Mountain Bike Race Day Tips

Mountain Bike Racing

Here are some mountain bike race day tips from Cecilia Potts who won the Junior Cross Country Mountain Bike World Championships in 1997.

The final 10-second countdown always sums up the race for me. It doesn’t matter how long I’ve been retired from professional cycling. When I’m behind that starting line–whether it’s at a local 5KM run or the start of a fun bike race, those last 10 seconds before the starter’s gun shatters the silence are when it all comes together for me.

Before any race day there’s a lot going on both mentally and emotionally that’s far beyond than the normal routine of getting ready for another training ride. I’ve ridden that emotional and mental roller coaster somewhere north of 200 races during the course of my career, and the thought stream that kept me most grounded was constantly reminding myself whose race it was to win.

Mountain bike racing is just as much about being physically prepared as it is to have your brain conditioned and ready on race day. You can do as many VO2 Max intervals as physically possible and ride at your Lactic Acid Threshold all day long, but if the stuff between your ears isn’t also in training for the big day, it will be like showing up to the starting line with a flat tire.

My number one tip for mountain bike race day: Don’t forget to train your brain.

Over the years I’ve been on training rides with people who can absolutely school me. They out pace me on the flats, drop me on the climbs, and are waiting for me at the bottom of a decent sipping on a water bottle and looking bored. Yet, on race day I would easily ace them.

Why? Because along with chasing their rears on our training rides, I also was spending time conditioning my mind.

Training your brain starts with the little things. For example, every time my training schedule included a mock time trial, I’d set the “finish line” as a landmark in a somewhat visible place like the city limits sign coming into a busy town. When I crossed that line, after keeping it in mind while pushing hard for the entire time, I always threw my arms up in the air and smile and would shout like I was finishing a stage in the Tour de France. People would look at me like I was crazy, but I knew I was the winner of the Tuesday night time trial world championships. (That probably sounds silly, but I always felt like I was beaming with joy inside after the effort, and I know for me it’s made the difference between first and second places many times.)

Combining my physical strength with the power of positive self-talk–encouraging myself with each pedal stroke carrying me toward the city limit sign–and then rewarding my efforts by throwing my arms up in the air, created sort of a Pavlovian response of physical exertion needing to result in a triumphant victorious feeling.

I knew of others who were positive when they were training, but then on the race course they’d fall apart. It would start with the negative banter during warm-up before the race. My competitors would say things like, “Awe, I haven’t really been training that much and I’m not ready for this,” or “I hope I don’t get a flat tire again today.” They’d be in the starting area with uncertain looks on their faces and fear in their eyes as they gazed out at all the spectators. Before the gun even went off, those competitors were racing for fourth place.

Long before you pack up your race day bag, put your bike in the car, and drive to the race, you need to telling yourself that this is your race. When you roll up to the starting line, this is your race. It doesn’t belong to the person leading the series or the person who came in ahead of you at the last race. This is your race and you are going to throw your arms up at the end and bask in your victory just like did on your training rides.

My other mental secret weapon for race day: Ride the course in your head.

I know it’s not always possible, but pre-riding the course if possible will always help on race day. This recommendation goes beyond the obvious reasons of knowing the most efficient lines and being prepared for all of the terrain and obstacles. This, again, is all about your head.

Every time I’ve done a race–mountain or road–on the night before between the time my head hit the pillow and I fell asleep, I rode the course again in my head. (I have friends who now use their GoPro cameras and record the course and then watch it like a movie before going to sleep every night.) Sometimes I would lay on my back with my arms stretched out in front of me pretending my hands were on the bars. As I rode the course through my mind, I’d use the brakes, shift, and remember particular rocks and roots and the best lines I took to clear them. This technique gave me confidence on a course even though I hadn’t spent much time actually riding it.

Putting it all together during the 10 second countdown before the start.

Those last ten seconds were always the most peaceful 10 seconds of my entire day. The world seemed to move in slow motion, and the only thing I could hear was my heart beating in my ears.

This is the 10 seconds when your mind flashes forward. As the clock clicks down, you’re seeing yourself with your mind’s eye flying through the sections of trail you know you’re strong on. You’re remembering that one rock or root that you need to clear to clean a section. You’re also seeing your self crossing the finish line with your arms over head and the crowd cheering in the background. The pop of the starter’s pistol is what ends this positive visualization, and it is what starts you on the course to the best race of your life.

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Mountain Bike AND Road Bike Training – Does it make sense?

Here’s a classic conundrum: you love mountain bike racing and you love road racing, but you’re not quite sure how to tailor a training schedule that will give you the best of all worlds when it comes to racing each discipline. Have no fear, training to race on the road and on the mountain bike don’t have to be mutually exclusive — AND (and maybe best of all) riding each discipline will help the other.

One of the mistakes I made in my racing career was not spending enough time on the mountain bike. Even though mountain bike racing was “my sport,” and road racing was something that I just did, I spent 85 percent of my training time on the road bike.

Why? Lots of reasons, including:

  • The road was more accessible.
  • Finding trails to fit my training need wasn’t always possible.
  • Daylight – after school or work, I had a finite amount of daylight hours for training.

If any of the above are reasons you’ve chosen to train on the road rather than the mountain bike, I do have some suggestions as to how you can get more time on the mountain bike and still accomplish your weekly training schedule goals.

Suggestion #1 – Use your mountain bike for time trial training

Let’s face it, a mountain bike race is really a mass-start time trial on rough terrain. So why not train for it? One of the reasons I came to like road racing so much (not so much criterium racing) was because road races hardly ever started like mountain bike races. At a mountain bike race, the gun goes off and everyone goes anaerobic within the first 500 meters, and the pace stays fervent for the entire length of the race. I realized my training on the mountain bike had to emulate this.

Find a week night training series and go race your mountain bike. It turned out that there was a Wednesday night training race series hosted within an hour’s drive from where I lived. The training race provided all the benefits of a time trial and I was able to log some miles in the dirt, which also helped hone my off-road skills. Another benefit was being able to see where my pace put me among my competitors.

Suggestion #2 – Pick a section of trail that works for Vo2 Max intervals

One of the many things that I found difficult about mountain bike racing was making good line selections and course choices while being anaerobic. It seemed like the lack of oxygen in my brain (all of it was fueling my legs) was causing me to make silly, time-wasting mistakes in the technical trail sections. I needed practice riding at my max while making my way through tough terrain.

  • Find a climb that connects to a technical section of trail.
  • Ride your first Vo2 Max interval and mark your finish spot.
  • Recover by riding back down to the start of the climb.
  • Repeat. Each time marking your progress.

When I did this, I found at the half-way point of the interval training workout, I covered my farthest distance on the trail. By the time I was onto my last interval, I would finish somewhere near the place I finished on my first interval. It was good to see the positive forward progress, and it also was beneficial to see how my ability to negotiate technical sections deteriorated as I grew tired.

Suggestion # 3 – Convert a long road ride into a long mountain bike ride

You’re training schedule says you need four to six hours in the saddle on the road. You know the pace needs to be Zone 2 and a little bit of Zone 3. Why not take the mountain bike out instead?

No, I’m not suggesting you take a four to six hour mountain bike training ride (though the more I ride the more I enjoy these “epics”). I’ve always equated two to three hours on the mountain bike at steady Zone 2 and some bits of Zone 3 with four to six hours on the road bike with the same Zone effort. Training on the road is always solid, but if you are able to spend a little extra time on your mountain bike, it’s only going to help improve your technical skills. And, it can help prepare you for taking terrain when you’re tired and no longer fresh.

Combining road and mountain bike training – an unexpected benefit.

Remember how I mentioned I didn’t much like criterium racing in the section under Suggestion #1? Well, I still don’t like crits, but I got better at them over time and it was because of the time I spent training on my mountain bike.

