Norwegian Olympic mountain bike coach uses a four-zone training technique

Atle Kvalsvoll, a former professional road rider, is coach of the Norweigan mountain bike and road cycling teams  Credit: Gary Newkirk/Allsport
The Norwegian Olympic Committee has judged cycling the best bet for success at the Sydney 2000 Olympics. The man in charge of the Norwegian Olympic road and mountain bike riders is the national sports director Atle Kvalsvoll.

As a professional, Kvalsvoll was Greg Lemond's teammate. As a trainer, he works with four zones of training intensity. The riders use Polar heart rate monitors to record their workout data, which they then e-mail to the coach for analysis.

In a normal year, Kvalsvoll tests the physiological fitness of the riders three to four times. The tests cover maximum heart rate, aerobic and anaerobic threshold, power output and lactate build-up.

The tests enable him to prescribe the right individual training loads. In the Olympic year, testing has been stepped up. Simultaneous analysis of lactate and heart rate data plays a key role in the fine tuning of training programs.

Threshold training develops the engine

Kvalsvoll says it is very important that training consists of workouts of differing intensity. He uses four zones of intensity defined as target heart rate zones. The riders use heart rate monitors that record the heart rate. At the end of the session they download the data to their computers and regularly e-mail their reports to the coach.

Kvalsvoll says training at aerobic threshold, Zone 3 in his system, is the most important because the threshold responds to training.

"Zone 3 training develops the rider's engine. He says. After about three weeks of training, the rider has to carry out the Zone 3 exercises at a higher heart rate to get the same training effect."

According to Kvalsvoll, the morning heart rate is an easy and good way of checking that the balance between training and recovery is right. An elevated morning heart rate is a warning signal that the rider may be getting sick or into the condition known as overtraining.

"If the rider has big problems with getting the heart rate up to the zone level, I know that something is wrong. It's the sign that he or she is near the limit and must rest."

Kvalsvoll is responsible for both road and mountain bike cyclists. He says the main difference is that the mountain bikers train at a higher intensity than road riders. "Their heart rate is consistently high. It is a bit like doing time trials the whole time."

In top form for the Olympics

Last year, the form of the Norwegian riders peaked too early. Kvalsvoll's new schedule for the Olympic year includes three training periods without competition. The season started normally with basic training. The first spell of competition in March-April was followed by an additional three weeks of basic training.

Aerobic threshold training dominates Kvalsvoll's regime of basic training. It is designed to stoke the engines for top performance in the Olympics. During the final preparations the emphasis is on speed training and other special training aimed at bringing out the peak form at the right time.

Kvalsvoll is confident that the Norwegian riders will do well in the Olympics. He singles out the mountain bike rider Gunn Rita Dahle, second in last year's world cup. "On an ordinary day, she will be on the podium."

Gunn Rita Dahle is the brightest Norwegian Olympic hope for Sydney 2000. In the last Olympics in Atlanta she narrowly missed the medal podium, finishing fourth. In 1998, she was second in the mountain bike world championship. Last year, she was second in the world cup totals and won two cup races.

Kvalsvoll works in close cooperation with Gunn Rita Dahle's personal trainer and manager Ole Kristian Silseth, who follows the same training philosophy of the target heart rate zone system as all the Norwegian Olympic riders.

According to Kvalsvoll, Dahle's success is due to a combination of natural ability and exemplary attitude to training.

"She is very professional with her training and with everything else she does. The second remarkable thing about her is that she is able to train a lot. She can simply take more training than many other riders."

Edmund R. Burke, Ph.D. is professor and director of the Exercise Science Program at the University of Colorado. He severed as Coordinator of Sports Sciences for the U.S. Cycling Team leading up to the Olympic Games in 1996 and was a staff member for the 1980 and 1984 Olympic Cycling Teams.

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