There have been many athletes both coached and non-coached that have asked what separates their training from a different style of cyclist. Beyond their schedule, life responsibilities, goals, and other aspects, there are different types of cyclist that will dictate a different style of training program. For example, you may have either a crit specialist, mtb rider, road racer, cyclocross individual, time-trialist or triathlete. Therefore, as a coach you need to understand how races play out in each category so you can best prepare your athlete for success.
Key Aspects to Success
Regardless of the style of rider you are coaching, there tends to be three things in common with each athlete. First is your base and overall aerobic fitness. Regardless of whether your preference is dirt, gravel, road, or swim/bike/run… it will always be critical that your aerobic fitness is nearing peak levels as race season approaches.
The second aspect that will improve every cyclists results is a higher Functional Threshold Power (FTP). I can promise you that I’ve never heard a racer say they wish their threshold was lower. FTP is a great predictor of overall success but it isn’t the key component to overall success. With that being said, there are points in every cyclists season where FTP is the main goal as it will give the racer a higher ceiling in which to race. While it is the 2nd component all racers have in common, it isn’t the only key to success.
Lastly, every racer will have their aerobic fitness levels which should be nearing a peak on race day and a high FTP if trained properly. However, the final key component is specific training. Specific training is what prepares the body for those race day efforts that are going to be key to either winning or being dropped. These specifics differ amongst both riders and disciplines.
While races can sometimes dictate what type of power or fitness you should be training, it also depends in large part to the riders genetics and if they are an anaerobic or aerobic athlete. Do they dominate in 1 minute efforts and sprints or do they take off from the pack from 5 minutes and beyond. When an athlete comes on board initially they will undergo power testing to see if they are an anaerobic or aerobic athlete. Sometimes you will find athletes that do well in both areas (all-arounder) but that tends to be rare. Once you understand where an athlete excels, you can begin to specifically devise training plans or tactics to maximize these strengths and even help build their weakness. You’ll find that athletes with aerobic strengths tend to go towards time trials, triathlons, road races, and other longer distance races. Athletes with anaerobic strength tend to focus on flat land road races, crits, short CX races or punchy MTB races. This is because they will tend to do well and have more fun.
Training Each Style
This is always an interesting question because you want to prepare for the races, but you also want to play into your riders strengths. For example, both an anaerobic high sprint quality rider and a high FTP but no kick rider can do road races… but how you train them will be different. The race may dictate a sprint finish in all likely hood, but the aerobic athletes strength may be to look for a break or help a teammate down the stretch if they have better sprinting capabilities.
While you do want to play into the strengths of your riders, you also want them to be in a situation to utilize their strengths on race day. This means that if the race has a ton of climbing or you know there are going to be some serious 1 minute efforts, then you need to specifically train for those aspects of the race. For example, the Iceman race in Traverse City, MI is a long 2 hour event (aerobic) but it has some punchy climbs that often separate groups or riders. In this situation you will want your athlete to maximize their 2 hour power and training going into the race, but you can’t completely neglect short/hard effort. What this may look like in a training ride would be a 3 hour 65-80% effort with the 2nd hour being more threshold and integrating some hard 1 minute efforts. This would put an overload on their aerobic fitness while also building their ability to recover from hard anaerobic efforts. This of course will differ for all athletes based on discipline, race profile, and strengths, but you can begin to see how you really do need to break everything down specifically in order to maximize the athletes performance. While just going out to ride will touch on key aspect #1 (aerobic fitness), they will be missing out on a high threshold and specific demands.
Timing of Everything
While you may be training for an event as far as 10 months in advance, you can’t train specifically for this event for that long. I mean, you could… but you wouldn’t maximize your training time. You would hit what is called a plateau and most likely waste 3-4 months. Rather, you need to really keep in mind the 3 keys to success and how long each will take.
#1 is aerobic fitness: This is constantly growing and if monitored correctly can be a 9-10 month build. This is a combination of everything you do and should always be monitored to ensure building or when recovery is needed
#2 is functional threshold building. This is key to helping your overall performance grow. This can’t happen for 9-10 months unless you are new to the sport. Rather, this should be a dedicated 4-6 month build and will leave you ready to switch training techniques upon completion.
#3 is the specifics. Specific training should take place those last 2-3 months before your event. This is where you peak. If you are getting ready for your race season, you have about a 2-3 month window to have everything come together. This is where you mix in your sprints, anaerobic efforts, long rides for triathlon, etc. Doing specifics for longer than 2-3 months could cause a plateau or burnout eventually. Don’t make the mistake of trying to be in peak form all year. That is a big mistake.
There are different styles of riders and different requirements for each person. There are also different genetics at play which could contribute to how you race. All of these factors should constantly be monitored in order to ensure race day success and maximizing your training. I know it can seem daunting at first, but as you get into the process, things tend to play out very well if you are in control of your training and know how to properly build!