Mountain biking is intense. Crits are intense. When you’re ripping through a section of trail, you might find your self braking, immediately accelerating, and leaning to miss a tree or rock all within seconds of each other. I’ve had similar experiences in crits (sans the trees and rocks).

As the pelotan approaches a corner in a fast crit, the first 10 riders or so make it through and never touch their brakes and then accelerate out of the apex. The rest of the field starts to touch their brakes, and as the peloton takes the corner the braking and acceleration becomes more intense the farther back in the field you are. The sketchiness of the riders around you also becomes more of an issue. One guy is grabbing a handful or brake in the middle of the corner and another just skipped his back wheel because he dragged a pedal.

Having spent time training on your mountain bike, you’ve learned to better react and respond to all of the above:

  • Sudden braking and hard accelerations are unavoidable on mountain bike.
  • A sketchy rider who makes a mistake is just like responding to rock or root in the trail.

Because of the intensity of mountain biking, a sudden breakaway in the field doesn’t surprise you, you’re ready to pour on the power and sustain it.

Mountain biking and road cycling compliment each other in many ways. I wish I would have learned earlier in my career how to better use each discipline to help bolster my skills and strengths in the other. Hopefully, you’ll be able to use these suggestions to augment your training program and become more successful on race day – no matter what bike you’re on when you roll up to the starting line.

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How to Improve Your Mountain Bike Skills

How to Improve Your Mountain Bike Skills

Here are some great tips from Cecilia ‘Ceal’ Potts who is a former professional cyclist. Her greatest cycling accomplishment was winning the Junior Cross Country Mountain Bike World Championships in 1997 so it is a great pleasure to publish her tips here on Training4cyclists.com.

People I ride with often ask me if there’s one thing–a silver bullet for mountain bike technical skills–that will make them a better rider. My answer is: YES, and learning how to do a bunny hop or a mastering a nose wheelie is not required.

My technical mountain bike skills are exponentially better than they were in 1997 when I won the Junior Cross Country Mountain Bike World Championships, and this is why: I now have core and upper body strength and can better control a bicycle on all types of terrain.

TIP #1 Strengthen your core and upper body to be more balanced with your legs.

Watch a few videos on Youtube of mountain bike racers going down (or even up) a steep, rocky section of trail. You’ll notice that the cyclists who have the most control and pass through the section the quickest are those who have the core strength to keep their bodies balanced over their bicycles and the arm strength to put their front wheels on the most efficient lines.

Those who don’t have a strong core or upper body and arm strength ride rough terrain like the metal ball in a pinball machine as they bounce off of rocks, riding the trail at the mercy of gravity and with good luck.

I’m not saying bulk up. Instead:

  • Strengthen your core – try doing planks, abdominal crunches, and oblique twists.
  • Put meat on your chicken wings the old fashioned way – push ups and pull ups.
  • Use cross training to improve balance – surfing and Nordic skiing work the core and upper body.

Your body is the fulcrum when you are on your bicycle. When the downhill terrain gets steep and bumpy, you need to be able to effortlessly transfer your weight to behind the bottom bracket (or transfer forward on a climb) and be able to hold it there to maintain equilibrium through the section. You also need to use your arms to push down and pull up on the handlebars to steer toward the most efficient and safe line possible.

After you’ve built up your core and upper body strength you can build your next skill set: picking the best line.

TIP #2 Pick the best line. Practice makes perfect.

We all know that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, and anyone who has ever ridden a mountain bike knows that the shortest distance isn’t always an option due to lack of skills or a strong sense of self preservation.

I’ve had the privilege of pre-riding a downhill course with world-class downhillers Mark Weir and Brian Lopes. One of the things on this ride that surprised me most was the way each of them took on technical sections (it was Brian’s first time on the course). They took the time to look at all the available lines, sometimes walking those lines, no matter how unfeasible the lines seemed at first glance.

When you come across a technical section of trail:

  • Get off your bike to get a better look – view it from the top and the bottom of the section.
  • Choose a line and then walk it – from the top to bottom and then back to the top.
  • Would carrying speed through the section help or hurt?

Walk the line you choose with your bike – note the flow of the terrain as your wheels roll over. Are their rocks, roots or ruts that may swallow a front wheel or cause the rear wheel to slide out?

Finally, I ride the line, repeatedly, until I’m confident I can pass through the section of trail flawlessly at race pace.

By combining TIP #1 and TIP #2, you now have the strength and confidence to handle lines that you previously may have not considered. This is where it all comes together.

TIP #3 Anticipate what’s ahead on the trail.

Another key to keeping the pace up on a ride is knowing what terrain, topography, and obstacles are ahead. Even if you haven’t ridden a race course or your on an unfamiliar trail, you can get a solid idea about what’s ahead by looking at your surroundings.

About a year ago, I learned the value of this skill the hard way. I was on trail I’ve ridden in the dozens of times, but tall grass had grown up and closed in a long long section of single track. The trail was hard-packed clay,flat, and fast. However, the grass made it impossible to see more than a two bike lengths ahead on the trail. We were riding at race pace. Then I made a huge mistake. I thought the trail was going to bear left and instead it took a sharp right. I shot off the single track and blasted through the tall grass into thin air over a small ravine.

Before I had a chance to react, I piled head first at full speed into the other side of the ditch and slid down to the bottom of the 15-foot or so deep gully. It knocked the wind out of my chest and my ears were ringing – it was a concussion for sure.

But what hurt worse was the embarrassment I felt from the crash. Had I been using my two eyes — one to watch the trail in front of me and the other to take a look at my surroundings, I would have realized to my right was a nearly vertical mountain side going up and to my left was just as steep going down since we were essentially perpendicular to the hill side.

If I would have paid attention to this I would have adjusted my speed and kept it on the trail.

Here are some visual hints that can give you a good sense of what’s ahead:

  • When there’s a steep slope above, the slope below is likely steep, too.
  • Use the contour of a hillside to anticipate the trail’s twists and turns ahead.
  • Long climbs are usually followed by long fast downhills – maintain equilibrium on the bike.

Knowing what’s ahead smooths out all aspects of the ride. As you move your body back on the bike for a steep downhill, realize there could be a a climb soon after the decent and your legs might be somewhat fatigued from the pounding of the terrain. Give yourself a break and pick a suitable gear that will allow you to maintain a good cadence and keep a smooth pace after the technical section.

Final thoughts

Tips and helpful hints work best when they are used everyday. Even if you don’t have the core and upper body strength you think you need, go out and practice those technical sections over and over again. As your line picking skills improve so will your instincts for anticipating what’s ahead on the trail.

I’ve been riding mountain bikes for more than 20 years and with every mile I log, I’ve seen my skill sets improve. I hope you see the same progress with yours.

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7 Things I Would Do If I Were Starting From Scratch

Even though I believe in intelligent training methods, there is no doubt that hard work is mandatory to reach the stars. The saying is “no pain, no gain” and there’s no doubt a bit of suffering can go a long way if you want to beat the opposition.
The first rider I made a training program for did not receive the best training methods available.

I started as a cycling coach in November 2000 training an average junior rider from the local club. He had commitment to his training and we were both 100% dedicated to make this project a great success. We tried to do everything the best possible way. He trained more time than he was used to, he performed scheduled interval training, there was some kind of periodization and I gave him feedback and offered 1 to 1 coaching.

Still, 13 years later it is obvious for me that I could have done several things much, much better. Actually, if I was to attempt the same today, I would make the training program completely different. There was a sensible overall structure, but most interval training was out of the blue.

So what would I have done today?

