There are several factors that will improve your cycling proficiency throughout the season and help you nail that all-important bike split on race day.
Determine Your Measurement Parameters1 of 8
There are many ways to measure your bike intensity on race day, and you want to be clear on which measurement you'll use to determine success. Is your goal to go a certain pace or wattage? Do you want to keep your heart rate or cadence at a certain level regardless of pace? All of these will provide vastly different results.
At the very least, you'll likely want a basic bike computer that includes current speed, average speed, cadence and distance. Most cycling computers and triathlon watches also sync with heart rate monitors and power meters, which are becoming less expensive and more readily available.
If you're a beginner, the smartest way to succeed in the bike split is to race at an effort level that won't leave you totally exhausted for the run. Quite honestly, if you're a newbie, the easier you go, the better—at least until you have the experience and the proper tests to clarify your different levels of intensity. If you're an advanced athlete, the gold standard these days is racing within a certain heart rate or power zone based on your goals and the distance of the race.
Get Comfortable on Your Bike2 of 8
A huge key to success in cycling and triathlon is bike comfort—especially since you're going to spend a vast majority of your training and racing time on it. Even in a sprint-distance effort, most of your time is spent in the saddle, so it's imperative to invest in a proper and detailed bike fit to determine optimal sizing and positioning. Being the most aerodynamic will not guarantee speed if you have physical limiters that make an aggressive position painful or uncomfortable.
Likewise, make sure your equipment and clothing are comfortable as well. Saddles in particular are a very individual choice. So if you're not satisfied, don't give up! Most bike or triathlon stores will allow you to demo saddles for several days until you find the right one for you.
Keep Your Bike Clean and Maintained3 of 8
Ever notice that your car just seems to run better after you've washed it or had an oil change? The same is true for your bike! Regular tune-ups are vital to ensure a successful cycling experience. Keep the chain clean and lubed, the brake pads clean and your tires in good working condition. Nothing will derail a successful race day more than a broken chain or flat tire. All bike shops offer basic tune-ups if you are unsure of what type of maintenance you need. These days, there are also several mobile cycling mechanics that can actually come to your home or place of business, eliminating just about any excuse for a clean and shiny bike on race day.
Know The Course Profile4 of 8
It's easy to say that you want to average a certain speed for the bike, but what if you're racing at 8,000 feet of elevation into a head wind? This may change your entire race plan. To determine (and subsequently nail) a feasible bike split, get to know the course as much as possible. Are there a lot of turns? Is the pavement poor? What is the elevation gain? If you're traveling to a new destination, study the course profile and research reviews others have written about the course. If you don't get a chance to train on or ride the course in advance, try to drive it prior to your event to gain a visual perspective. Seeing the course will definitely help you develop your pacing strategy.
Test Your Progress on a Regular Basis5 of 8
Regular benchmark testing is vital to not only measure your power progression throughout a training cycle, but to develop a better understanding of feasible and attainable goals as well. It's a snapshot of your current fitness level. If you have a heart rate or power meter, the common test is a 20-minute FTP Test, or Functional Threshold Power Test. FTP is the maximum power you could theoretically sustain for one hour. This is an advanced test that takes some practice and discipline to master, but knowing these numbers takes most of the guesswork out of training and racing. Several explanations can be found here. Once the test is completed, you will not only have your new FTP, but you can also then set various training zones based on the data.
Proper Interval Training6 of 8
Once you've established your training zones, the biggest gains in cycling come from regular interval workouts. In the same way that you don't want to go all out every time you hop on the bike, you also don't want every day to be an easy day or you'll never improve to your potential. One simple example of an interval workout is the Tabata style of training. After a warm-up, perform six to eight intervals that include 20 seconds of gut-busting, all-out effort followed by a short 10-second recovery. It's a short workout, but by the end, you will be exhausted. Obviously, this isn't something you want to repeat every day, but workouts that include short bursts of high intensity interval training followed by a recovery will go a long way in improving your fitness and power.
Strength and Flexibility Training7 of 8
Yes, you can get faster and stronger in the weight room and in the yoga studio! Strength and flexibility creates balance, better range of motion and more stability. Target your hamstrings, hips and glutes for more strength and increased flexibility.