When you first got into cycling, your intensity level was most likely dictated by the terrain: You went harder on hills, coasted on descents, and amped up your effort in headwinds. But you can do more than react to ride conditions; you can use them to become a more powerful cyclist. Whether you're just warming up to the idea of structured training or you're already an experienced athlete, here's how to make the elements work for you.
Try uphill accelerations. Begin each hill in a gear that lets you ride at a sustainable pace. Gradually accelerate as you climb. By the time you crest the summit, your effort level should be a nine on a scale of one to 10—not a full-on sprint, but close. Try to stay seated throughout the climb. Spin easy on the way down and repeat on the next roller. You won't always get a lot of recovery.
Short, Steep Climbs
Do hill sprints. Accelerate just before the base of the hill, continue the effort for 10 to 20 seconds, then back off. Repeat at the next climb. Or try high-resistance accelerations: Climb in a larger gear than normal, at a cadence of 50 to 55 rpm.
They're not fun, but you can use them to become a better rider. To teach your body to recruit more muscle fibers, do high-resistance, low-cadence (50 to 55 rpm) intervals of five to 20 minutes—depending on your fitness level—at a moderate intensity. On flat terrain, do these in the drops. Recover with five to 10 minutes of easy spinning between intervals.
Q: I live at sea level. How can I prepare for a big ride or race at altitude?
A: The best thing to work on is increasing your sustainable power at lactate threshold—the intensity at which speaking in full sentences becomes difficult. That level will be lower at altitude, so you want to make sure you've built it up as much as possible. Once you get to your destination, try to drink more fluids than you normally do, both on and off the bike—dehydration occurs faster as the elevation increases.