1) I would use a different combination of intervals with a long-term focus
2) I would use different performance tests
3) I would use anaerobic endurance intervals strategically in pre-season
4) I would use a more aggressive tapering protocol
5) I would pick fewer races for peaking
6) I would forget about perfectionism and use the 80/20 principle as much as possible
7) I would give more freedom to the rider to make his own decisions

But what happened?

This rider really succeeded with this training program because he had the right attitude to take his training to a new level. He was not afraid to suffer during training and mentally he was extremely focused on getting the job done.

Being very dedicated and believing in the training program led to impressive improvements. He completed the training program as scheduled and achieved great results the following season. He went from being a completely unknown rider to being competitive at national level and participating in several international races.

That story illustrates that attitude plays a big role. Even the best training program will not take you anywhere if you don’t do the hard work. There are no legal ways to reach great improvements without suffering.

So the real secret to succeeding with e.g. the 12-week winter training program is to actually get the work done. There might be things you would like to do differently and there might be things I would suggest differently in the future.

BUT they are just mere details.

The overall success ratio is still mostly influenced by how YOU attack the training sessions.

Question to the readers:

What would you change in your training if you could turn back time? (please leave a comment)

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How to Optimize Your Pre-Season Cycling Training

The road cycling race season is just about to begin and in some countries they have already started. Today I will show you some highly effective techniques that will help you to perform better from the very first race.

One of the most common arguments against interval training during the winter is the risk of peaking too early.

I disagree. If you are not competing at a professional level, your risk of peaking too early is extremely low. Remember that your current fitness leaves significant room for improvement and that’s why it makes sense to train longer, faster and more frequently. You are far from peaking.

Lack of Race Speed

Finishing a solid base training leaves you with a strong aerobic engine. Your threshold power is now close to maximum and you are getting lean and ready to enter the cycling races. Still, you might have the feeling that your legs are not ready for the big races.

There is something missing…

Have you ever completed a solid base training left with the feeling that you still lack race speed to perform optimally? Have you (or some of your cycling buddies) ever used ‘lack of race speed’ as an excuse for not performing as well as you were hoping for?

The case is that a solid aerobic engine alone is not enough to win cycling races.

Even though threshold power is often referred as the single most important physiological parameter, having a decent power output at threshold power is not enough. Most often you will need both anaerobic endurance/sprint skills and also a highly trained VO2 max to be competitive in cycling races.

Why? Because in most cycling races winds play an important role. When you ride behind other riders in the bunch you may save up to 40% of power output to maintain the pace.

Thus, if you just sit in the front of the peloton and work around your threshold power, all other riders can easily follow your pace as long as you ride in the flat or slightly uphills.

So if you want to make a breakaway or drop some of your worst opponents then a steady pace at threshold power might not be enough.

Instead, you need to use your anaerobic and tactical skills to establish a breakaway.

And then afterwards return to a steady pace slightly below threshold power in your new group of riders.

To be able to make these breakaways you’ll need to have at least some anaerobic power to accelerate away from the peloton. It’s clear that the more aware your opponents are, the harder you will have to work to get away. Also, as you get closer to the finish line you should expect more riders to react when you make your attempts.

You could see their awareness as a problem or you can see it as your opportunity to strategical alternatives. By leveraging from other riders impatience, you can actually make tactical moves that are far more likely to succeed than with most solo attacks. Also if you stay away from the front and simply let the attacking rider protect you from the wind, you can relatively easy join the attack. That way you have a chance to join a new breakaway while saving your anaerobic power for later.

Structure is the key to successful cycling training

Even experienced and ambitious riders get surprised when they enter the first couple of races in the season. Some of them may have increased their total training load significantly during the winter and therefore – reasonable – expect to perform better.

However, many of these talented riders don’t get the results and honour they have worked so hard for. Because they struggle so hard to increase the total training time and intervals, they forget to remind themselves of the importance of having a good overall structure on their training plans.

If there is no structure on your intervals, distance training and cycling races then all else is meaningless. Forget about exotic recovery drinks, aero wheels, carbon saddles etc.

If there is no structure on when you train hard and when you don’t then this is the first place to improve your performance in the long run.

Simply put: structure is the best and most effective way to increase your performance. And you don’t have train harder.

It’s important to notice that high intensity intervals are not just high intensity intervals. Since road cycling is mainly an aerobic activity, it is also clear that most of your training should target the aerobic engine.

It takes more time to build a solid aerobic engine, but once it is built it will remain at a reasonable level with the minimum of training.

Why are the first cycling races in the season so difficult?

One of the most common excuses is ‘lack of race speed’. I agree with this cause, but I don’t think it’s very precise.

Switching from group rides at 30km/hr to cycling races at 40+ km/hr is not only a question of speed. It’s a paradigm shift from riding friendly group rides to entering a war on bikes.

Let me explain: If you haven’t included high intensity intervals and riding in your training yet, you will very likely experience ‘lack of race speed’. And you will experience it the hard way. To make it clear: If you are not prepared, you will be punished.

Those riders who dominate and win these first races are typically well prepared.

They have followed their training programs for months and they have been doing some kind of high intensity (anaerobic) training in the past. And that gives them what is commonly referred as ‘race speed’.

So yes, in races you ride 10km/hr faster, but that is only a part of the explanation. The physiological and technical demands are quite different when you enter a cycling race.

So if you want to be one of those riders who are well prepared when the race season opens, then you have to use some of the pre-season training techniques mentioned below. Otherwise, you will be one of those riders whining about ‘lack of race speed’.

Though, the good news for lazy riders: If you haven’t done your anaerobic training, you will catch up within 6 to 8 weeks. That’s what many cyclists experience season after season when they have entered the first ten races or so.

Simply, because their anaerobic capacity gets a boost from participating in the cycling races.

That also means, that if you plan to peak later in the season, you don’t have to push too hard with anaerobic intervals and sprints before the season opens. But it will make your life in the peloton a bit easier and maybe your winning chances are also better in early part of the season.

How to Ride Faster in the Early Part of the Race Season

1) Friendly races (Fartlek)

Making your training more similar to races is a logic step that helps you prepare for the cycling races waiting for you.

Instead of riding steady pace group rides, you should include two or three short races with a predefined distance of 5km or up. These friendly races give you a nice combination of aerobic and anaerobic intervals while riding your bike at higher speeds. You will also get a sense of race tactics if you include a finish line for your friendly race.

Though, this training approach is an unorganized way to train compared to most of the other advice I give, it’s a very effective and inspiring way to optimize your aerobic and anaerobic systems. Well performed, these Fartlek sessions are both highly effective and motivating as pre-season workouts.

Sometimes you simply have to dig a little deeper into your reserves when you train. This may help you to go from good to great. But, more importantly, it is a great mental relief to just follow the pack as they begin to race.

So remember the positive attitude and enjoy the chance to have some extra training and fun at the same time.

Remember that most cycling races are not organized in 15-minute sub-threshold intervals. Cycling races are extremely unpredictable and you will need a wide repertoire of skills to master them. So spontaneous cycling races or sprints are an excellent supplement to your regular, scheduled intervals.

If you never do anything that is not scheduled in the training plan, then do at least one off-diary interval/race/sprint this week.

2) Anaerobic intervals and sprints
The secure way to boost your anaerobic performance is through specific intervals designed for anaerobic performance. These intervals are typically shorter efforts of less than 60 seconds. The intensity is so high and the duration so short that using a heart rate monitor for pacing makes no sense.

Even without any pacing tool, it is relatively easy to get a great boost of your anaerobic power and endurance.

Simply by doing anaerobic intervals once or twice per week, your anaerobic capacity will increase significantly within a few weeks. It is much faster than building aerobic power, so even if you are a bit late, you have a good chance to catch up quickly.

One important thing that most riders are not aware of is the need for recovery between hard anaerobic intervals.

