Pez: Do you approach training differently for a stage race versus a single day race? Since most of our readers don’t do three-week grand tours, let’s define stage races as seven days and less. Also – we are referring to the training period within an 8-10 week period before the event. How does this affect the types of races you may choose as preparation?
Dario: My main goal of the season is usually a Grand Tour and all the other races are used to prepare for that race. The majority of my training focuses on stage races, as there are definite differences versus training for a one-day race. In general, I concentrate more on volume, climbing, and recovery from several hard training sessions on consecutive days. For a one-day race, the focus becomes more on added intensity; I might do two consecutive five-hour hard training rides with added intensity. For a stage race, I would alter that to three days in a row with lower intensity and more climbing. In addition I train at least once per week on my time trial bike, as it is such an important discipline for stage racing.
Aaron: I definitely approach training for stage races with a different strategy than I do one-day races. With such big events in the US like the Tour of California and Tour of Georgia, stage races give me more opportunities to do well. These races appeal to me and suite my style of racing and recovery. I like to start my preparation for these races well into the winter months, sometimes as early as November. I find being consistent in the winter months produces my best results during the season and especially contributes to my recovery, which is key during stage races. Everyone gets fatigued, it’s how fast your body recovers overnight that’s always the major concern.
For stage race training, I don’t do a lot of efforts over threshold; a few to sharpen myself up, but mostly let the races bring the above threshold efforts to me. Hopefully the longer I train my threshold, the higher it will go, and the less time I will spend above threshold, or in the red zone. Usually 20-30hr weeks from November well into the spring. A lot of riding at tempo gets the body use to the physical demands of racing. Of course with stage races, a key to doing well comes down to the TT, again where your threshold makes a big difference, so working on my TT is always important.
For one-day races my training program includes more anaerobic efforts. For the San Francisco GP, I did 13 repetitions up a 2 minute climb at maximum effort. It was the steepest climb I could find to simulate the hard climbs in SF. It was in the neighborhood of 18-20%. I look back at it now and laugh, but it was one of the hardest training days I have ever done, especially since most of us never ride climbs that steep, and not crazy enough to do it 13 times!
In terms of what races I use as preparation of my major goals; stage races as training before both a stage race and a single day race are the best training.
Pez: How do you track performance improvement monthly, during the season, and year-to-year? Do you perform physiological testing, field testing, or rely on “feel” with no real tracking parameters? Do you use the latest power technology or do you still use HR? Would you consider yourself old school or new school when it comes to the latest and greatest technologies available?
Dario: My whole season and training program is structured around performance testing at the Mapei center in Milan. The first thing I do when I start the season is a lab test. After we develop an initial training plan, I try to get a lab test every 5 weeks, especially before an important race. We match every test with a previous one from the same period the year before and also from the best test of the season. We also try to predict what type of result in a certain race “should” be according to my fitness level derived from those tests prior to events. I really enjoy the testing and the analysis that goes along with it.
For tracking intensity, the power meter system is essential. Through the testing we are able to derive power zones, similar to heart rate zones, and I can monitor my effort during my training rides. I would say that I am definitely new school and take advantage of all the latest science and technology available to me, believing it is an essential component of being successful.
Aaron: To track improvement, I use my SRM power meter and it allows me to compare similar efforts from previous years. I would say that I am both new and old school. I don’t do a great deal of performance testing, maybe once a year. From years of experience, I know the kind of hours I need to achieve the proper fitness level to compete. I think power meters are a great training device, and can benefit all levels of athletes. If you train alone, they can function as your training partner, pushing you to the levels you need to achieve on any given day, especially when it comes to that dreaded anaerobic training.
• For “longer” stage races, both Dario and Aaron train the body on consecutive days with an emphasis more on volume and aerobic work versus higher intensity. This strategy can easily be applied to any level of the sport, where most stage races are 2-3 days with multiple stages each day. Athletes can also do two-a-day workouts to help simulate two shorter stages during a stage race weekend. With this strategy, more intensity can be introduced while at the same time teaching the body to recover.
• For single day races, there is a focus on higher intensity where you can train specifically on the type of terrain or topography the race covers. For example, Nevada City in Northern California is a very unique (and painful) type of hill. When reviewing the power profile from the race, the hill has a very specific look to it that can be simulated in training to prepare for the event. As we wrote in last month’s toolbox, Burke SwindlehurstAaron also used a hill to train specifically for the San Francisco Grand Prix. If you have ever seen both Fillmore and Taylor streets, you would see why they did it!
• Consistent training is key. If you miss a day or two due to work family obligations or sickness, previous consistent training creates a base level of fitness that you can utilize for many months into your season. This is why having a good winter and off-season training plan is necessary. In general, the longer you take to get fit, the longer you stay fit; you will also avoid the frustration of feeling good one week and not feeling good the next that can occur during the season.
• In regards to preparing for one-day races, remember that the primary purpose of training is to prepare the body to race. If you race often, you can allow the racing to provide a greater majority of your anaerobic work as a build up to your one-day race goal. If you do not race a lot, your training program has to be more balanced with both aerobic and anaerobic efforts.
• There is always a lot of discussion about the value of consistent performance testing. Companies track improvement year-to-year, quarter-to-quarter, etc. Why shouldn’t athletes? Taking advantage of the services that are now available to all levels of athletes is something that should be considered. It was interesting to see how both Dario and Aaron find it important to know where they stand fitness-wise as they go into big races, but both take a different approach to validating it. Aaron uses a very simple approach, while Dario accesses one of the sport’s best lab facilities in the world. Different athletes, different approaches. At AthletiCamps, we take the lab approach and have had a lot of success over the years. All our camps have performance testing as a primary first component and the athletes love being treated like pros, while at the same time learning a lot about themselves as athletes.
Ride safe; ride strong!
Bruce Hendler created AthletiCamps to provide cycling specific coaching and training to athletes and cyclists of all levels. Find out more at www.athleticamps.com and check out the AthletiCamps Blog.