Races are highly effective to improve performance. Races are done at high intensity with jumps, sprints and pursuits. Secondly you get tactical and technical experience.
Thus, cycling races train all the skills you need for racing. It is often said that a cycling race is the best kind of training you can actually get. I would rather say that cycling races might be the easiest way to improve performance.
When you go for a race you don´t have to speculate about doing specific intervals or concentrating on heart rate target zones. You just follow the pack and try your best to make a good result. During the race you will, passively, get plenty of different intervals.
Races train a wide range of skills, but maybe you should some times be more focused on specific physical qualities. E.g. if your goal is to improve your anaerobic endurance you can train it more precisely with intervals instead of unpredictably road races.
The big advantage is that you get exactly the kind (and amount) of training you are interested in.
But you have to be very dedicated to your training to push yourself hard enough to get the desired results. It is much easier to go fast when there are other riders who are trying to beat you. I guess that is one of the main reasons that races often are preferred instead of regular interval training. When people get a start number on they are able to go fast and get their intense training.
Training with power meters like SRM og Powertap
That’s why I advice my riders to use a power meter because it gives me precise description of what they are actually doing on the road. Heart rate monitoring only tells me how the body reacts (with some delay) and hides some of the most interesting improvements.
E.g. if a rider is able to push avg. 320W in a 40km time trial it is possible to compare with previous results. If he rides the course in 52 minutes, it is possible to say that it is fast, but it is difficult to compare with previous results, since the result is inflected by both weather and materials.
Did he go faster because of his new aero wheels, the good weather or a higher anaerobic threshold? Well, the pulse monitor won´t tell him. The power meter would.
A Power meter is a bike’s black box
An easy way to discover the physical demands of a course is to look at the registered data from a race on the course. Power meters are not always useful in a road race but after the race the power data becomes a very important weapon.
Like the planes “black box” a power meter register every single move you make. It can tell you how much power you used to catch up with the early break, how long you could maintain 350W when you were struggling to close a gap or show the toughest part of the course. In a time trial a power meter becomes more useful, since you can use it for pacing.
Important to focus your training
Before you skip the next midweek race think about what your training goal is.
If you want to improve your aerobic performance then make a training schedule that fits exactly to your goal.
If your goal is to improve your aerobic performance you can avoid most of the anaerobic part that happens in races (sprints, jumps, hills). That will give you a big advantage since you can train more intense and focused on your primary training goal. If you can´t find a specific goal to train for then it is probably best for you to go racing.
If you have several physical goals for your training, then races might also be the best opportunity.
One of the basic principles in training is to make training as specific as possible to the demands in the specific competition.
If you choose to use races in preparation, then go for races that are similar in distance and profile to your primary goal.
Your body adapt to what you challenge it with and the more the challenges in training look like the challenges in the competition you are preparing for, the better you will perform. If the course has a lot of steep hills, then you have to prepare your body for a lot of short anaerobic bursts during the race. It´s likely that such hills can be the breaking point in the race.
How to Use Cycling Races to Your Advantage
Don’t get me wrong. Races are really great training opportunities and make many cyclists so much better. Sometimes races can be the only way to keep an acceptable high intensity for several hours.
Also you will sharpen your technical skills because everything happens at a faster speed. So what can you do to achieve better results with cycling races as an integral part of your cycling training plan?
1) Go 100% or go home. If you want to learn how to handle your bike better at extreme situations, you have to ride 100% when you race. Riding with comfort and safety margin won’t make you faster. So if you develop to many excuses about what you are willing to do in training races because ‘it’s just training’ then it might be better for you to stay at home for regular, aerobic training.
Though, I have to emphasize that 100% doesn’t mean you should do stupid things or take risks to make you ride faster. It means that your aim should be to ride as fast as possible and that your ride the race as a race.
2) Do experiments. A training race is a huge opportunity for you to test and optimize a broad range of skills and tactical strategies in race situations. For example you can try a different tactic that might get you better results in the long run. Also you can test new bike equipment, nutritional strategies etc.
3) Schedule Cycling Races as a part of your Training Plan. Cycling races are often the toughest training sessions so it is mandatory to plan these races carefully, so you keep a balanced and structured training plan.
What do you do to succeed with cycling races as a part of your cycling training plan?
(Leave a comment below)