Years ago, Velonews ran a piece on the current U.S. Pro Champion Chris Wherry. In it, Wherry talked about how he would take periodic week-long hiking trips with friends. More recently, he mentioned that he spent a fair amount of time mountain biking during the season to break up the monotony of training and racing. These are both excellent ways to stay fresh and motivated throughout the season. However, this approach would probably work best if you have an extremely long racing season (like many pros) or a few peaks planned throughout the year.
Schedule a long (two- to four-week) transition period that separates your season into two parts. This approach is common among European pros, like classics riders, but can work well for U.S.-based riders too, particularly those who live in the West or Southeast.
A good example for this method is Danilo Diluca, who reported taking a month off after the Giro, only riding the occasional post-Giro criterium.
While the first approach can work--I can think of a few Masters riders who use it, I recommend and use the latter two, because riders simply respond better to the change in pace. As with anything else related to racing, planning your rest as well as your training can give you a clear picture of the road ahead.
Step 4: Starting up again.
Depending on the type of break you took, remember to use a progressive build-up to form again. Rather than jumping right back into racing, take some time to build endurance and other critical areas. Remember, the longer the build-up, the longer and more stable the peak.
Again, Diluca serves as a good model, starting an intensive six-week block of training before returning to racing without much expectation initially; a great plan in my opinion.
What do you do if your season has gone awry? Despite all your hard work, what if you're in that select group who can barely finish?
The short answer is that it depends. However, if you've trained well, raced plenty but still can't get out of your own way, then the best thing to do is rest. Forget the bike and go to the beach or the local coffee shop. The bottom line is to forget training because more training won't help and could make things markedly worse.
Enjoy the time off, it's summer after all! With any luck, you'll start to come around in a week or two and you can start over; salvage what you can. No matter what, use the time to make yourself a better rider by planning for the late season and beyond.
Chris Harnish, M.S., is an exercise physiologist and coach living, writing, and training on Cape Cod. In addition to coaching with The Peaks Coaching Group, Harnish runs Tradewind Sports, which offers a variety of services including performance testing, training products and international racing opportunities. In 2004, Harnish ran New England's top Junior Team, which included the top-ranked New England Junior and qualified a rider for Junior Worlds. He's a Category 1 road cyclist competing across the U.S. and abroad.