Pro Cyclists Talk Early-Season Training

<strong>Bissell's Burke Swindlehurst is a three-time winner of the Tour of the Gila.</strong><br><br>Photo: Marco Quezada

The spring racing season is fast approaching and motivation is high. Racers of all levels are planning their training and racing schedules, so let's start off with tips from two of our most trusted resources (and all-around nice guys) for training and racing information: Dario Cioni and Burke Swindlehurst.

Even for grizzled veterans of the professional cycling circuit, every season begins anew with a fresh set of challenges and adventures. Dario has moved to the new ISD team and will play a different role as the elder statesman of the group. He will now be able to assume the role of both team leader and mentor.

Burke will enter his 12th year as a professional with Team Bissell and plans to do all the major U.S. races. For this month's questions, we talked about early peaks and a general training approach to the year. Burke is doing the Tour of California and Dario's team is currently also trying to get in the race. [Editor's Note: Team ISD was not selected to race at the 2009 Tour of California.]

Pez: In general, how do you go about planning your season and specifically, how do you create an early peak, like the Tour of California, which is extremely early in the calendar?

Dario: An early peak is a bit difficult to plan unless you are not aiming for the classics or some early-season race in the later spring months. For sure you must start training earlier; let's say November or mid-November at latest and hope you have not lost too much fitness over winter break.

After a couple of weeks of basic work it is time to start with aerobic workouts, and by Christmas do some anaerobic workouts and start putting in long and hard rides. Of course, to do this you must also live in a favorable climate. In the case you have other big goals midseason, you might want to slow down and lose some fitness after the event.

Burke: There are a lot of factors that go into my early-season preparation, not the least of which is the weather here in Utah. This year I have decided to try and get in very good shape for the Tour of California, since it is essentially the biggest race of the year in the U.S., particularly with the disappearance of the Tour of Georgia from the calendar.

This past fall, instead of taking a good six to eight weeks off of the bike, I chose to preserve my condition by riding my mountain bike. It served two purposes. It helped me maintain a basic level of fitness to start my training season with, and I also enjoy it immensely, so although it's still quite a workload on my body, I find that I get a mental break from the structure of the road bike.

Once I did begin training again on the road bike in November, I was able to jump into a greater workload and take advantage of the mild weather we had by doing longer and more intense rides than I would have been able to had I not spent the time on the mountain bike.

December brought the typical snow and cold, so I have been doing shorter rides on the trainer with very specific workloads given to me by Max Testa. Knowing that I have done some bigger hours in the fall and early winter allows me to focus on doing shorter, very intense workouts indoors.

As a supplement to that, I'll often add a couple of hours on the snowshoes afterwards, which is a super workout that also helps clear the head a bit by getting me much needed time outdoors.

I should also add that I have benefited greatly over the past few years by having a great training partner in Jeff Louder. We train together a great deal and I've found that we complement each other greatly in this regard in terms of motivating each other, and as a bonus we've become great friends.

In terms of preparing for the Tour of California specifically, Team Bissell is getting us down to the Tour de San Luis in Argentina later this month (January) before our official training camp. This is important in that we will have some actual good racing in our legs before we line up in California in February.

Pez: Do you approach the early season with the same training model year after year, or do you vary the program in terms of the type of training?

Dario: The basic training program is quite standard, but the timing will change from year to year depending on when you do the first race and what are your season goals. This will alter when you start training again and when you start doing more specific workouts. It also depends on your fitness level after the winter break, so an early test might be useful.

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