If getting faster is your goal, you need to add a little structure. Picture your cycling fitness like a racehorse. To crush that derby in Kentucky, those steeds need a big engine; the stamina to hold speed, and top-end power and quickness to drive over the finish line. If you want to be fast like one of those fleet-footed beasts, you need to create that same fitness scaffolding on which to build speed.
Here are three rides to include in your weekly repertoire that will ramp up your mph in no time.
Engine Room Rides1 of 4
Long, steady endurance rides are essential for building—and maintaining—speed. Also known as Zone 2, moderate, or base-building rides, these aerobic intensity, fat-burning rides are not fast, but they help you become fast by creating a massive aerobic engine. These rides develop your type 1 muscle fibers, which house the bulk of your muscle's energy-producing mitochondria. Long aerobic-focused rides stimulate mitochondria growth and improve their function, so you become an all-star fat burner, which helps you preserve the glycogen you need to hit the gas and go faster longer. Those type 1 fibers are also key to clearing lactate, and the better you are at clearing lactate, the harder, faster, and longer you can go before your muscles scream for you to slow back down.
Do at least one Engine Room ride a week. They're done at about 65 to 74 percent of max heart rate (MHR), 50 to 70 percent of functional threshold power (FTP) and about a 4 to 5 on a 1 to 10 scale where 10 is the hardest. A solid engine-building ride for most of us is two to three hours. Aim for one (or more if you have time) each week.
Cruise Control Rides2 of 4
Once you're up to speed, you want to be able to hold that to hang with the pack without having to fade to—or worse, drop off—the back of the pack. These rides, which are "fun fast" (as opposed to "oh my God, I'm dying" fast), will also help you hold your own in a fast-moving paceline. During your ride, aim for two to four longer efforts (10 to 30 minutes in length; 5 to 15 minutes easy pedaling in between) that increase your breathing and elevate your heart rate to around 80 to 85 percent of your MHR; 85 to 90 percent of FTP, and a 7 on a 1 to 10 scale. It should feel as though you're trying to hang with someone slightly faster than you. Aim for one Cruise Control ride a week.
Throttle Twisters3 of 4
You can't go mad fast if you never go mad fast. That means high-intensity interval training (HIIT). These are meant to be Dear-Lord-Make-It-Stop fast. But they're short, so there's that. HIIT work raises your lactate threshold, so you can ride faster and farther before your legs slam on the brakes. Aim to do four to six very hard or max efforts ranging from 30 seconds to two minutes; in between, spin easy for twice the length of the interval. They should be done 95 to 100 percent MHR; 100 to 130 percent FTP; and 9 to 10 on that 1 to 10 scale. Do one ride that includes Throttle Twisters each week.