Over the last few weeks, we have covered the characteristics of time trial and circuit races and how these relate to your training as a sportive rider.
While there are a few similarities there have been many differences in the training required, and characteristics of these disciplines when compared to sportives. On the surface, road racing bears the closest resemblance to sportives. The varying terrain and riding in large bunches certainly offers some similarity, but, as discussed previously, the variable speed and necessity to stay with the bunch or front group to succeed mean the training needed to succeed is again different.
If you’ve tried time trials and circuit races, you should have an idea of where your strengths and weaknesses lie in relation to road racing. A natural affinity to the steady, hard pace of time trialling, or a naturally strong sprint, should give you a clue to the type of races that you should aim for and the tactics to employ. A good general approach to training for racing is to train your weaknesses (while not completely neglecting your strengths) and race to your strengths. A naturally good sprinter will never win if he lacks the endurance to reach the end of the race in the front group, or get over even a minor hill. It’s for this reason that even top road sprinters spend the majority of their training time working on endurance. In contrast, if you’re a good time triallist but with the top speed of a sloth, there’s no use waiting for a sprint finish – go out on the attack and at least aim to wear out your faster competitors.
As with circuit races, the key moments in road racing will often involve the very high intensity work needed to hang on to the bunch during a hard attack or up a steep climb, but with a greater emphasis on endurance. As I discussed in the first instalment of this series, including short, near maximal efforts within a longer, steadier tempo ride is a good way to start this. An alternative approach is a somewhat less controlled and more race-like situation, where the attacks may come thick and fast and at random, and can be included in a longer ride.
Include within your ride between one and four 10-minute periods (depending on how long you have to train and how well you can maintain the intensity – start with one or two sets and increase as you’re able) where you respond to a set stimuli as you would in a race. For example, when you see a red car sprint for 30s and when you see a blue car do a 2min time trial effort (choose the triggers depending on what you are most likely to see, for example a field gate if you are riding on a quiet country road). The random nature of this means you could have one effort straight after the previous hard effort, with no recovery, just like a race. Vary the triggers and length of the efforts within each 10 min set so you are getting a variety of different efforts over the whole session.
The ultimate way to win a race is solo with a gap to the bunch and time to savour the victory! In order to do this you are going to have to attack, many times the attack might fail but when it works the reward is the sweetest victory! This session is designed to practice attacking and holding off a baying bunch in the final kilometres of a race for a truly stylish race win, but is equally effective training to get into and establish a breakaway group. Do these on a quiet road with few interruptions or on the turbo trainer and start off with a very good warm up to prepare yourself for the hard efforts to come including a couple of hard, high cadence sprints.
Next, choose a moderate gear and sprint hard out of the saddle for 30s – this is the attack in the race where it is crucial to establish a gap quickly. After the initial sprint settle down for a 5 minute time trial effort, this is a short effort so heart rate may not respond in time but a power meter is an excellent tool here to hit and hold the correct power – make sure you have a little left in the tank! The final part of this effort simulates the final kilometre of the race, you’ve got a small gap but the bunch is breathing down your neck so it’s all or nothing! Attack the last 90 seconds as if the line is in sight and hold as hard as you can to finish the seven minute effort. This is a tough session so recover with at least 5 minutes easy riding and repeat this up to four times for a high quality and tough session.
Road racing is an incredibly complex sport but really is great fun! As you race more you will learn your strengths and weaknesses, as well as those of your opponents, which contribute to making road racing so interesting. Get out there, give it a go and get the satisfaction of progressing from a bunch finish, finishing strongly in the bunch, getting in a breakaway and finally to succeeding in crossing the line first. It’s a great feeling!