Picking up speed - Road Cycling UK

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Picking up speed

Spring is a tough time for racers – no matter how much pre-season training you’ve done, the first couple of races will always be hard because the difference in speed is so great. Although we can’t make racing easy, we’re hoping that with a few ideas on speed training, racing won’t come as quite such a shock and your results will quickly improve.

When it comes to increasing your speed on the bike, what you’re actually trying to do is increase your ability to produce power, both aerobically – for time trial type efforts and climbing – and anaerobically, for sprinting. In mathematical terms, power is equal to force multiplied by velocity, which means that if you want to produce more power you have to be able to pedal faster in the same size gear, pedal at the same rate in a bigger gear, or, in a perfect world, pedal faster in a bigger gear.

Remember, intervals will only have a truly positive effect if you already have good base of fitness.

Road Sprints:

Sprint practise is difficult on your own because in a race you’ll already have momentum from being in the slipstream of the other riders. What we’d recommend is that you find a shallow descent followed by a flat, or slight uphill, road. Get up to a good race-type speed on the descent and then, when you hit the flat, jump out of the saddle and sprint as hard as you can for a road sign or mark on the road about 10 seconds away. Spend five to 10 minutes riding easily between sprints so that each can be performed fresh.

In terms of gears, it is a good idea to try different gears throughout the session. You may be surprised to find that a gear of say, 53×16 actually allows you to achieve a higher maximum speed than 53×13. Just because the pros sprint on 53×11, it doesn’t mean you have to as well!

Turbo Sprints:

On the turbo, a good sprint session is to spend 15 minutes warming up and then do 10 lots of 10-second sprints in a very big gear. The idea is that leading up to the sprint you allow your cadence to drop to around 60rpm then when you start the sprint you stay seated and attempt to increase you cadence as quickly as possible up to 120rpm. Give yourself two or three minutes to recover between sprints and then repeat. This session is almost like weight training on the bike and although it doesn’t sound hard, we bet you’ll be struggling by the last sprint.

Road Climbs:

If you want to get faster uphill, this climbing session is a great workout. Find a hill that takes between two and three minutes to climb and then has a flat or false flat at the top. Ideally the hill should be of such a grade that you could ride up it in the big ring when you’re pushing hard. As mentioned earlier, your aim is to be able to push a bigger gear than you can now, at a higher cadence: This session forces your legs to get used to producing more force than normal when riding at a high intensity and it also helps you get used to riding at a higher cadence at a high intensity. During this session you ride up the hill four times using different gears and thus different cadences: the first time up use a gear much bigger than normal – if you’d normally use 53×19 try using 53×15. Your heart rate should be around 95% of maximum on the climb. When you get to the false flat at the top, sprint as hard as possible to get the big gear rolling and try and maintain this speed for another 30secs or so until you your pre-assigned finish line. Ride back down slowly, allowing your heart rate to return to about 60% of it’s maximum.

Next time up try and achieve the same intensity but this time using the gear you would normally use on such a climb, e.g. 53×19. Third time up you return to using the bigger gear you used on the first interval. On the fourth and final interval you use a gear much smaller than you normally would, e.g. if you’d normally use 53×19, drop down and use 39×17. Again you’re aiming to achieve the same intensity of effort but this time you’ll have to really increase your cadence to achieve that.

Turbo Climbs:

This is a killer lactate threshold session that will see you screaming in agony (if you’re doing it right). Warm up for 20 minutes, building up the intensity slightly over the first 15 minutes. The intervals consist of three sets of 5x30secs with 30secs recovery between each interval and five minutes recovery between sets. Obviously 30secs is insufficient time to allow very much recovery to take place so you begin each progressive interval even more tired than the last.

TT Road:

Actually, this session can be done on the road or the turbo but we prefer it on the road as it gets a bit mind numbing on the turbo. The motivation behind this session is to improve your time-trialling or your ability to stay away in a road race.

Spend between half and hour and an hour riding easily as a warm up, including some higher intensity riding towards the end of the warm up. The actual body of the session is made up of three long intervals of 12 minutes at 10mile TT with five minutes recovery between intervals. Doing this session on the road has the advantageof being less boring but also of allowing you the opportunity to practise pace judgement. As the season progresses we’d recommend increasing the length of the intervals up to a maximum of 20 minutes but then only do two of them.


Intervals are hard work, so if you want to get the most out of them you need to start the session feeling fresh and motivated. Too many riders ride hard all the time; if you are including speed work into your programme it’s important that you also include ample time for recovery rides. We’d recommend an easy day after each interval session and we’d only recommend doing two speed sessions per week.

We’re always interested to hear about sessions other riders do – let us know on the forum what works for you.


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