PezCycling News - What's Cool In Road Cycling : Pro Shop: Early Season Training

The spring racing season is fast approaching and motivation is high with the holidays behind us. Racers of all levels are planning their training and racing schedules so let’s start off January with tips from two of our most trusted resources (and all-around nice guys) for training and racing information: Dario Cioni and Burke Swindlehurst.

Even for grizzled veterans of the professional cycling circuit, every season begins anew with a fresh set of challenges and adventures. Dario has moved to the new ISD team and will play a different role as the elder statesman of the group. He will now be able to assume the role of both team leader and mentor. Burke will enter his 12th year as a professional with Team Bissell and plans to do all the major US races. For this month’s questions, we talked about early peaks and a general training approach to the year. Burke is doing the Tour of California and Dario’s team is currently also trying to get in the race:

Pez: In general, how do you go about planning your season and specifically, how do you create an early peak, like the Tour of California, which is extremely early in the calendar?

Dario: An early peak is a bit difficult to plan unless you are not aiming for the classics or some early season race in the later spring months. For sure you must start training earlier; let’s say November or mid-November at latest and hope you have not lost too much fitness over winter break. After a couple of weeks basic work it is time to start with aerobic work outs and by Christmas do some anaerobic work outs and start putting in long and hard rides. Of course to do this you must also live in a favorable climate. In the case you have other big goals mid season you might want to slow down and lose some fitness after the event.

Burke: There are a lot of factors that go into my early season preparation, not the least of which is the weather here in Utah. This year I have decided to try and get in very good shape for the Tour of California since it is essentially the biggest race of the year in the U.S., particularly with the disappearance of the Tour of Georgia from the calendar. This past fall, instead of taking a good 6-8 weeks off of the bike, I chose to preserve my condition by riding my mountain bike. It served two purposes. It helped me maintain a basic level of fitness to start my training season with and I also enjoy it immensely, so although it's still quite a workload on my body, I find that I get a mental break from the structure of the road bike. Once I did begin training again on the road bike in November, I was able to jump into a greater workload and take advantage of the mild weather we had by doing longer and more intense rides than I would have been able to had I not spent the time on the mountain bike.

December brought the typical snow and cold, so I have been doing shorter rides on the trainer with very specific workloads given to me by Max Testa. Knowing that I have done some bigger hours in the fall and early winter allows me to focus on doing shorter, very intense workouts indoors. As a supplement to that, I'll often add a couple of hours on the snowshoes afterwards which is a super workout that also helps clear the head a bit by getting me much needed time outdoors.

I should also add that I have benefited greatly over the past few years by having a great training partner in Jeff Louder. We train together a great deal and I've found that we complement each other greatly in this regard in terms of motivating each other and as a bonus, we've become great friends.

In terms of preparing for the Tour of California specifically, Team Bissell is getting us down to the Tour de San Luis in Argentina later this month before our official training camp. This is important in that we will have some actual good racing in our legs before we line up in California in February.

Pez: Do you approach the early season with the same training model year after year or do you vary the program in terms of the type of training?

Dario: The basic training program is quite standard but the timing will change from year to year depending on when you do the first race and what are your season goals. This will alter when you start training again and when you start doing more specific workouts. It also depends on your fitness level after the winter break so an early test might be useful.

Burke: As far as my training model from year to year, it's ever changing and evolving from season to season. 2009 will be my 12th year as a professional and I'll be 36 in March. So far, I've found that getting older is more about preserving and maintaining strong motivation than anything else. In fact, I feel I continue to grow stronger physically as well as mentally and I'm looking forward to a few more years yet!

That being said, I approach my training with a strong emphasis on keeping things fresh and trying new things as well as relying on the tried and true principles I have found to work for myself. Above all, I aim to keep things fun, because I have always found I perform best when I'm happy and enjoying myself.

Let’s summarize:

• In regards to an early season peak, I think it’s important to start planning a peak 2-3 months in advance and train accordingly. If you wait until January, it may be too late to peak for a February race. That is why Dario mentioned the early season classics that take place in March and April as a possibility for his early season peak. Another factor is how fit you were at the end of the previous season and how well you were able to train during the fall. For example, Burke knew that he wanted to do well in February back in the fall, so he designed his program with that information in mind.

• Another important point to assess is in general how long it takes to achieve a satisfactory level of racing fitness. As athletes, you train and race year after year gaining experience and fitness that builds upon itself. Early in your career, you see more gains, where later in your career, fewer gains. This is especially true when you consider time constraints and competition level.

The question then arises when you begin your program: how long it takes you to get prepared to race and how do you know you are at that level? One way we do it at Athleticamps is to utilize a consistent testing protocol. Dario also does that at the Mapei center with its director, Dr. Sassi. If you have test results, you can compare year over year results from previous seasons. This comes in very handy for knowing how long and what type of training will get you to the level you need to be at to compete successfully.

• Burke identifies an incredibly simple but important point concerning training when he talks about training with Jeff Louder. To be successful in cycling, you must be single-minded and do what’s right for you. That includes choosing the right training partners that complement you best and allow you to excel in your program. Cycling is unique; it’s unlike something like golf where you can play or practice with a 5 handicap if you are a 15 handicap. Cycling presents a unique challenge in that if you find the right partner or small group, you can immensely benefit from having them around. But if you choose the wrong group, either one that is at a lower fitness level or just the opposite, too high a fitness level, training may not be as effective.

• I absolutely love the fact that after 12 years of racing, Burke still looks for different training routines. Dario is correct that there are no major changes or revolutionary training methods being discovered. It’s all about finding what works best for you given your physiology, psychology, goals, age, etc. Nonetheless, varying your training regimen to keep it interesting is important. It’s all about hard work and knowing where you’re going in the sport. That is why training is more of an art versus a science. Books and fixed training programs are limited in the amount they help athletes. Serious athletes need good resources and coaches to help them. Burke utilizes Dr. Testa; Dario utilizes Dr. Sassi. Two of the best in the world.

It’s hard to believe that 2009 is upon us already. We here at Pez hope that it’s your best year ever on the bike and that the information we present to you from all our Toolbox experts help guide you to success.

Ride safe; ride strong,


About Bruce
Bruce Hendler created AthletiCamps to provide cycling specific coaching and training to athletes and cyclists of all levels. Find out more at and check out the AthletiCamps Blog.


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