Why? If your recovery periods are too short, you will not be able to generate sufficient high power outputs in the work periods and more work will be performed through aerobic metabolism. Thus, you will not get a sufficient stimulus for your anaerobic enzymes.

3) Tapering

The most overlooked secret of winning riders is their use of tapering. If you want to make a really great ride, you should make at least some kind of tapering protocol before the races you prioritize. That will make your legs and mind fresh, and help you to perform much better than most of your opponents.

Especially in the early part of the season many riders have been through a heavy amount of training. With reference to the overload principle, these riders need a few weeks of tapering before they are able to perform at peak performance.

It’s not all about boosting your anaerobic system

Winter training is often considered as the most important part of your preparation for next season. Why not also use your best weapon to improve aerobic performance?

As I mentioned previously in this article, you might choose to prioritize differently. If you spend less energy on optimizing your anaerobic system now, you will be able to build an even stronger aerobic engine. And because of that you can be even stronger later in the season. That is always a question of priority.

Even though my 12-week winter training program forces you to tackle scheduled intervals three times per week and also perform an increasing amount of training, there may still be opportunities to ride more.

Don’t be afraid to add an extra interval or a spontaneous friendly cycling race.

Yet, it’s my gut feeling that many riders don’t prepare optimally for the season opening. And just a little tweak to your current training can make a nice improvement in your opening races.

Thus, I conclude that intelligent riders get an easy advantage in the first few weeks simply by optimizing their training.

4 Pre-season Bike Training Sessions That Will Boost Your Race Performance

VO2 Max intensity refer to your avg. power output (Watts) in 5min test.

Pre-season Training Program 1 (50 min)
15 min warm-up
1 x 5 min – 80 % VO2 max
1 x 5 min – 50 % VO2 max
3 x (3+3 min) 100 / 50 % – VO2 max
7 min cool down

Pre-season Training Program 2 (50 min)
15 min warm-up
3 x (40s + 9.20min) maximum sprint efforts
5 min cool down

Pre-season Training Program 3
15 min warm-up
16+ x (30+30s) VO2 max
10 min cool down

The Ultimate VO2 Max Training Session
(read more about the ultimate VO2 max workout here.)
10+ min warm-up
2+8 min VO2 Max / Threshold intensity
10 min recovery
2+8 min VO2 Max / Threshold intensity
10 min cool down

PS. I can guarantee these intervals don’t work if you don’t try…

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The Ultimate VO2 Max Training Session

How to Become a Better Sprinter

THIS is the story behind how I developed an effective, motivating and personalised interval session, which is the perfect booster for VO2 max. If you want to go directly to the interval session, please scroll down to the bottom of this article or watch the video.

During the last few years, I have analysed lots of heart rate and power files from cycling races. I’ve spent time focusing on the most decisive moments during races; for example, the moment when you try to shake off your nearest challengers.
Based on my analysis and research, I’ve developed a unique training method that will dramatically boost your VO2 max. And I’ve been using this new interval training session during the last year with great success.
This is the first time I have shared this exclusive information, so you could say this is a world premiere…

My analysis of heart rate monitor and power meter files

At the crucial moments during a race you will perform at your five-minute maximum power for about two to three minutes. Since you are already warm (on 80-85% of max heart rate) because you have been racing, it only takes a short burst of power before you hit your VO2 max peak.

Riders who launch an attack typically establish a gap of between 50 to 100 metres during these initial minutes of aggressive cycling. All cyclists, breakaway riders as well as people left in the peloton, will feel the burn in their legs at these moments, so everybody will be suffering.

Since the breakaway riders have already expended a lot of energy to establish their lead, they will have to keep struggling on in the hope that the peloton will allow them to get away.

If they succeed in establishing a small breakaway group, they will keep the intensity slightly below or around threshold power. But as the initial two to three minutes were at their VO2 max, they would have already used a significant part of their anaerobic reserve. This means they have to maintain the highest possible intensity without accumulating additional lactic acid to avoid blowing up. So they have to ride at an intensity close to their functional threshold power during this continued attack. The following five to eight minutes are crucial in deciding if this will turn out to be a winning break or not.

If the peloton fails to reel in this group of leaders within five minutes, it is more than likely that they will not see them again during the race. But if the pack does manage to chase down the breakaway riders, then the race becomes wide open again, and there is a golden opportunity to launch a counter-attack.

Please bear in mind that we are talking about breakaways established at the ”business end” of a race ‒ not tactical moves during the early stages.

Five Reasons Why This Training Method Works

VO2 Max. You get an extended stimuli of your aerobic system at an intensity close to or at your maximal oxygen consumption. The initial two minutes activates your aerobic system, so it performs close to maximum. When you reduce your intensity to threshold power, you’ll be able to continue at maximal oxygen consumption without accumulating too much lactic acid. Therefore, you get an extended period of time with maximum impact on your aerobic system without too much suffering (don’t forget though, it’s still an EXTREMELY hard workout). You’ll reach a heart rate >92% of maximum heart rate.

Motivating interval design. The initial 30-40 seconds is a piece of cake but then it begins to get harder. When you’ve completed the first minute you will be halfway through the toughest part. By pushing the highest power outputs at the beginning of the interval, you’ll have a good feeling that you can actually complete this interval as scheduled.

High specificity. It is an old rule of thumb that you should train with your goal in mind. Make the training as relevant as possible. This interval is designed to simulate a cycling race and it certainly feels like one. When you struggle during the last four minutes of this interval, it feels you are enduring the pain of a tough race. Those riders who have been test pilots on this interval session will readily confirm that the mental and physical experience is the same.

Personalised intervals. This workout is based on your performance in two different physical tests to create a customised interval session to suit YOU. It will offer you the huge advantage of securing optimal training of your VO2 max.

Great results guaranteed. Your aerobic engine will thank you for it, and after just a few of these training sessions, your overall performance will improve significantly.

They are the five main reasons I believe this training method should be an integral part of your interval training, at least during the last six to eight weeks before important races.

What you also need to know before starting this interval session:

This VO2 max session is based on your performance in two separate physical tests. This knowledge gives you an advantage when you plan your training session. Instead of calculating your VO2 max as a percentage of your threshold power (or the opposite), you will base your decisions on your actual fitness at those intensities representing different physiological skills. So you end up with a bespoke training session that is perfect for you.

VO2 max power (five-minute maximum watts)

Threshold power (30-minute maximum watts)

If you haven’t performed these tests recently (<2 months), then it makes sense to tackle them again. If you’ve never tried these five and 30-minute performance tests before, you can read more about them here.

The Best VO2 Max Training for Cyclists – Here is the deal:

Warm up for at least 10 minutes. (Here is a quick warm-up routine)

2 min: VO2 max intensity

8 min: threshold intensity

10 min easy rolling

2 min: VO2 max intensity

8 min: threshold intensity

10 min cool down

No power meter? Here is what you should do…
If you don’t have access to a power meter or ergometer bike, it gets a little more difficult to control pacing, but you can still have a decent workout. Ride the first two minutes as if it was a 4km pursuit and ride the following eight minutes as a 40km time trial. It’s not optimal but it works.

What to do after the VO2 max session

After two rounds of 2+8min, you’ve had a decent workout. Some riders may want to ride more after finishing the interval session and that is no problem. You may prefer to ride for an hour or two with low intensity. You can add as much distance as you like.

Remember to refuel immediately after finishing the second VO2 max interval. This workout has a huge impact on your recovery time, so give yourself the best odds to recover quickly so you reap the full benefits from your effort.

Take action now…

Here is one thing you MUST do:

– Try the VO2 max training session and leave a comment about your experience.

and two things that will make me VERY happy:

– Write about this new training method on your personal blog or website.

– Share this link on your personal blog, Facebook, Twitter or Google Plus:

http://www.training4cyclists.com/best-vo2-max-training/

30 comments

What’s happening in 2013?

