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Training with the pros: Ryan Mullen (IG-Sigma Sport)

Chrono des Nations Espoir champion prepares for winter of road miles, gym work, and track competition

Falling temperatures and shorter days mean that many of us will be facing reduced time in the saddle until spring arrives.

Gym work outs, overseas training camps, and forays onto the track, for those lucky enough to live close to a velodrome, are likely to be on the agenda of many amateur cyclists keen to stay in shape and stay out of the weather.

The options are not wildly dissimilar to those followed by UK-based professionals at this time of year. IG-Sigma Sport’s Ryan Mullen, set to join the Irish AN-Post squad next season managed by the legendary Sean Kelly, will be mixing road, track, and gym workouts in the weeks and months ahead.

Ryan Mullen contested the Lincoln GP this year, but hopes for more stage racing in 2014 with new team, An-Post

Mullen ended the season by winning the Chronos des Nations time trial for espoirs (under-23s) on October 20, a year after he won the same event in the junior category. He only returned to the saddle this week and has mixed short, low intensity rides with a return to the gym for core exercises.

“After the Chrono des Nations, I just stopped riding,” Mullen told RCUK. “I’ve had two weeks completely off the bike. I’ve just gone back to the gym for some core stuff and some leg training. Next week, I start training properly. I’ve got the track World Cup coming up in January.”

The core is where the power comes from. If you look at the likes of Bradley Wiggins and the Team Sky boys, they don’t move on the bike, and that’s so efficient. The more you move, the more energy you waste

Despite Mullen’s impressive accomplishments against the clock, he rejects the label of time trial specialist, and is targeting stage race experience in 2014. He will not then be keeping his powder dry through winter with an eye on building form for the resumption in earnest of the TT season next spring.

Instead, he is at the beginning of a programme that will see him gradually increase hours in the saddle throughout the winter and move from self-weighted exercises in the gym to those that require him to wear a weighted vest and carry a 30kg weight on his back.

Gym work is a regular feature of Mullen’s winter training. When RCUK spoke to him on Thursday, he had already been three times, and expects to go again before the end of the week. His sessions begin with a stretching routine before heading to the rowing machine, selecting the lowest resistance setting, and working for between eight and 10 minutes to warm up.

Core principles

Rapha Condor JLT’s Mike Cuming, winner of the Tour de Korea, told this site how important a strong core is to his performances in the saddle and Mullen echoed his sentiments.

“The core is where the power comes from,” he says. “If you look at the likes of Bradley Wiggins and all the Team Sky boys, they don’t move on the bike, and that’s so efficient. The more you move, the more energy you waste.”

Ryan Mullen will mix gym work and road miles with time on the track this winter

Like Cuming, Mullen’s primary core exercise is ‘the plank’, where the rider supports himself on his forearms or palms, lifting his torso from the ground, and holding the position with his legs straight and behind him, much like a press up without the ‘dip’. Mullen also performs ‘side planks’ where the rider supports himself on his elbow.

“When my core starts to develop more over the winter, I move to the ball,” says Mullen. “When you put your legs on the ball, you’re using you’re whole core; you’re engaging pretty much every muscle in your torso.”

The core is where the power comes from. If you look at the likes of Bradley Wiggins and the Team Sky boys, they don’t move on the bike, and that’s so efficient. The more you move, the more energy you waste

Despite Mullen’s belief in the importance of a strong core to transit power, he is equally certain of the need to exercise the back muscles. That tends to be the first thing that goes for me,” he says. “I do a lot of back work.”

At this time of year, Mullen’s gym exercises will be ‘self-weighted’, but as the off-season grinds towards its close, he will switch to weights in a bid to maintain leg strength when time on the bike is limited.

“Towards the end of the winter, I’ll have a heavy vest on. That will weigh 30 kilos and I’ll have 30 kilos on my back as well,” he says. “I’ll do three sets of 20 repetitions, have a break, do some more core work, and come back and do three sets of 20 again.”

Ride, gym, sleep

It would be wrong to think that Mullen spends his entire winter in the gym, however; nor does he separate his off-the-bike workouts from days when he rides. “I ride on the days I go to the gym because if I don’t my legs will seize up,” he says.

Riding at this time of year amounts to little more than “recovery spins” and café rides, but it won’t be long until his rides will stretch to anything from 60 miles to 100 miles a day.  For these, Mullen will use an SRM power meter, provided for his use by Cycling Ireland, the Irish national cycling federation. “It’s like cheating, basically,” Mullen jokes, so convinced is he of the benefits of training with power.

Mullen is due to train with Irish team-mate, Martyn Irvine, prior to the January round of the World Cup in Mexico. Pic: Alex Broadway/

“Since I started using that, I’ve come on leaps and bounds. I’ll be using that over the winter. I’ve seen what’s difference in made. Without power, you can ruin your legs in one week.”

For Mullen, the principal advantage of training with power is the ability to regulate effort. He offers the example of training for three hours at 250 watts, a task he says that gets progressively harder towards the end of the ride. “A time trial is the biggest gain for an SRM,” he continues. “You can just see the points where you’re going too hard and you need to back off.”

On track

As well as gym and road work, Mullen will be training on the track this winter, too. Track racing is a new development for the 19-year-old, who raced on the boards for the first time at the Irish International Grand Prix, and will make his international debut in the green and white at the second round of the UCI Track World Cup in January, where he will race in the individual pursuit.

Despite the success of pursuit riders in road time trials and vice versa (Boardman, Wiggins, and Rowsell spring to mind), Mullen sees no synergy between the two events and believes an ability to ride a ‘fast 10’ on the ride is no guarantee of success in the track.

I tend to go better in time trialing after a big block of miles. It just seems to work better for me

His first track event came after a sustained block of road training, and he won’t be making specific track preparations for the World Cup round in January. Instead, Mullen will be training in Calpe with his new road team, An Post.

Stage racing will be Mullen’s biggest goal in 2014, despite having forged an enviable reputation for his abilities against the watch. As with his approach to the track, Mullen will do no specific training, but rely on a combination of road work and, during the winter at least, time in the gym. “I tend to go better in time trialing after a big block of miles. It just seems to work better for me.”

These are good times for Irish cycling, with road success of Dan Martin and Nico Roche, and Martyn Irvine spearheading the charge on the track. Mullen, with his espoir victory at the Chrono des Nations, represents a bright prospect for the future.

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