VO2 Max Is Essential In Competitive Cycling

Gonzalo is one of the more experienced riders in power meter training as he has been training with power for the last three years (SRM, Ergomo, and now PowerTap SL). He was looking for a training program that could motivate him for training to cycling races of 80-90km.

Motivation is the cornerstone in many riders’ training programs because even the best program will fail if the rider is not motivated. So I guess a part of the predicted progress can be explained by motivation. A motivated rider trains harder and obtains better results than a non-motivated rider. Thus, my challenge was motivating Gonzalo and keeping track of his performance during the 12 weeks.

Focus on Aerobic Power
I decided to focus on 5 and 20min maximum power in the first 6 weeks and then work harder with anaerobic capacity in the last six weeks.

I prefer to build a tremendous aerobic base instead of just working on the anaerobic stuff from the beginning. This is because it takes longer to make an optimal aerobic engine than anaerobic endurance. It is pretty fast to train anaerobic endurance to a relatively high level compared to the time it takes to optimize maximum oxygen consumption.

Well, but he asked for more anaerobic endurance and sprinting power?

Yes, but in cycling races of 2 hours, it is essential to have a high VO2 max and endurance. If he got that, he has a chance to get home with the peloton or even make a breakaway. But if he is limited in these two factors, VO2 max and endurance, he will be dropped before they get to the final sprint. Thus, the primary goals for the first period were improvements in 5 and 20min maximum power.

Like all the other riders in this project, Gonzalo struggled with intervals three times a week. In the first couple of weeks, it was two days with intervals, and on Sundays, he participated in some duathlon events of 2hrs duration. The following weeks were with intervals on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays.

Gonzalo performed several intervals of 6min work / 4min active recovery with a workload around his 20min maximum power (Normally done three times on each interval day). There were also a couple of days 3x(3+3)min and 40/20sec intervals to maximize his VO2 max and add some fuel to his anaerobic enzymes.

1min power increased dramatically, making him a much stronger rider with more punch in his attacks. Combined with significant improvements in 5 and 20min maximum power, Gonzalo is a lot more competitive in flat cycling races. I wish he were more powerful in sprints, but the 1, 5, and 20min maximum power will result in more success in the races after all.

Maximum Power Tests5sec1min5min20minBody Weight
Week 1 (Watt)1105W557W357W321W73kg/160.9lbs
Week 1 (Watt/kg)15.1W/kg7.6W/kg4.9W/kg4.4W/kg 
Week 6 (Watt)1148W604W389W335W72.5kg
Week 6 (Watt/kg)15.8W/kg8.3W/kg5.4W/kg4.6W/kg 
Week 12 (Watt)1113W674W416W342W73kg
Week 12 (Watt/kg)15.2W/kg9.2W/kg5.7W/kg4.7W/kg 

3 thoughts on “VO2 Max Is Essential In Competitive Cycling”

  1. Hi Jesper
    I am a strong cat2 rider and I can usually do well on the hills and in the sprints but not so well on flat races or circuit races.
    Often a rider will shoot past me on the flat whilst spinning a high cadence and my way of dealing with this kind of attack is to sprint out of the saddle until I catch him up. Do you have any training tips on how to develop this kind of fast spinning ‘nitro-boost’ type of power?

  2. Hi Jesper,

    I am getting back into cycling after some years away. I am now 40 and would love to ride competitively in some masters events and some sportives. I rode leisurely during the summer and I am now trying to crack on with some winter training. i did a lab test recently to give me an idea of where I was at. My peak power was 1223w, my VO2 max was 54.85, performance threshold/VT was 3.66. I am keen to organise myself to ride at my best in June 2011 and would to flip to your 12 week winter programme – Have you any specific advice for my given my age and present condition. Would love to ride the national masters road race champs but realise I might be 2 years away from this!

  3. Hello Jesper + other VO2 maxers….
    Could you tell me how to manage the 5min of the VO2 max test? For example, do you start mid/high level and keep pushing the difficulty up?…or deliberately start at a very high level of effort and just try to “hang on”? On the former it seems you could miss your real max from not starting at a high enough level, while on the latter you could miss a true max by burning out too quickly. Appreciate any insights. Thanks, M

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