Dear readers,

Hope you are all well and ready for an exciting 2013!

In december 2012, I asked my email subscribers to tell me what is holding them back from becoming a better rider. More than 700 people answered that question and I wrote back to each of these helpful people. There were so many different answers, but after reading through all emails, I began to see a picture.

Even though everyone’s situation is a little different, there are some common things that explains why general advice like you see it on my blog and in my e-books make perfect sense.

Fact is you are not alone.

If you believe you are the only one, who is limited in performance due to a stressful job, taking care of kids and family and lots of travelling in your calendar… you’re wrong.

Most of us are struggling to find enough time for our favorite sport.

Perhaps, you’ll see things differently in 2013…

There are so many options waiting for you. Remember that changing habits might be much easier than you think. January 1st is a great time to start changing any bad habits. But there is no perfect timing. You can always change your habits. Here is a secret: It’s your own responsibility. Nobody is going to take the first step for you.

Give yourself a tangible goal to train for. If there is nothing specific goal in your mind, it’s much easier to lose focus. Select a race where you want to be at optimum shape and keep this race in mind when you train. Having a goal helps you to be more proactive in your approach to training. When you know there is an overall goal with your training, you will be more likely to take the necessary steps to succeed.

Instead of being surprised of the weather situation, ending up cancelling training due to heavy rain, you might plan alternative indoor cycling, join a spinning class, spice up your training with a tough cycling video or simply train harder the day before.

Having a sharp deadline helps you to stay focused. Remember how many situations sharp deadlines have helped you do what’s necessary (for example purchasing Christmas presents, reaching flights in time etc.)

If possible, your goal shouldn’t be too far away. It’s easier to follow shorter training plans (less than 3 months) and the success rate is much higher.

Most of the professional cyclists who train for the Tour de France as their major season goal also have sub-goals before the Tour de France. Having short term goals (e.g. perform well in races like Paris-Nice or Tirreno-Adriatico and/or Liege-Bastogne-Liege etc. ) help them to stay focused while preparing for their long term goal. Only very few riders are able to use a single race as their single goal for a season.

Breaking the season up in smaller parts, using races as part of their training towards their season goal makes sense.

Training4cyclists – What’s happening in 2013…

Back in 2006 when I launched Training4cyclists.com, there were only few readers and I was able to help each and every rider personally. Since then I have moved from being a medical student with a small blog to a medical doctor working full time with wife and 3 children while having a rapidly growing blog with more than 10.000 subscribers.

During 2012 I received lots of emails from cyclists and triathletes who want me to personally coach them. Most of them were willing to pay me for an individual training program and others were hoping for a free training program.

Even though, I would love to help every single rider, it is just not humanly possible to do so. And I feel terrible when I decline these requests. But these decisions have been necessary.

But I have written a winter training program that offers straightforward advice for riders who are ready to rock. And if you are struggling to find enough time for training you’ll enjoy to read my e-book about Time Effective Cycling Training. I hope these e-books will do a passive, cheap alternative to expensive one-to-one coaching.

In 2013 want to spend time with my lovely family, become a highly skilled medical doctor in clinical physiology and nuclear medicine and work part time blogging about cycling training. So I’m completely aware that I need to be time effective…

Here are some of my main blogging goals for 2013:

  • Publish a book and e-book bestseller on Amazon.
  • Reach 15.000+ Email Subscribers.
  • Publish a couple of comprehensive articles about cycling training. Already have a long list of ideas… just need a little time.

If you have any suggestions or comments these are highly appreciated in the comments section below.

Happy New Year!

Jesper Bondo Medhus

PS. Thanks to everone who took the time to write stories, testimonials, comments and suggestions in 2012. It is highly appreciated! Reader comments have always been a cornerstone for me in the process of develop better articles and training programs.

9 comments

Getting Back in the Saddle

When it comes to cycling, lots of riders fall into a familiar trap. Once they give up, they find it virtually impossible to get back on the bike. Runners have the same problem: once you stop stepping out on to the roads or trails, it’s so difficult to get going again.

If you have abandoned your bike and it is gathering dust in your garage or shed, then take some time to ask yourself why.

Is it down to a lack of time? Is there a feeling that you won’t be able to recapture the form of your younger days?

Or is it pure laziness?

Many riders will find some excuse not to get back in the saddle: the tough bit is to motivate yourself enough to drag your body off the sofa.

Back to the future

Make sure you don’t dwell on the past. If it is a long time since you achieved a personal best time then don’t fret about recapturing that peak form. You might be older and you may have developed a middle-aged spread. So be realistic and realign your targets and cycling goals.

Don’t beat yourself up about why you have stopped cycling or have failed to train in the past few months or years. The future is what’s important, not the past. So make sure your focus is purely on looking ahead.

Time for new goals

We all need goals to motivate ourselves. It’s much less likely that we’ll get back in the saddle if we have nothing to train for. So set yourself a target and make sure it’s achievable and not too ambitious, especially as you may have lost some basic cardiovascular fitness. This will help focus your mind and keep you motivated.

One idea would be to enter a 100-mile road race. This would be the perfect target to train for. Another aim would be to shed a bit of weight. You may have put on a few kilos while you stopped riding, so a weight-loss target could give your training regime a nice bit of added interest.

Follow a strict regime

If you’re serious about getting back on the bike then you need to instil some discipline into your training regime. If you have a busy life juggling a job and a family, then it’s crucial that a lack of time does not prove to be an insurmountable barrier to cycling again. A regime such as the 12-Week Winter Training Program could be a perfect fit for your immediate ambitions.

Socialise: join your old club

There is nothing better than gaining encouragement from others so why not train with some cycling pals or rejoin your old club? Age is no barrier if you want to cycle well. If it’s several years since you rode competitively then you will simply have to realign your goals.
You may not be able to ride quite as quickly as in your younger days, but it will be a great challenge trying to get your times down. So set personal goals.

It might be a big decision to get back on the bike so it may help to get validation from friends, family and old riding colleagues. Ask them what they think. They are likely to be encouraging and urge you to go through with your plans to kick-start your career.

Go for it

The above tips are all sensible steps to take but at the end of the day, there are no excuses. If you want to ride again, then there is nothing stopping you. Just go for it.

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It is not all about VO2 max

The most decisive moments in a cycling race often happen at an intensity close to VO2 max. I have several times emphasized how important I believe VO2 max is for race performance.

Also, I have used intervals targeted for VO2 max widely in my e-books to support my view on this training method.

It’s clear that training at high intensity makes fast improvements and has a huge potential for all cyclists. Actually, Elite and pro riders need training at (or very close to) VO2max to keep further progress.

The best and fastest way to track your progress is doing a 5-minute all-out test.

When you perform a VO2 max test, try to estimate how much power you can produce for five minutes and then keep a consistent pace. It might be necessary to adjust your pace throughout the test, but that’s how performance tests (and time trials) are.

As you get better you’ll be able to maintain a higher power output (avg. Watts).

Nevertheless, it should always be remembered that any performance test is only an indirect indicator of what really matters: Race performance.

Fact is, it really doesn’t matter how many Watts you can push in a 5-minute maximum test if you are unable to convert your awesomeness to race results. In the end, it’s your position on the podium that counts – not your average power output in performance tests.

Also, it’s worth considering that your 5-minute power output is only one out of many indicators of your current fitness. Thus, you should never be afraid to use different strategies to evaluate your performance.

If you are dreaming about finishing top 10 at a 3K pursuit then a 5-minute test might be relevant. Though, this test should never stand alone, because your overall goal is to get your bike to ride as fast as possible, so you can finish in the top 10.

So keep a strong focus on your overall goal. In the end that’s what matters most.

