In these first weeks of the year, everyone who’s into bike riding is looking forward to the goals and achievements to be had in the year ahead. Whether you’re a professional racer who’s had a relaxing break after the end of the last season, or a beginner getting motivated for your first long cyclosportive, cycling training is all about mindset, goals and planning. We share some insights into how Team Sunweb professional Søren Kragh Andersen experienced the winter break. And offer some suggestions for us lesser gods on how to aim well for next season’s targets.
Cycling training programme
The secret to the best training programme is simple: it has to be the one that works for you. The professionals in the World Tour race peloton obviously receive expert coaching and assistance when building up their training load after the break. But they too are human and have similar hesitations to us less good riders when it comes to getting back in the groove after the winter.
Søren Kragh Andersen
The Prologue recently spoke to Søren Kragh Andersen from Team Sunweb. He gives some interesting insights into how professional riders deal with the stress caused by relaxation. “I used to get stressed about losing fitness and wanted to stay skinny during the winter break,” says Kragh Andersen. “But I have now learned that that there are periods when you are actually allowed to be less fit, in order to allow the body to recover.”
This is a key difference between professionals and amateurs who like to ride bikes now and again: “professional cyclists are perfectionists and training junkies. We love training and we can never get enough. I think for a lot of pro cyclists it’s harder to be relaxed and stay calm than it is to train super-hard and perhaps overdo it. But I’m now trying to be more relaxed and I feel I have a good balance,” he explains.
Hungry for the bike
“Getting hungry for the bike” is an important factor for the professionals says Kragh Andersen. “To be able to go out and train hard for six to eight hours a day and to keep the hunger for the really hard races in Belgium in March you have to be mentally sharp. But if you have been pushing yourself too hard in the rain in Holland in December, for example, you can already become a little mentally tired by February. I think you’ll then miss this super-focus during the races in March. And then you won’t win in those really tough races where you have to fight for every corner.” Søren Kragh Andersen hopes to share a leadership role for Team Sunweb in the 2019 Spring Classics, alongside Australian rider Michael Matthews.
Back on two wheels
This is good news! It’s okay to rest over the winter period. But, of course, the periods of rest and recovery are really individual. And often it’s a question of counting backwards from your major goal and building up a training programme which enables you to hit your best possible form on that day. And the type of training you choose will depend on the event you’re preparing for. There are so many training aids available to riders these days for both indoor sessions in your pain cave and out on the road that the choice can be a bit baffling if you’re just getting started.
Strava, Zwift, Training Road, Golden Cheetah, The Sufferfest and Garmin Connect are just a few of the names you may have come across. The best is to first experiment and choose a couple of aids which work for you and, most importantly, stick to them consistently. Don’t chop and change too much, as you may lose focus on the goal, which is simply to get fitter, stronger and faster on the bike.
Riders who are aiming for a specific goal, be it the Marmotte, a local club race or a long multi-day gravel adventure, would be well advised to start getting to grips with the theory of periodisation. This is a great way to structure your personal training ambitions, in order to get into the right form for the event you are aiming for. Periodization is, according to the wiki: “the systematic planning of athletic or physical training. The aim is to reach the best possible performance in the most important competition of the year.”
The theory splits your training plan into three sub-plans: the annual plan, the two to six week plan and the one week plan. The types of trainings themselves are also split into three main phases (and sub-phases, but we won’t go into that now). The big three are: Preparation, Competition and Transition. We will write a further article on this subject soon, but anyone who is seriously getting prepared to get better at cycling should look into this theory.
Everyone should do interval training of some sort. Everyone? Yes. Especially time-squeezed cyclists like us who have day jobs, families, other interests, or all of the above. You can easily integrate intervals into your periodisation plan. You can also choose the intensity level and type (from 20-second sprints to half-hour tempo training) according to your plan (or lack of a plan … whatever, don’t get hung up on it, just put in the work!). Intervals are often easiest to achieve on a home trainer in your pain cave, but can also be done out on the road: a short, traffic-free hill which you can keep going up and down is a great place to start for high-intensity drills.
Don’t stress, enjoy!
One of the pitfalls of a structured approach to training is when your plan starts to go out of whack. Our daily lives intrude heavily on our cycling ambitions and we can get flustered by how that impacts our training schedule. The worst thing that can happen is if you then give up your plan. (We’ve all been there, believe me.) But just redraw the battle lines, get back on the bike and keep preparing, training and, most of all, enjoying your time on two wheels!