How to train for your first road race: a beginner's guide to racing

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How to prepare for your first road race: a beginner’s guide to racing

Want to pin on a number for the first time? Here are six tips to ensure you stay with the bunch

Having undertaken a period of base training to establish the aerobic foundation for success, Spragg says it’s then time to up the ante to build form and prepare for the intensity a race will put a rider under.

Let’s face it, your first race is likely to be a shock to the system and the key, Spragg says, is in preparing your body not only for the intensity of riding at race-pace, but for the constant accelerations that are required to stay with the bunch, whether sprinting out of every corner in a criterium, moving around a rider in the bunch, or attacking the brow of a hill in a road race.

Racing is hard – and you need to prepare for the effort involved (Pic: Paul Hayes-Watkins)


Spragg recommends using the final few weeks in the build-up to your first race to work on your FTP or Functional Threshold Power – the maximum power or, more likely for those new to racing, heart rate you can sustain for an hour.

“Unlike a time trial when you can ride at an even pace, you won’t be racing consistently at one power or heart rate,” says Spragg. “There will be a lot of peaks and troughs during every acceleration in the bunch.

“If you think of your FTP as a capacity to do a certain amount of work in an hour, all your peaks and troughs are going to add up to a normalised power or heart rate of around threshold, so the higher your threshold, the more peaks and troughs you can put into that race, and the higher those peaks can be. The last few weeks of training are used to prepare your body for the sporadic nature of racing and the efforts involved.”

Spragg recommends matching your efforts in training to those that will be required in a race. A crit rider should work on there explosive power – “a crit is like a series of sprints for an hour, so your 100th sprint needs to be as strong as your first,” he says – while a rider doing a hillier road race should place more emphasis on working at threshold power or heart rate. “You might be going up a climb for ten minutes on every lap,” he says.

However, Spragg highlights two of his favourite training sessions used to replicate race-pace efforts and raise the body’s capacity to execute them.

Riding a crit requires explosive power (Pic: JXP Photography/Jarrod Partridge)

Anaerobic and VO2 Max training sessions

“I like doing an anaerobic session,” he says. “With a 15 second sprint and 15 second recovery, 30 second sprint and 30 second recovery, 45 second sprint and 45 second recovery, one minute sprint and one minute recovery, 90 second sprint and 90 second recovery, and two minute sprint and two minute recovery. That’s a realyl anaerobic session, which is good for sprinting out of corners, or attacking small climbs at the end of a race.

“You can also do a VO2 Max session, where you do efforts of anything up to five minutes working above threshold power, or you can mix and match and do a session which replicates an attack in a race. Do a hard attack effort for 30 seconds, then hold threshold for two or three minutes, then do another two or three minutes in zone five, which is above threshold (VO2 Max) and you’re getting an all-round workout in one session.”

Use the turbo to replicate specific race-pace efforts – but don’t neglect the open road (Pic: Roz Jones)

Turbo vs. road

Spragg recommends using both the turbo trainer and open road to perform such sessions. “It’s very controllable on the turbo,” he says, “and if you’re doing a threshold session then you have the numbers right in front of you. If you’re short of time then it’s an efficient way to train.

“But any standing efforts – climbing out of the saddle or sprinting, for example – are easier do that on the road because of the natural movement between body and bike. There are obvious benefits to doing specific efforts on the turbo but you need to do some quality sessions on the road as well.”


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