and adherence to that strategy.
Kitchen Sink WorkoutThe “kitchen sink” is my absolute favorite workout, and it's great for everyone. It works all your energy systems, you get to go for a big ride, and you come home with that wonderful feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction that all cyclists know. The goal of this workout is to address all the different energy systems needed for successful racing. I also want you to come home fatigued and tired, having pushed yourself a little harder and farther than before.
Warm-up: 30 minutes at endurance pace (56-76% of your FTP).
Main set: After you’re warmed up, do 2 x 20 minutes at or just a hair below threshold (93-100% of FTP). I'll warn you: it's hard. You’ll have to push to maintain it. Rest for 10 minutes between each at endurance pace. Next, ride at your endurance pace for 30 minutes and then do 6 sprints, 3 in the small ring for 75 meters (starting from a slow speed and spinning the gear at 140 rpm by the end of the sprint) and 3 in the big ring for 250 meters (starting from 20 mph and getting the 53:13 turning over, but resisting the desire to go into your hardest gear). Ride at endurance pace for 5 minutes between each.
After completing your sprints, cruise for 30 minutes at endurance pace and then do 5 hill repeats of various hills and lengths along your route, each at your VO2Max pace (110-120% of FTP), with good solid rests at endurance pace for 5-10 minutes between each. Again, these are done along the way in the ride. If you don’t have any hills, it’s fine to do these as attacks into the wind or pretending you’re attacking on the flats.
Your final hard effort is another 30 minutes at endurance pace. While riding at endurance pace, add in some bursts (little 8-second ones) every 5 minutes or so to simulate the constant movement of a peloton.
Stop at a store with an hour to go and get your favorite caffeinated, sugary drink, because you’ll want a little boost before the final push home. Finish with 45 minutes of sweet spot (88-93% of FTP) on the ride home. Push it and try to ramp up your pace as you get closer and closer to home. You should finish tired but satisfied.
Cool-down: 5-10 minutes with a recovery drink and STRETCHING.
When you analyze your power file after this workout, the first thing you should look for is your training stress score. Did you score over 280 TSS? If not, you didn't go long enough. If you’re closer to the 300-320 TSS range, announce it on Facebook so I can like it. The goal is to create some big stress, and a solid TSS will confirm that.
The second thing to look at is your normalized power for the last 45 minutes. This will give you another confirmation of your endurance. If you were struggling way below your sweet spot and had nothing left, you know where you need to spend some more time. If you were solidly in your sweet spot, mission accomplished.
Team RideYour final mission this spring is to do some group riding. Group rides can be great opportunities to get in some guaranteed intensity when you don’t feel like training or when you’re too fatigued to push yourself but still have more to give.
When you do these group rides, approach them with two different mentalities and strategies: on the first ride, attack it with reckless abandon. Don’t attack so much that you get dropped, of course, but come close! Your attitude should be one of pushing yourself to the limit and really digging deep in order to just get in the work.
The next time you do a group ride, do the exact opposite and try to be as absolutely economical as possible. That means sitting in, riding on wheels, not pedaling, saving energy, staying out of the wind and away from the front (until the split comes), and making sure when you do have to ride hard you can easily make the move. Group rides are perfect places to learn economy through energy conservation.
When you analyze your power file after your first group ride, it’s important to count exactly how many attacks you were able to do before nearly getting dropped. Look at the time each attack lasted and memorize the wattages you averaged in the attacks for later use in races. After the “conservation” group ride, look at your cadence distribution chart and see how much time you spent not pedaling; this is a great indicator of your ability to conserve energy.
These four workouts each address different areas of fitness that are needed for our spring races. If you're really challenged by them, you'll get a great boost of fitness from the accomplishment of each. If you’re already super fit and peaking for the spring races, these workouts will help you push yourself to the next level and ensure success. So plan these into your weekly schedule! You might even do all four of them in the same week, but I wouldn't recommend it every week. Another plan might be to do the hill repeats two times in one week if you know you really need help improving your anaerobic capacity.
Use your best judgment and give each of these your best. When you crack that 300 TSS in the kitchen sink workout, tag me on Facebook or Twitter, and I’ll be sure to like it!
Want more coaching and training tips? Request information about our coaching packages or schedule a consulting session with one of our expert coaches. With power training, we get powerful results.
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 through PeaksCoachingGroup.com.
Photo: David Sellars rides at PCG Camp Blue Ridge 2014
Article originally published in Road Magazine.