Training: how to make the most of autumn on the bike
Five tips to keep your riding fresh through autumn
The start of autumn sees the racing and sportive season draw to a close but this is still one of our favourite times of year to ride - before the weather really turns and winter truly kicks in.
However, cyclists often feel in limbo in autumn. Your major goals for the season have passed, whether that was a race or a date on the sportive calendar, but it's not yet time to crack on with winter training in preparation for next season.
With that in mind, here are five training tips to ensure you get the most out of autumn.
Try out new training methods
Now your major goals for the season are behind you, it isn’t quite as important to be in tip top shape. As a result, autumn offers the opportunity to try out new training methods without worrying if it will adversely affect your form for events in the weeks to come.
For example, if you have been struggling to get the hours in over the summer alongside other commitments, then why not try switching your training to include shorter, sharper workouts - even including some high-intensity intervals along the way.
You might just find that you can get into the same shape by reducing the volume but increasing the intensity. If this works then you can apply the same tactics next summer, taking the stress away from trying to cram in as many hours as possible, and allowing you to enjoy your riding more than ever.
Other things to think about trying include: core stability training, sprint intervals, fasted training, and even increasing the amount of recovery time between sessions. Make a note of how you are responding to the new training stimulus and then apply the lessons learnt in future.
Stay on the bike as long as possible to shorten your winter
At this time of year, at the back-end of summer, it difficult to remember those days on the bike last winter when you were riding in freezing temperatures and driving rain.
However, let me assure you, every winter there will be days when it’s cold and miserable - that will come as no surprise to any hardened cyclist.
Many cyclists take a short break after the summer to freshen up both mentally and physically. This is certainly something I recommend - it's important to rest up after a busy season - but it also makes sense to take this break once the weather has truly turned and/or the clocks change.
That way you're making the most of, what should be, better weather at the start of autumn, and miss out some of the cold rides and hours on the turbo. Make hay while the sun shines and all that.
Keep riding through September and early October and then by the time you've had a short break it's already November and there are only about four months before next year’s events start in earnest.
Try out a new discipline
Even if you are committed to riding through the early part of autumn, it can be hard to motivate yourself once the season is finished. A lot of riders immediately switch their focus to next season and start planning ahead for the winter, forgetting about the here and now.
To keep your motivation up, why not try out a new discipline? Cyclo-cross is becoming increasingly popular and is one of the most accessible forms of bike racing, if you want to engage your competitive streak.
Cyclo-cross racing is hard and fast, so it's a great way to keep your peak fitness topped up, and also gives you a chance to work on your technique. Even if you don't want to race, hacking around the woods, or linking together local bridleways, is a great way to spend a couple of hours, especially when it's raining and the road bike is hardly an appealing prospect.
However, you could try any of the disciplines out there, be it mountain biking, track cycling or even cycle speedway. As a coach, I am a big believer in the fact that to be a good cyclist you need to have a good all-round skills base. For example, spending a bit of time sliding around in the mud on a cyclo-cross bike can only be beneficial for your skills on the road bike - this translates to being a better bike handler or a faster descender, and this can really pay off in the long run.
One thing often forgotten by riders who have a structured training plan, filled with interval sessions, power zones and talk of tapering, is that, for most of us, one of the main reasons we got into cycling was to ride with our mates.
While you may be training hard through spring and summer to get yourself in top shape for an event, once the pressure is off, why not go back to basics and simply go out riding with your friends? No training zones, no intervals, simply a good old fashioned group ride.
Autumn is also a great time to get a winter training group together. Cold winter rides go by much faster riding with a few other cyclists, as opposed to on your own, so why not try out a few local group rides and see which one suits you best. Or you could try and round up a few friends who don’t normally ride together and make a habit of it.
The fitter you go into the winter, the better you come out of it
Here's a final little tip for you. If you want to know which pro cyclists may have a good spring next season, a great place to start is with who's currently riding the Vuelta a Espana.
Why? A winter break is more about freshening up mentally, rather that physically - the body doesn’t simply fall apart once a year in November, but mentally it's good to have a break.
As a result, the fitter you go into this end-of-season break, the fitter you will be when you start your winter training properly. Being both fit and fresh when you start your winter means you don’t lose a month getting back to a decent level of fitness before you can really crack on with building towards your goals.
Also, if you are fitter when you start your winter training then you aren’t going to need to stress your system quite as much to get back to peak form. One thing which can really impact on winter training is illness, but if your system isn’t as fatigued then your immune system won’t be as run down and you might stave off that cold. All these factors combine to make your winter training - where you lay the foundations for the season to come - better than ever.