What's Cool In Road Cycling

Toolbox: The Perfect Transition

With September comes the end of most road racing, the start of the cyclocross season, and the transitions that accompany both. The start of school is another inevitable part of the transition to fall so let’s take a few minutes to review our “R’s”…

By Matt McNamara

With the end of the summer nigh, and the crux of cross a rising tide, there is a unique opportunity to better understand the training you’ve done and that which you are planning to do. Much like students returning to class, you should consider taking yourself back to school this fall in the quest to be better next year

Start your off season by increasing your training knowledge. There are any number of great books out there that will help you better understand physiology. Similarly, cruise the interwebs and look for good content. Lots of coaches keep blogs…and lots of them are good! I read a half dozen or so each week just to keep attuned to trends and developments. You might even consider taking an academic course or even getting your coaching license through USA Cycling (or your National Governing Body) as it will give you insights you might not have considered.

You’ve heard this one before I’m sure. It is a common refrain that you should review the season just passed as a prelude to planning the season to come, but what does that really look like?

For many athletes it is a simple look back at the races they did and how they finished, but I’d like to challenge you to look a little deeper and gain more understanding of the rhythm, the ebb and flow, of your individual season.

Start with your weekly training volume in hours, intensity factor and kilojoules (yes, I’m presuming you’ve stepped through the looking glass to power by now). What does the variation week-to-week look like? Did you really follow through on your (or your coach’s) training plans? When were you fast? Slow? Tired?

Our First Contestant…
Let’s compare a couple of athletes over the course of the season on weekly volume, TSS and best 20 min power:

Blue bars = hours, purple line = Training Stress Score (TSS), and red line = 20 min power)

As you can see, this athlete had a lot of ebb and flow this year! Interestingly, while weekly volume has ranged from nearly zero to just over a dozen hours, the variation in 20 minute power has been a bit less pronounced with a low of 207 W still being nearly 65% of his “best” of 323 W. Let’s look at this athlete’s weekly intensity factor, kilojoules and best five minute power:

Blue bars = Kilojoules, red line = 5 min power, pink line = intensity factor

Of course KJ’s mimic weekly hours pretty closely – but notice the subtle variations. For example the two highest volume weeks are around 12:30, but the composition of those weeks were different. The first one (week of 6/27) had 8300 KJs and an IF of 0.79, while the second (week of 8/22) was a bit tougher at ~8800 KJs and an IF of 0.84. That’s about 500 KJ’s of extra work in a minute and a half of less training (*hint – look at 20 min values)! Also notice the variation in weekly IF across the season – there are lots of weeks between May and July that are ~0.80. This was the athlete’s tempo and aerobic base building period. Notice how low the five-minute power was during this time. As we get closer to the cross season intensity factor and five-minute power rise.

And in the Other Corner
By comparison, this athlete had a much more consistent season week-to-week. On 20 minute variation this athlete was a bit more consistent, with regard to range of efforts, as well with a low point (237 W) at 70% of his max for the season (335 W). He also had some really solid blocks of ‘threshold’ training in the 85 – 100% FTP range

Blue bars = hours, purple line = Training Stress Score (TSS), and red line = 20 min power)

And on Intensity Factor, Kilojoules and 5m best power his season looks like this:

Blue bars = Kilojoules, red line = 5 min power, pink line = intensity factor

One of the primary differences is that athlete number two was consistently higher in training volume and TSS. This athlete also raced a full season and took two category upgrades, while athlete number one was merely building fitness towards cyclocross season.

Often the transition to fall training is taken as an excuse to ride less for the road racing sect. While this is a sound approach for those athletes who are well and truly burnt out from a full season, it should not be the default just because it’s the end of racing. Rather, look at it as a time to re-build your aerobic base by adding some longer, unstructured workouts with friends.

Consistency is the name of the game here. While total weekly volume will likely fall, frequency should not drop by more than 20% – essentially 1 extra day off per week if needed. Just getting out and activating the aerobic system is enough to maintain roughly 85% of your mid-season fitness. Simple!

As to intensity – I say go for it! The idea that high intensity training is only for the build and race periods is old school to a fault, especially if training volume is less than twelve hours per week. The caveat is to say that unstructured high intensity is fine – but tackling a six-week block of VO2 and anaerobic work is probably counter-productive.

Yep, race! Race your buddies up a favorite hill. Get into cyclocross and try something completely different. Do a low-key time trial series or simply continue to attack the Saturday ride with aplomb! We are bike racers…so we need the rush of competition.

For me, and many of my athletes, that means a quick recovery block and then a nice transition to cyclocross and/or the fall training races that dot the calendar here in Northern California. These are generally low-key races that don’t have the same tension, not the same cut throat mentality of summer racing – so they are perfect for keeping you on the sharp edge.

The end of the road season is all to often a catalyst to a loss of the fitness you’ve worked so hard to get over the previous six to nine months. We ride less, eat more and generally accept detraining as a natural part of the cycle. It doesn’t have to be this way! If you’ve followed a structured training plan you should not arrive at the end of the season on the ropes. Rather you should look at the end of the season as an opportunity to engage in a different kind of training.

Central to that is a solid review of what worked and what didn’t work in your year, but don’t just look at race results. Instead, look at the season in the aggregate and find those trends and habits that define the year and yourself. It may take a couple of seasons to get a good grasp on these little details, but that year to year analysis leads to year over year performance improvement.

Similarly, don’t think of the end of the road season as the end of competition. Instead look to new challenges. Try cyclocross, find a local winter training series or hill climb (or start your own), or just maintain consistency by doing those favorite long rides with friends. Don’t eliminate intensity. Ride hard when you feel good, just recognize that you may not want to do a VO2 block in your base period.

Start today to make this transition perfect

About Matt McNamara: Matt is a USA Cycling Level 1 coach with over 20 years of racing, coaching and team management experience. This fall he is again running the Sterling Cross p/b Sendmail, Inc race team and looking forward to the arrival of the Cyclocross Masters World Championships on U.S. soil in January. Matt is the founder and president of Sterling Sports Group. Learn more by visiting them online at www.sterlingwins.com.

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