2 comments

10 Steps to Achieve Better Results with Interval Training

Interval training is often mentioned as the key to successful cycling training. Interval training is a cornerstone in all my training programs and I believe it is the most time effective way to achieve great results. Here is a list with 10 tips that can rapidly improve your interval training:

1.High priority to your interval training

First of all you must decide that you really want to do interval training. It might sound obvious, but if you give high priority to your interval training, it’s also much more likely to become a success. Try to perform your intervals as the most important part of your ride. Prioritizing interval training means that it is more important for you to perform your intervals than e.g. getting your planned distance, joining a social group ride or even participating in a race.    

2.Schedule your intervals

When you have decided to perform you interval training, it is a good idea to make a crystal clear plan for your interval training. You (and your training partners) must know exactly what is going to happen when the interval training begins. Intensity, distance and recovery should be well defined in a way that everyone understands. There should be no need to ask questions during the interval session.

3.Have a goal

When you perform interval training, you will often try to pace yourself through high intensity efforts that require a high amounts of mental power. If you have a goal with you interval training like a specific race (e.g. a time trial) you are training towards, it is a lot easier for you to go through the difficult parts of the training.

4.Warm-up before interval training

Warming up before interval training should be a no-brainer. Metabolic processes are temperature-dependent, thus many enzymes perform better at higher temperatures. Oxygen transport from blood to tissue is more rapid. Warming up simply increases your performance and makes it possible for you to train at higher oxygen consumption.

5.Use a heart rate monitor or power meter for pacing

Pacing is a discipline in itself, but heart rate monitors and power meters have made it easier than ever before to pace yourself through an interval session. There is a steep learning curve and many positive experiences with both kind of monitoring.

6.Active recovery between intervals

It is tempting to stop pedaling after finishing a hard interval, but it makes good sense to keep pedaling at low intensity because it helps your recovery. The recovery periods can also be used to maintain your oxygen consumption at a relatively high level and thus make it easier for you to reach high aerobic levels in the next interval.

Bottom line is you will get more time at a higher percentage of your VO2 max and that will give more stimuli for both peripheral and central adaptations.

7.Cool down after interval training

When you have finished your interval session it is recommended to perform a short cool down. If you are serious about your cycling training, this is the time where you should start your post-training recovery process. Eat proteins and carbohydrates, drink water and ride easy to boost the recovery process.

8.Experiment

Train alone, train with other riders, try different routes, try different bikes and naturally try a broad range of intervals sessions. The best way to get experience is to experiment with different strategies and that is also a great way to keep your motivation high.

9.Evaluate

When you have performed your interval session you must always remember to evaluate how it worked out for you. Are there any things you would like to adjust before your next interval session?

10.Share your best interval training tip!

Just to remember you about that fact that I don’t have all the answers to perfect interval training. If you have some good suggestions, please don’t hesitate to share these tips with the readers here on Training4cyclists.com. Your comments are highly appreciated!

2 comments

The Magic 2 Hour Cycling Training Program

When you go on vacation it can be difficult – even impossible – to maintain your fitness levels. After all it is a time for relaxing and chilling out with your family and friends, so your cycling training program tends to take a back seat.

But lazing on the beach or enjoying a few holiday cocktails does not mean you have to throw your training regime totally out of the window. You can still maintain your fitness: the challenge is how to be creative with your time to make sure you achieve this…

Finding the time without compromising your loved ones can be a challenge but it can also be fun. So I have devised a training program to make sure you don’t waste all the months of hard work that you have put in while on vacation.

Here are my six steps that will make your vacation a training success:

1) Be proactive.
When you are on vacation you can’t follow your regular training program. You can’t train on your normal bike or ride your regular routes. Instead focus on the possibilities and not the limitations. Cycling on vacation can be an excellent way of discovering new places: take in the sights and sounds of your new surroundings while simultaneously maintaining your fitness. Read more about being proactive.

2) Cut down on the number of training days.
In fact, reducing your total training time may well be good for you. The optimal number of training days is three because you will then be able to tackle tough intervals in every session. If you train fewer times per week, you will not get enough stimuli for your aerobic system.

3) Decrease the length of training sessions.
When you go for shorter rides, it becomes easier to stay focused and concentrate. Consequently you will get more quality into your training and fewer junk miles.

4) Interval training.
The real secret to succeeding with a dramatically reduced training amount is highly effective interval training. By doing intervals, you will be able to get a lot of training with an intensity close to VO2 max. And that will largely compensate for the reduced training volume.

5) Use the 80/20 principle.
Focus on the things that improve your performance and leave the time-consuming tasks for later. So you should mainly focus on high quality training sessions and (for a while) forget about fine tuning and polishing your bike and shaving your legs etc. To sum up: spend the time you are away from your travelling partners wisely.

6) And don’t forget that first and foremost you are on vacation…

The Magic 2 Hour Cycling Training Program

I have boiled these tips down to a ready-to-use training program for you. Since this program is extremely time effective, I have called it The Magic 2 Hour Cycling Training Program.

Monday Wednesday Friday
40min

5min warm-up 5x (4+2min)
(highest possible intensity, active recovery)

5min cool down

40min

5min warm-up 30x (40+20sec)
(highest possible intensity, active recovery)

5min cool down

40min

5min warm-up 30min time trial

5min cool down

Monday Wednesday Friday
40min

5min warm-up 10x(2+1min)
(highest possible intensity, active recovery)

5min cool down

40min

5min warm-up 30x(30+30sec)
(highest possible intensity, active recovery)

5min cool down

40min

5min warm-up 30min time trial

5min cool down

 

You see? It can be done.

Have a great time on your vacation but don’t forget to find the time for my free Magic 2 Hour Cycling Training Program.

I hope you enjoy it and I wish all of you the best of luck with it.

3 comments

Eliminate the Unnecessary

I often recommend VO2 max and threshold power interval training as the most effective training methods.

Though, it would be too extreme to devise the ultimate time effective training program including nothing but intervals and race days.

A more realistic approach to the 80/20 rule would be to eliminate some of the 80% that have the least impact on your performance.

In simple terms, you should try to reduce time spent on training activities that add the least value to your performance.

Examples of Time Ineffective Cycling Training

âž” Recovery rides
âž” Social rides
âž” Long slow distance training (LSD)

The above mentioned rides are categorized as time ineffective. This is not because they do not add value, but because you have to spend a lot of time on these activities compared to the outcome. For example, recovery rides can potentially help you recover better from hard training sessions, but you are also spending quite some time on a low-intensity activity.

From a strict time effective perspective, you would be better off eliminating the recovery ride. You will save more time for your other priorities in life.
Many cyclists will argue that they cannot skip their recovery rides because they are so crucial. If you have the same opinion, ask yourself the following question:

From a strict performance perspective, if you take a day off, which day would hurt your performance most? The recovery day or the high intensity session with interval training?

Recovery rides, social rides or long slow distance training have other positive effects and if you eliminate these sessions you will miss out on these benefits. But you cannot have it all.

When you analyze your training in the mirror of time effectiveness, high intensity workouts are going to be the core training sessions that should never be reduced in volume. In fact, you might be able to increase your high intensity training because your overall training volume is significantly lower.

A positive side effect to eliminating low-intensity workouts

âž” You get more focus and quality into your remaining training sessions

It might sound obvious but you will become a better and more competitive athlete simply by spending more hours riding at a high and competitive intensity.

If you do more training at a competitive intensity, you will begin to ride your bike faster, feel more comfortable in the peloton, sit in a more aerodynamic position and gain vital experience to handle your bike in more stressful situations.

There is also a positive psychological side effect to riding fast; you teach your brain to ride fast and maintain full concentration when you ride your bike. Imagine what adaptations your brain makes when the majority of your training is low or moderate intensity?

