Ask the Coach: Winter-season cycling training

Q. I'm a Masters competitive bicycle racer and I never know if I'm doing enough cycling this time of year to start the season correctly. I live in Colorado, so I'm able to get on the bike most weekends, but the amount of time I'm on the bike or trainer this time of year will range from three to seven hours.

If it's three, then I'm doing other aerobic activities also, like skate skiing or the stair mill at the gym. The last few weeks I was able to get at least six hours of aerobic activity and three or four hours of weight training, which includes core and stretching.

My main concern: Am I doing enough? I don't like to spend too much time on the trainer, so I like to add the step mill in or some treadmill running/hiking. I've heard others say they're doing spin classes or the trainer almost every day and I'm afraid I'll fall behind, plus I'm not able to ride during the week like some of my fellow racers. I'd like to hire a coach, but I can't afford it yet I feel like I'm floundering in my training. I appreciate any help/suggestions you can give.

A. I live in Colorado too, so I completely understand the challenges of riding during the winter.

The first thing you need to decide is your key race(s) and prioritize them. Some races are for training experience and you don't expect to be fully rested and tapered. Other races you want to aim for your best performances of the season.

The Colorado cyclists that are planning to race well at early-season races in February and March in warm states such as Arizona need to be on a different training plan than the athletes looking at key races in April or later into the summer. Often the athletes that are really hitting it hard now are the ones that are totally burned out by June.

For my cold-climate Masters racers I will often hold volume constant December through February and maybe March as well. A typical work week for my experienced riders will look something like:

Monday: 1:00-1:30: Strength training (Which includes a warm up on the bike of 10-30 minutes and a cool down on the bike of about 10 minutes.)

Tuesday: 1:00 bike, trainer or spin class (Workout will have a purpose, such as working on low-end lactate threshold fitness and progressing to high-end lactate threshold fitness. This includes building accumulate time at threshold.)

Wednesday: 1:00-1:30: Strength training (Which includes a warm up on the bike of 10-30 minutes and a cool down on the bike of about 10 minutes.)

Thursday: 1:00 bike, trainer or spin class (Depending on the rest of the schedule, this is often an easy spin or form work.)

Friday: Day off or 1:00-1:30: Strength training (Which includes a warm up on the bike of 10-30 minutes and a cool down on the bike of about 10 minutes.)

Saturday: 1:30-2:30 Aerobic maintenance ride.

Sunday: 2:00-3:00 Group ride, with a purpose. (Work on skills, threshold, aerobic maintenance, climbing, etc.)

Of course, there are variations on this model; but I aim for two to four (depending on the individual racer) key workouts each week. "Pick your poison" as they say.

These key workouts are the stressful workouts. Depending on the phase of training, here are a few examples of stressful workouts: a long ride, intervals, strength training or a group ride. You want to manipulate the training variables that change fitness such as: overall volume, duration of individual workouts, frequency of workouts, intensity, specificity (cross training is fine in the preparation phase, but of course you need to ride as you get close to race season) and rest.

The key workouts this time of the year work on fitness limiters that kept you from racing well last season, which is the second thing you need to decide.

Rest weeks are around five to six hours total and occur every three or four weeks.

Every six to eight weeks I like to include some kind of test to evaluate if the training is working. This is what tells me if we're doing enough volume and the right workouts. A test can be a time trial, a low-priority race or an aggressive group ride. I look at the test workout and results from other key workouts within the last training block to see if we're making progress. I look at more than one indicator in case the athlete was having an off day on the test day.

This answer is quite compressed, but you asked how do you know if you're doing enough?

  1. Decide on your key races and design your season (including training volume and intensity) around those events.
  2. Determine what racing limiters held you back from performing even better than last year.
  3. Design workouts to address limiters.
  4. Include rest periods to absorb training.
  5. Include test sets and evaluation points to determine what to do next.
I hope this helps. Best wishes training and racing

Do you have a specific training or sport related question? Have world-renowned coach Gale Bernhardt answer it! Send your questions to

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Gale Bernhardt was the 2003 USA Triathlon Pan American Games and 2004 USA Triathlon Olympic Coach for both the men's and women's teams. Her first Olympic experience was as a personal cycling coach at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games.

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