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How To Train Like the Pros for Your Next Big Cycling Event

In some areas, the cycling offseason can drag on for a while. The sport doesn’t lend itself to icy, dark, cold conditions, but there are ways to keep up the habit even if you live far from the equator. 

Whatever your winter routine, there comes a time when you start to look ahead toward prime cycling season and anticipate the big rides on your calendar. And before long, it’s time to start training and preparing for those big moments so you’ll be ready when they arrive.

Just what does it take to get there, though? Do you simply need to start pedaling more miles? Riding harder? How do you gear up for the big event that may be months away? Longtime cycling coach Darryl MacKenzie has a few tips to help you target your training and build the necessary strength and endurance, no matter how much time you have to prepare.

Planning Is Paramount

Whether your big event is just a few weeks away or months down the road, you need a method that can help you move forward from where you are. 

“Quite often when you’ve been off for a lot of the winter, you really can’t just do that 60-mile ride in your first week back on the bike,” says Coach Darryl. In other words, you have to start somewhere and make  a plan to work toward your ultimate goal.

In the past, that would have meant just trying to rack of up miles in hopes that you’ll be ready for that ride when the time comes. But that’s not much of a strategy, and pedaling miles only helps you prepare in a one-dimensional way. You might ride dozens of 20-mile rides over a few months and be no closer to completing that 60-mile ride. 

Segment Your Training Efforts

Rather than just starting to rack up miles without a concrete plan, you should look for a strategy that helps you systematically build your strength and stretch your stamina. After all, cycling is an endurance sport, and those long mid-summer rides will put yours to the test. (For a more detailed explanation of the following process see our post, “4 Beneficial Stamina-Building Workouts for Cyclists.”)

To prepare for the big ride effectively, Darryl recommends a method that’s been used by everyone from Olympic athletes to Tour de France riders: periodization. This involves breaking your training into three distinct phases, in the following order:

  1. Build strength. In this first phase, your primary goal is to make your legs stronger so you can support your later efforts. For the cyclist, there’s no better method for this than one-legged pedaling on a stationary trainer.
  2. Prolong endurance. Once you have adequate leg strength to support longer rides, you can focus on getting there. Don’t focus on speed or high-powered climbing yet. Work at a challenging pace, going as long as you can, then gluing together those short stretches into one long one over time. 
  3. Expand capacity. Now that you’ve built endurance, you can prepare for the hardest moments of your big ride. This is where you really want to push it so you can handle those climbs or pedal a little harder for a little longer. In this phase, you should pedal hard until you’re basically sucking air, recover, and repeat several times. Limit these exercises to once or twice a week and no more than an hour.

“The concept here is that the cyclist begins training by first developing strength in the muscles,” Darryl explains. “Then, with those strong muscles, they train for longer distances. Finally, with endurance achieved, they work on the high heart rate needed for hill climbing and high speeds. By building in this order rather than working on everything all at once, they will be much stronger and better prepared.”

How To Put This to Work in Your Training

This type of training works well whether you’re preparing for the Tour de France or your local century ride. Obviously, the bigger and more difficult the event, the more time you should give yourself to prepare. Early spring is usually an ideal time to get started, as the weather warms and you look toward summer rides that are two or four months down the road. But, no matter how long you have, this approach will help you improve quickly.

Ideally, aim to spend about 30% of your trading in each phase, in the above order. So, if you train for six weeks, spend the first two weeks in phase one, then the next two weeks in phase two, then the final two in phase three. As you train through each phase, it doesn’t mean you can’t do anything from the other phases. It just means your primary efforts should be focused on one area. 

The time is right, and summer is coming. Why not make your training plan and get out there?

To learn more about periodization training in cycling, check out our article, “How To Pedal Farther and Faster Than Your Fellow Cyclists.”


You can find more of Coach Darryl’s thoughts over at his website.

Photo by alexandre saraiva carniato on Pexels