Race Training Basics

Training. Lets see….

So, I’m no USAC coach and I’m a far cry from the strongest rider out there but there are a few things everyone should know about training. The first thing to understand is that training your cycling fitness started like two months ago! Once you accept this unfortunate reality, you can sleep better.

As far as serious advice: read Joe Friel’s Cyclist’s Training Bible. It says it all. Friel pushes periodization that helps one build up strength in targeted areas over time. This is important because cycling is an endurance/aerobic sport, one that you can’t just jump right into. The Training Bible is pretty comprehensive and a good read. I’ll summarize a few key points to get you started.

First, as mentioned above, cycling is an aerobic activity. Training for this activity is also primarily aerobic. That said, it is also a really hard sport. Bike races are not easy, in fact other racers are trying to make you suffer so that they can beat you to the line. So you must build upon your strengths to meet that demand they will inflict upon you and hopefully, you will be able to inflict upon them.

Friel pushes “periodization.” Because you must build your fitness over time he has created periods within which you focus on specific areas and combinations of areas such as force, endurance, muscular endurance, power, speed skill, and anaerobic endurance. Think of your entire season as a pyramid (like the food pyramid), your aerobic fitness is the “base” of this pyramid because it is upon that that you will build everything else. Friel suggests that the stronger your “base” the higher your “peak.” Quite logical, no?

So the training year is broken into periods: 1) preparation 2) competition and 3) transition. Right now we are in the preparation phase, or the “base period” and a few weeks prior to the first races will be the “build period” (prep.) followed by the “race period” (comp.). Along this progression the base period is characterized by a large volume of riding at low to moderate intensity; as you approach your first races you replace volume for work at greater intensity (build and race period).

As a new racer it is very important to build a solid aerobic base. To do that you should learn your training zones.

Many people already have a heart rate monitor. Though it is not absolutely necessary it is a very helpful tool, so use it. One of the first things you need to know is your Anaerobic Threshold or AT. This important to know because above your AT, your ability to work is absolutely limited. An endurance sport like bike racing requires you to fully use your aerobic system, and to fully use it you must know it.

So where does it begin/end? If you don’t already know, do a test. The tests are not fun, but it will tell you your limits and guide your training.

Here is a link for a decent “threshold” test. Generally put, your threshold is the hardest pace you can maintain for 20 min. Your average heart rate for these 20 min is considered a good indicator of your anaerobic threshold.

Once you do the test you can determine your “training zones.” Friel’s Training Bible has a nice chart on page 42 of the third edition.

Training plans:
Lets put the season into perspective. The first races of the season are late March/early April; the final races are late August/early September. Some cat 5s I saw having a hard time hanging in April were absolutely killing races in July and August. No need to rush things; in fact, in this sport you can’t rush things.

Let me help you start your training with two general goals: yours are to learn how to 1) train and 2) safely compete in bike racing. (Please feel free and add detail to those goals!) After thinking about my season last year I learned how to race a little bit (I still have a TON to learn), but I learned a lot about what I need to do in the preparation phase to be a solid cat 4 racer this year.

…and I have not been able to do everything I wanted. I have not put in the training hours I wanted to. So, is my season lost? No. I have a wife, a career, a house, a car that needs some work, a graduate degree on hold, some other silly plans…and bike racing. We all sacrifice a lot to race. I guess I’m trying to say is that we will take many hours each week and dedicate them to racing; be sure to prioritize because conflicts happen. Oh yeah, be prepared to learn from your mistakes because you will make some.

So, you wonder, what should I be doing right now? That depends…if you email me what you have been doing over the last several weeks and Can and I will be more specific (probably more me than Can since he needs to be a busy guy in the labs at UIC!). Just be aware that neither one of us are certified coaches, we’ve only got a bit of experience and are on a learning curve the same as you – just perhaps a single racing season ahead. That, however, is enough to help you get started.

A working model:
Lets take a look a the next 10 weeks—which put us in the second week of April – just at the start of the season. Can put together a helpful schedule to help put you on a path leading to your first race. This schedule builds volume from about 4 to 7 training hours each week from weeks 1-4, with the 5th week being a rest week. I can not overstate how important rest periods are. Every 3-4 weeks you absolutely need one—fitness gains become so much more distinct.

An important note: now is NOT the time for crazy intensity; that comes later (according to this schedule, in 4 more weeks.). If you’re on a group ride and the pace gets tough for you – don’t pull! In fact, when you get to the front, feel free to pull right off, or don’t rotate up to the front at all. Remember, 22mph for one rider may put them at their threshold (cat 5?); for another tempo (cat 3-4), for yet another, that is a pace for “base miles” (cat 1-2)…Lance Armstrong’s endurance wattage is above 300 watts, which is probably near my 20 min threshold! So, what Lance can do all day while having a nice conversation, I’d be cooked and ready to serve in less than 20 min!

Here is a basic model for the next 10 weeks:

Each week has several workout focused,
Endurance Training (ET)
Tempo (T)
Anaerobic Threshold (AT)
Anaerobic Intervals (AN)

Week 1: ET / T / ET
Week 2: ET / T / ET / T
Week 3: ET / T / ET / T / ET
Week 4: ET / T / ET / T / ET
Week 5: ET / T / ET (Recovery week, keep Tempo HR on the low end)

Week 6: ET / T / ET / AT
Week 7: ET / T / ET / AT / ET
Week 8: ET / T / ET / AT / ET
Week 9: ET / T / AT / T / ET
Week 10: ET / T / ET / T (Recovery week, keep Tempo HR on the low end)

So, let this be a basic model.

Next time: Race preparation and stuff…


  1. I love the pictures for different workout types. ET/T/AT/AN. Awesome.

  2. Cancellara and Voigt are bad ass. Evans just does not get my HR going…it may be his chin-ass.

  3. Excellent! I have some stuff that I can mail out to anyone that wants it:

    1. The Carmichael Training System training handbook, which has a ton of good drills and how to perform them

    2. The Smart Cycling training handbook, more drills, some of which can be done on a group ride

    Another book that is really helpful is Chris Carmichael’s “The Ultimate Ride”, particularly good if you have a watt meter.


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