Your success ratio increases when you perform fewer and shorter training sessions. It is a good feeling to know that you have followed the scheduled plan and that is much easier when you do not train a huge amount. It might sound obvious, but many riders are actually pretty stressed up struggling to follow a longer, over-ambitious training plan.

4 comments

Cycling Races Are Not Organized in 15-minute Sub-threshold Intervals

I love structured cycling training plans.

Clearly designed and optimized interval training that fits perfectly to your current fitness.

Beautiful isn’t?

Take for example my 12-week winter training program: it forces you to tackle scheduled intervals three times per week and also perform an increasing amount of training.

Very controlled and easy to follow.

And it works.

Could it be any easier?

Well, even though my general training philosophy focuses on structured training principles using either a heart rate monitor or power meter as pacing tool, it’s worth remembering that most cycling races are not organized in 15-minute sub-threshold intervals.

Cycling races are extremely unpredictable and you will need a wide repertoire of skills to master them.

So you should never be afraid to add an extra interval or join a spontaneous friendly cycling race when you feel good.

Sometimes you simply have to dig a little deeper into your reserves when you train. This may help you to go from good to great. But, more importantly, it is a great mental relief to just follow the pack as they begin to race.

So remember the positive attitude and enjoy the chance to have some extra training and fun at the same time.

Remember that spontaneous cycling races (fartlek) or sprints are an excellent supplement to your regular, scheduled intervals.

If you never do anything that is not scheduled in the training plan, then do at least one off-diary interval/race/sprint this week.

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47 Ways To Become a Better Race Rider

IF YOU think you’ve reached your cycling peak, then you should be applauded for training hard and doing all the right things.

But when preparing and taking part in a race, are you really doing everything you should be?

We can always find ways to boost our performance. In fact, the smallest improvements can make a huge difference to serious riders.

If you have a race coming up, take a look at the following skills/tips. Are you applying them all to your training and racing? If not, now is the time for some serious self-analysis…

Before the cycling race

1. Nutrition: Getting this right before a race is crucial. Consuming the correct amount and quality of food is so important for preparation. But be careful not to eat too much. In fact, if your race is shorter than two to three hours, there’s no need to worry too much about carb loading.

2. Hydration: Again, this is vital, especially before a race. Drinking little and often is recommended, especially in the 24 hours before the event. Even if you are not thirsty make sure you drink. Stick to water instead of fizzy or sports drinks, coffee and tea. And avoid alcohol!

3. Tapering: If it is a major competition that you have trained long and hard for, then you will also benefit from two to three weeks of tapering. But many riders still benefit from a short, sharp interval of about five minutes the day before a race. It will keep your enzymes at a competitive level without tiring you out.

4. Snooze control: Sleep is probably the most important part of any training regime. Sleeping well the night before a race is essential if you are to wake up feeling motivated and ready. Many riders struggle to sleep the night before a race. So to make sure you get at least seven hours, make sure you go to bed early, avoid having a TV / computer /smartphone in your bedroom, and avoid caffeine.

5. Preparing your bike for action: Mechanical trouble should never limit your chance to succeed. So decide on the best combination of available equipment. There are so many lovely bike parts out there but focus on what you actually possess to choose from the day before races. Don’t make radical changes to your bike set-up without testing it prior to the event.

6. Getting there on time: It’s mandatory to sign in at most cycling events. So without stating the obvious, it’s crucial to get there on time. Make sure you arrive in plenty of time and avoid delays. Getting held up before the start of an event that you have put so much time into preparing for only causes stress and may affect your performance.

7. Mental preparation: Getting into the right mindset so you are laser-focused on the challenge ahead is crucial. But while psyching yourself up and self-motivation are important, don’t forget to stay relaxed and try to enjoy the moment at the same time.

8. Gearing up: Don’t leave what you are going to wear until race day. Make sure you know in advance what you will wear during the race, and decide early on what tools, energy bars, and energy gels you will carry and how you will store them in your pockets.

9. Warm-up: This sounds like stating the obvious but please make sure you do a proper warm-up. Once you have signed in for the race, have a specific warm-up in mind to preepare your body for the severe test it is about to face.

10. Know the course: Make sure you know where the tough sections are (hills, crosswind areas, any cobble stones, bonus sprints). Do a dry run of the course. A leisurely practice ride will familiarise you with the course so there are no nasty surprises on the big day.

During the cycling race

11. Riding in a large group: Tucking yourself away in a big group could be the difference between being a hero or zero in the final sprint. This is the time to conserve energy for attacks and sprints so maximize the benefits of having others protecting you from the wind.

12. A good position: Maintaining a nice position in the pack is a sensible move. Always try to stay in the leading 20. If you end up in a bad position you’ll have to work harder each time one of the riders in front of you loses a few meters. You will save energy by having fewer riders in front of you and there are fewer people who can delay you.

13. Eating/ drinking in the pack: This is not easy and may require some practice. Eating, drinking and taking gels at high speed while surrounded by dozens of other riders is a bit of an art form. So practice doing this with some friends or club members if possible.

14. Aware of dangers: Be alert to the dangers a race could bring. Falling riders, potholes and traffic can cause frustrating barriers. Some dangers are unavoidable but if you ride nearer the front you are less likely to be brought down by a falling competitor. Doing a practice ride of the circuit will alert you to hazards.

Breakaways

15. Crosswinds and echelons: Crosswinds can devastate your race plan. When you turn into a crosswind there are risks of crosswind attacks. A few riders will create an echelon and will work hard to maintain the pressure, but this can string out a field in single line formation. If you’re not in the echelon you will suffer and the peloton is likely to split.

16. Surviving attacks: Before a breakaway gets established there might be several attacks you must survive. This is another good reason to try to maintain a position in the top 20, so you will be more alive to an attempted breakaway.

17. Pacing during breakaways: Attacking is one of the toughest things to do successfully. If you get it wrong, it could spell disaster and the end of your race. Make sure you get the pacing just right once you decide to go for it.

18. Separate yourself from the bunch: If you attack, then give it 100%. Don’t be looking behind you constantly. Put your heart and soul into it and try to limit your attempted breakaway to one attempt. If somebody breaks with you, then share the pacing workload.

19. Closing gaps: If there is a breakaway then it is important not to panic if you are left in the peloton. Depending at what point of the race the break has occurred, a co-ordinated startegy with your team or fellow riders will normally result in a breakaway rider(s) being reeled in.

20. Eating and drinking during breakaways: You work so much harder during a solo breakaway or in a smaller group. If you are close to the finish then you will also be focusing on tactical moves to beat the other breakaway riders. So it is easy to forget to hydrate and eat enough. Don’t fall into this trap.

Cycling Race Tactics

21. Stick to Plan A: You have probably run through your race plan in your head a hundred times before the event, especially if it’s a race you have prioritized. So stick to it. Don’t be tempted to suddenly deploy different tactics once the race has started. Stick to your guns.

22. Plan B: However unforeseen events can occur during any race so if something goes wrong make sure you have a back-up Plan B up your sleeve. If you get a puncture or suffer a fall then Plan A will go out of the window. Then be prepared to launch Plan B.

23. Dirty tricks: While we don’t recommend them, you will probably be well aware that some riders employ unscrupulous tactics during a race to give them an advantage. Be prepared for this and act accordingly. Whatever you do, don’t get sucked into copying these pesky rivals.

24. Taking advantage of random opportunities: Sometimes things happen during a race that are unexpected. Maybe several of your rivals will be involved in a fall that you manage to avoid. It is important to make the most of these opportunitiies.

25. Taking advantage of the weather forecast: Be aware of the weather and try to use the elements to your advantage. Make sure you train in all weathers so you are prepared for rain and wind. Bury yourself in the pack if it is very windy to minimize your effort.

