What's Cool In Road Cycling

Toolbox: Building on the Base

If we have been diligent in our offseason training, we have likely done some nice foundational work to build up our base fitness and functional threshold. But now it’s February and those gains might be stagnating. How do we build on this base fitness and also meet the needs of our riding goals?

When I design training strategies for road and mountain bikers, I start with two simple rules:

1. Train the ability of the rider to meet the demands of the event.

2. At the core of fitness performance success is increased threshold; build it in a way that also improves stamina and fatigue resistance.

At this time of year, most performance cyclists have completed two to three cycles of base training and are seeing nice gains in both aerobic stamina and functional threshold power/lactate threshold. As we move into this late build phase, we might begin to see some diminishing results, and it’s time to make some decisions to transition the focus in our annual plan.

To better understand this fork in the training road, let’s dig into my two annual training strategy principles.

Santos Tour Down Under 2016 stage 5
Richie Porte, explosive climbing on Willunga Hill

Train the ability of the rider to meet the demands of the event
The principle is simple, but it can be hard to implement. First you need to determine your strengths and limiters as a rider. Do you have great 1-minute power but struggle to hold steady-state for more than 30 minutes? Are you a great town line sprinter who gets dropped on the 5-minute climb?

If you train with power, it’s easy to test your power profile and fatigue profiles and use them as the basis of your training focus, but you also need to build the same type of profile on the event itself. What type of race is it? What type of power does it take to win? What is the key feature or element of the race?

Once we know the answers to those questions, we can better understand the first fork in the training road. For me, the early base period is the time to focus on my limiters as a rider. I build select workouts throughout the early base period that improve the areas I am worst at.

This focus needs to change as I move into late base; instead of focusing on my limiters, I now need to specialize in the demands of my event. This means that in late base I am again reviewing my key event (or event types) and making changes in some areas of my training focus.

If my event is a longer road race with a steep 5-minute climb that makes the difference, I start adding similar-style climbing intervals to my routine. If I’m planning a long season of crit riding, I start working on my aerobic capacity and neuromuscular power. The key point is that it’s time to start being more specific about your event.

Increasing Threshold
Power at lactate threshold (FTP) is the core driver of success for most recreational and category racers. The higher our FTP, the better we can perform through a series of factors. The key question is how do we build FTP in an annual training strategy?

First we build it from below by doing higher and higher volumes of higher-intensity aerobic training through sub-threshold efforts typically conducted at 76% of FTP and above. We tend to classify this as tempo (76-90% of FTP) and sweet spot (88-93% of FTP). These efforts push FTP up by increasing aerobic fitness and stamina, but at some point we need to transition to building threshold by pulling it up. Late base period is that time.

During early base periods, our focus should be on progressively increasing time in these zones. For example, we should increase time in SST levels by progressing the workouts from 2 x 15 to 2 x 20 to 3 x 15 to 3 x 20 or more, pushing our FTP up from below while increasing our stamina and fatigue resistance.

The key to this progression is being able to finish the last interval at roughly the same power as the first; if we can’t, we’re progressing too quickly. During this period I preach the focus of extending the sustained duration, not trying to push more watts. Even though watts will increase naturally as you get more fit, it’s not the core focus and push.

As we move into late base, it’s time to start pulling FTP up from above by doing supra-threshold intervals focusing on 98-105% of FTP. For me, this means a change in FTP-building interval duration, but I maintain the same principle. I start by transitioning to 10-minute intervals targeted at 100-105% of FTP. To determine the volume of these intervals, I typically start by targeting about 65-70% of the total volume I could sustain in my last few SST workouts.

For example, in Base Cycle 2 I was completing 3 x 20 minutes of sustained SST work, which means a total of 60 minutes. Some rough math (60 minutes x 65-70%) gets me roughly 39-42 minutes, so I start doing 4 x 10 minutes at FTP (100-105% of FTP) as my target.

Once this baseline workout is established, I follow the same principle of progressive increase of duration in this training zones; so 4 x 10 leads to 3 x 15 leads to 4 x 12 leads to 5 x 10…and so on. The key element, again, is that we progress the duration only when we can complete all the intervals at basically the same power as the first. Extending the duration and cracking on the last interval will not help build FTP.

People's Choice Classic 2016
Caleb Ewan, powerful sprint jump

Now is the time to really start building on the base fitness you have been building. Paying attention to these subtle forks in the training road will better prepare you for success this season!

About Tim Cusick
Tim Cusick is a USA Cycling Coach and Master Coach with Peaks Coaching Group. Tim has been coaching for over 10 years, focusing on training and racing with power data. You can reach Tim for comments at [email protected] , and check out Tim and the entire Peaks Coaching Group for more information on coaching services, camps, and products.

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