What's Cool In Road Cycling

Reaching the Summit: Peaking

This week, the most important bike race in North America, the Wachovia USPRO Championships, descends on Philadelphia. How do you set yourself up for the perfect race and peak for your number one goal – to be physically and mentally prepared to reach your current maximum potential?

By Brian Walton

Excitement Central
“Philly” is always my favorite race on the calendar, not only because of its importance to cyclists and sponsors but also because of the palpable energy of the town from the media, European professionals, and spirited crowds that exceed 400,000. In short, motivation and excitement! As a podium finisher here, I know all professionals racing for an American team want to win this race. Therefore, many pros will gear their entire year’s training to peak for this particular event.

Approaching the Summit
As a racing cyclist, it is important to realize that one can only truly peak two or three times in a given year. Every year, I find myself having to remind my athletes to carefully select their “A” races. While some professionals in this country might race upwards of 80 days per year, physiologically and mentally, it is impossible to race week after week at your best. A training program based on sound physiological principles emphasizing the individual’s strengths and weaknesses is the cornerstone to a true peak, and using training races or “C” races as trial runs with little or no emphasis on personal results is a great tool to help you succeed at the larger goal event.

Specific goals for “C” races can combine both physiological and tactical targets. You might target getting into an early break and making it last as long as possible (sustained TTT training), sitting in and then attacking the course’s big hill (testing maximal pace on hills), repeatedly attacking the peloton (intervals), or always staying in top 6-10 of the pack (positioning).

While it’s never fun to pull a DNF, the main priority is to achieve your targets, not necessarily winning or even finishing. Therefore, keep the ego in check, be humble and stick to the schedule. Be like Lance or Greg LeMond and think Big Picture. While they both tend to wallow in mediocrity for most of the year, Greg and Lance both manage to ignore the criticism thrown at them by the media and naysayers, follow their own plan, and always arrived in France in July on top form.

The Final Assault
As a coach, assisting an athlete with a taper is very difficult. It is imperative to have a good rapport with the athlete and to consistently receive accurate and detailed feedback. In the weeks leading up to an “A” event, most athletes will respond well to maintaining or increasing high intensity workouts while greatly reducing the overall volume (or time) of training. Following this increased intensity / decreased volume with a couple days of rest before the event is usually quite effective. However, many athletes may feel “blocked” or have the sensation of “heavy legs” after those days of rest. While some prefer to do a few rolling sprints (2 x 200m w/ 5 min. of recovery between), others will respond better to “openers.”

I define an opener as an interval with progressively increasing intensity; using gearing (or terrain) to increase the intensity while maintaining a cadence of 90-100 rpm. One example might be: 2 efforts of 3 min. each with 5 min. recovery, starting in a 53×19 and increasing by one gear (17, 16, 15, etc.) every 30-45 seconds until reaching your predetermined zone 5 (Max VO2). Depending on the specific characteristics of the “A” event, openers might be performed on hilly terrain, on a time trial bike, on a velodrome, etc. Remember, the idea behind the opener is to prepare the athlete, physically and mentally for the intensity of hard competition, WITHOUT grossly fatiguing or damaging the muscles.

Just as with equipment, warmup routine, and nutrition, it is essential that the tapering plan be refined before several “B” and “C” events before any “A” events. Don’t be afraid to experiment – if you don’t try you will never know. Every athlete is different and what works for one individual may not work for another. You might find that sprint efforts work great as preparation for a track race or criterium, while longer “opener” type intervals serve a purpose for sustained, longer events like a road race or time trial.

Mental Tapering
While there is an element of randomness to mass-start racing, there are certain factors an athlete should be capable of controlling. In previous articles, I have discussed the importance of setting a proper goal, establishing a periodized training plan and now, tapering. Part of my tapering routine had little to do with physiological or physical preparation but rather, with mental readiness. In next month’s article I will specifically discuss race-day readiness and preparation but, specific to “A” priority events, I would take a few extra steps to make sure my mind was at ease and as sharp as possible before even pinning a number on. With all this “rest” time, nerves might be on edge. To alleviate some of this “edginess”, I might read, watch movies, meditate, or even use visualization techniques to soothe my senses and prepare for the task at hand.

Even though you might not have the ultimate say in the outcome of an event, you will most likely benefit from a well thought out training plan that includes a taper for a personal peak. By allowing yourself some rest before the Big Event and “opening up,” physiologically and mentally, you will certainly sway the odds of having a great race, in your favor.

See you in Philly!

Cadence Cycling website.

About Brian:
Brian Walton has a uniquely well-rounded perspective on training and coaching. He was one of the top Canadian riders of the 80s and 90s, riding as a pro with 7-Eleven, Motorola, and Saturn, and winning the 1989 Milk Race and silver in the 1996 Olympic Points Race. He then became the DS and coach for Team Snow Valley, turning it into the top Elite Men’s team in the USA. He is currently the Director of Performance for Cadence Cycling in Philadelphia, and can be reached for comments or coaching inquiries at [email protected].

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