Last km

26. Positioning before the final sprint: Even if you are the fastest sprinter, if you are not in a good position you have no chance of winning the final dash to the line. Keep at the wheel of a sprinter you know is going to be among the front runners. And if you are lucky you may have team-mates who will help you get in the perfect position.

27. Choosing gears: It is vital to be able to react to your rivals’ attacks so make sure you are in control of your gear changes and that you are always in the optimum gear. This will also allow you to achieve maximum speed in the final sprint. Avoid a gear shift in the last 200m.

28. Choosing tactics: Tactics are crucial, so before the race make sure you have an overall race plan. Visualise yourself riding the race and mentally run through your tactical plan beforehand. Make sure your strategy will help you achieve the best possible result.

29. Attacks and counter-attacks: As you get close to the finishing line there are likely to be several attacks. So make sure you are prepared for these. Be alive to who is attacking: if it is a major rival then the attack should be taken more seriously.

30. Benefiting from other riders’ tactical moves: You can often gain an advantage by capitalising on the tactical moves of others. For example, if a rival makes a break you could latch on to him and go with him. It could boost your chance of a great result.

31. Taking chances: Sometimes a cycling race ends like a bit of a lottery with dozens of riders jockeying for position in the final sprint. But it is possible to gain a better outcome if you are prepared to take a few risks during a race.

32. Physical contact: Be prepared for lots of elbows flying and other physical contact. Nothing beats experience so your race tactics will improve over time and the more you race. But cycling can be a dog-eat-dog sport, especially near the finish of a race.

33. The sprint: Timing is crucial. Don’t go too early but don’t leave it too late. In the sprint to the line you will normally only have one big effort. Make it count. Get into the best possible position and go for it. Try to use wind conditions to your advantage.

Technical issues

34. Braking before cornering: This can be hazardous so make sure you practise breaking at corners during your training regime. Remember that it is not how fast you ride before a corner, it is how you ride out of the corner that is the most important thing.

35. Accelerate after cornering: Following on from the prevous point, once you have negotiated a corner put your pedals to the floor and accelerate to make you hold your position. Also, be mindful of others attacking coming out of corners.

36. Pedalling during cornering: Taking a corner can be tricky and you may not need to pedal. Staying in the saddle is the priority so you should be able to freewheel before speeding up once you’ve taken the corner.

37. Cornering at the right speed: Don’t go too fast into a corner. You may end up flat on your back. Getting to know the course beforehand and even riding around it could be a good idea to get to know any problem corners.

38. Slippery corners (sand, gravel, oil, rain etc.): The weather could make some corners extra slippery. Be aware of this. Again, preparation is key, so a ride round the course could alert you to any slippery areas caused by things like oil or gravel.

39. Cobble stones: Some cycling races include short sections on cobble stones and even though it isn’t Paris-Roubaix, it might influence the race result. Try to practice on cobbles to get used to the uncomfortable and bumpy ride.

40. Descents: Even though uphill riding is much, much more difficult, descents can be places where you can save or lose crucial time. They also increase the risk of a fall so make sure you practise some descents if your race is hilly.

Random skills

41. Reading the race: The more race experience you get the better you will become at competing. Being able to recognize who the strongest riders are is something that will come in time but it is such an important skill.

42. Knowing your competitors: You may already know your main race rivals. But knowing as much as possible about your competitors and how they will react to different terrain can only help you. For example, who are the strongest sprinters? Hill climbers?

43. The nature of the race: Remember, you are probably just one out of maybe 100 riders. If you’re lucky, you might have a few team-mates, but you will still have to accept that the race is never under control. It’s all about being prepared for unknown events as well as tactical moves from other riders and teams.

44. Strength in numbers: If you are one member of a team then communication is vital. Strength in numbers can only help your individual effort. Use your team-mates to help carry you to a better performance.

45. Being proactive: Inner strength, self determination and the power to choose how you respond to tactical moves, the weather and other circumstances can give you an edge, both mentally and physically. Don’t just wait for something to happen.

46. Relieve yourself: There is nothing worse than wanting to go to the toilet during a race. So give yourself plenty of time to visit the loo before the race. It could prevent hours of discomfort.

47. Sharing good tips with your best friends: 
Talk to your riding friends and team-mates if you have any. Listen to their experiences and pick their riding brains if they are more experienced than you or have knowledge of a particular race. (hint: please share this link with your cycling buddies: http://www.training4cyclists.com/cycling-race-tips/ )

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How to Boost Carb-Loading Before a Cycling Race

How to Boost Carb-Loading Before a Cycling Race

Most cyclists and triathletes have heard about and experienced the consequences of insufficient carb-loading before races.

Carbohydrate loading has been used for many years to boost performance in cycling races lasting more than two hours in duration.

While there are various methods of carb-loading, the process basically involves consuming large quantities of carbohydrate-rich food in order to fill the muscle glucogen stores.

More muscle glycogen protect you from (or delay) exercise-induced hypoglycemia and help you to exercise longer at high intensity.

Please remember to practice your carb-loading plan well before your priority race.

Since carb-loading only last a few days there are no reasons to worry about that some minerals and vitamins are not represented sufficiently in your carb-rich diet.

After the race you return to your normal, balanced diet and that’s fine.

It is important to know that when you carb-load you also increases your body mass. It is estimated that every gram of glycogen stored is associated with app. 2.7g of water. So you can expect a body mass gain of app. 2kg when you are fully loaded with carbohydrates. This is important to know and may influence your decision on whether you should carb load or not.

Many experiments have been performed to find the perfect method for carb loading before races. The best known method is the carbohydrate-depletion/carbohydrate loading method. The theory behind this strategy is that exercising to exhaustion 6 days before your major race combined with a low-carb diet until three days before the race depletes muscle glycogen.

When your glycogen stores are completely depleted the theory is that your muscles are hungry after storing glycogen and are able to ‘super-compensate’ the last three days before the race. So it should be possible to store even more glycogen than through regular carb-loading procedures.

I’ve tried the depletion-load method once and I ended being well loaded for the event.

Though, it is a bit problematic to train to exhaustion just 6 days before a major race followed by low-carb dieting. That’s not optimal tapering. So the carbohydrate-depletion/carbohydrate loading method works best in theory. And the theory has not proved to achieve higher glycogen content than regular 3 day carb-loading in scientifical studies.

In practice you can reach full benefit from carb-loading just three days before your major race:

Here is my advice for optimal carb-loading:

1) Consume for 7-10g carbohydrate per kg body weight per day.
If you are highly trained you should probably aim for close to 10g/kg body weight /day the last three days before your race. If you are out late, it is still possible to achieve great results with just one day concentrated carb-loading.

2) Minimize fibre-rich food
Since many carbohydrate sources contain fibres, you may need to prefer carbohydrate sources with a low content of fibres. Large quantaties of fibres may cause flatulence, diarrhea, gastric and gut discomfort.

So it is recommended to choose a high-carb, low-fibre diet (white bread, white pasta, white rice, liquid forms of carbohydrates etc.)

3) Increase fluid intake
As mentioned above, carb-loading is associated with water so you’ll need to drink more fluids to stay well hydrated. Fluids can also be seen as a source for carb-loading if you don’t want to eat pasta all day long, e.g. soft drinks, juice, sport drinks etc.

Again, make sure to test your carb-loading procedure BEFORE you enter an important race. We are all different and you might need to make individual customization to get a perfect diet plan.

Finally there is a sweet little ninja trick that may boost your carb-loading:

When I have athletes at cycling races I always ask them to do a short, high-intensity interval the day before. This is both mentally and physically a great way to prepare their bodies for competition.

In the mirror of carb-loading this little trick also increases the glucose uptake at a minimal cost of muscle glycogen.

Thus, you might end up maximizing your glycogen storage and being physically and mentally prepared for action. Cool, right?

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