Once you've established your LT power, you're ready to get to work. The majority of training time should be focused on increasing the sustainable power (LT power). Fortunately, intervals at or slightly below your LT power are relatively easy to complete when compared to maximum intensity work.
The initial goal should be to increase the time spent in your LT power zone through the completion of multiple intervals (three to four). Depending on your fitness, a couple of sets might be necessary to increase the total time spent on LT work. For less experienced riders, LT work might need to start out with eight to ten-minute efforts before progressing into the longer duration 15 to 20-minute efforts.
The goal is to accumulate more work time partitioned into longer work intervals and, as a result, increase your sustainable power (LT power). That is if proper structure and rest are incorporated, allowing the body to recover, adapt and overcompensate.
Developing High-intensity Repeatable Power
After improving your sustainable power to the point where the splits are at the 'make it' rather than the 'break it' point of your ride, it's time to look at the finish line. If a bunch sprint isn't your cup of tea, then it might be best to thin out the pack a bit or establish yourself and a few choice riders into a breakaway before approaching the line.
This is where you're going to need to be able to generate repeatable power at a level much higher than your LT training has prepared you for. This is where maximum intensity VO2 work comes into play.
In order to provide enough stimuli for VO2 adaptation to occur, a maximum effort is required during every VO2 interval, but that effort needs to be tailored accordingly. Maximum intensity workouts of equal interval duration and rest (a 1-1 ratio)—allowing for a relatively full recovery—will successfully increase VO2 max power.
Interval and rest durations of three to five minutes should be sufficient in length. Workouts weighted more heavily on the interval side (compared to the rest side) will improve the repeatability of maximal efforts and the tolerance of high levels of lactic acid for the repeated efforts you might find necessary to establish a favorable break.
Finish it Off Right
If your breakaway attempts are either unsuccessful or if you're the type of rider who would rather save your efforts for the finish line sprint, you need to be prepared. Positioning and the correct lead out is extremely important, but when that wheel in front of you starts to fade or when it's time for you to come around—you're going to need the legs to do it.
Every bit of energy is precious so make sure your technique is efficient. Low-intensity training sprints focusing on form rather than power production will keep you from getting sloppy while propelling yourself towards the line.
To increase the power you're able to generate at high speeds, short sprint efforts from ten to 20 seconds in duration—starting from speeds close to that of normal race speed—will help you generate power at high speeds (you may need to sprint downhill to accomplish this).
Allowing for full recovery between each interval is necessary in these sprint efforts; five to eight minutes should do the trick. Sprint intervals from a slower starting point (12-15 mph) will help you develop the acceleration necessary to start being a real threat for sprint victories.
Train for the Race, Not Just the Sprint
We've established that you need to be in the final sprint if you're going to win races, but what if you're one of those individuals that chose parents with poor fast twitch genetics? The answer is easy: don't leave it up to a sprint.
Increasing sustainable power is as important on the climb as it is on the flats. When looking at inclines, your main goal should be to increase your sustainable power/weight ratio. For those bigger riders with talents that sparkle on level ground, the benefit comes from having a high ratio of sustainable power-to-frontal surface area.
Either way you cut it, a high sustainable power is the common thread for all winning cyclists. Knowing a few good tricks can't hurt either.
Joshua D. Powers is a Pro Coach for Carmichael Training Systems, Inc. and coached Kevin Mahaney before and during his successful Destination Cycling Tour de France Challenge in 2005. To find out what CTS can do for you, visit www.trainright.com.