The paradox of late-season racing is this: months of long mileage, interval workouts and racing have given you a huge aerobic engine and unparalleled endurance, but you're also tired and struggling to find the motivation to stay focused. What you need to do is to inject some snap back into your cycling legs so you can take advantage of your form.
Different parts of your fitness have varying lifespans. Generally speaking, the higher the power range, the shorter its lifespan. Basic aerobic endurance, which is a pretty low power range (about 50 to 75 percent of lactate-threshold power output) sticks around the longest, whereas optimal lactate-threshold power and the ability to repeatedly accelerate above threshold typically only last four to seven weeks.
So, as the end of the season approaches, many athletes have plenty of aerobic endurance but have already seen their best high-power performances for the year. So, how do you put some kick back in your cycling for one last big event?
Cut Back Your Weekly Mileage
The early fall is a good time to take advantage of your big aerobic base. The work you did earlier in the year enables you to reduce the number of cycling training sessions to just three rides a week and shift their focus almost entirely to regaining your high-end power.
It may seem strange to go faster by doing less, but your cycling workouts are going to be strenuous, and with a season's worth of fatigue also setting in, few athletes have the emotional or physical energy left to maintain both high volume and high intensity.
Get Reacquainted With Your Shifters
Cycling is a highly repetitive activity with respect to both the pedaling motion and the workouts you perform throughout the year. By now, you've probably done more long, sustained time-trial intervals than you'd care to remember, and most likely you've also settled into a predictable cadence and gear selection for your intervals and endurance rides.
To regain your kick, break out of these habitual cadences and work on your pedaling agility. In this context, "agility" refers to your ability to change pedaling speed while maintaining a consistent power output, which is an important part of keeping your pace high in rolling terrain, on technical courses and in pack-riding situations.
Of your three weekly cycling workouts, the middle one should include variable-cadence time-trial intervals. Intensity for these efforts should be just below your maximum sustainable pace, about 92 to 95 percent of time-trial heart rate or 85 to 90 percent of time-trial power output.
The unique feature of this workout is that you shift gears every two minutes during a continuous 10-minute interval. Start in the gear you would normally use for time-trial intervals, and then, two minutes into it, shift down one cog to an easier gear for two minutes.
Shift back to your normal gear for the next two minutes, then down two cogs for the following two minutes, and then finish up the final two minutes in your normal gear again.
For instance, if you normally ride a 53-tooth chainring in the front and a 15-tooth cog in the back (53 x 15), your gearing might look something like this:
0 to 2 minutes: 53 x 15
2 to 4 minutes: 53 x 17
4 to 6 minutes: 53 x 15
6 to 8 minutes: 53 x 19
8 to 10 minutes: 53 x 15
Perform three intervals, taking 10 minutes of easy-spinning recovery after each. During each effort, your goal is to maintain a consistent pace (or power output if you're using a power meter) even as you shift gears.
Heart rate may not be a great indicator of intensity for these intervals, as it responds to changes in cadence and may fluctuate widely as you pedal faster and slower. As a result, athletes training with a heart-rate monitor will need to pay more attention to maintaining a consistent pace.
Learn to Surge
One of the most important aspects of cycling performance that tends to disappear late in the season is the ability to initiate or cope with repeated surges in pace and power output.
You may, for instance, find you have one speed right now, and it might be a pretty fast one because of all the training you've done, but you lack the ability to accelerate or power up short hills. You can get this ability back in just a few weeks by incorporating OverUnder intervals into your first and third ride each week.
The basic idea of OverUnder is to alternate between a sustainable pace under lactate threshold and an unsustainable pace over it during each interval. You should complete three 10-minute intervals in a workout, and the first three minutes should be completed at 92 to 95 percent of time-trial heart rate or 85 to 90 percent of time-trial power output.
For the next two minutes, ride as quickly as you can, and then settle back to your original intensity level for another three minutes. Finish the interval with another two minutes as hard as you can go. These intervals are very hard, so take 12 to 15 minutes of recovery after each.
By incorporating these workouts into just one three-week training block, followed by a taper or recovery week, you will see significant improvements in your cycling performance. End the season on a high note, with a ripping performance on the bike, and you'll have a great memory to see you through the dark and dull days of indoor training this winter.
Jim Rutberg is a Pro Coach for Carmichael Training Systems, Inc. and co-author of five books with Chris Carmichael, including the national bestseller Chris Carmichael's Food for Fitness: Eat Right to Train Right and 5 Essentials for a Winning Life.